One man's junk is another's treasure

21:36, Dec 27 2012

Dust off your grandma's closet because the things she loved are back in style.

The minimalist look of the 1950s and austere 40s is all the rage. Young women are holding high teas from mismatched pretty teacups.

Antiques stores are closing, only to be replaced by vintage and retro stores.

It's great news for those with a taste for the era, not so great for others. Collectors of dark Victorian furniture, a mark of refinement in the 1960s and 70s, have watched the value of their pieces fall through the floor.

Wellington antiques dealer Peter Wedde says he is the first to admit that collectibles and antiques are fickle investments.

"It is crystal ball gazing, to some extent," he says.


However, the good thing about collecting antiques is that you can start now with what's around you if you have an eye for it.

After all, most collectibles were ordinary once. And a bit of advice from old-time collectors can yield some valuable clues toward picking that antique of the future.


If there's one thing that seems to ring true, it's a yearning for one's childhood.

Sara Moon pictures from the early 1970s? They're back. Grandma's formica table or the ducks that flew up her wall? They're back too. Crown Lynn swans? Worth a small fortune.

"The people coming into our store are much younger than we would have had five years ago," says Maria Alberino-Pratt, of Lower Hutt's 20th Century Collectibles and Antiques.

"They remember what their grandparents had; they don't remember the Victorian stuff."

Mid-century furniture is fashionable, not just because it's cheap and suits modern sensibilities but because it was ahead of its time, says Wellington retro store owner Martin Brown.

But Sarah Baker, a lecturer at Victoria University's School of Design and author of a book on retro, believes there's another reason people relate to vintage. She thinks they hanker for some of the glamour and leisure that the era represents. This is a point the experts all agree on. A truly good antique epitomises the era it came from.

This might explain the current craving for all things Kiwiana. Victorian furniture may be out, but colonial Kiwi furniture, NZ Rail crockery and Crown Lynn are all in, as Kiwis come to care more about their own history.


In her influential book, Antiques of the Future, Lisa S Roberts explains that anything with elements of good design stands a better chance of being valued in the future.

Even when they first hit the shelves, pieces such as the Dyson vacuum cleaner or the Philippe Starck-designed Alessi kettle were seen to be ahead of their time.

As well as those things, Roberts' collection extends to designer toilet brushes, fly swats, water bottles and Swatch watches.

Most of her pieces were bought for modest amounts and most of them are clever, often winners of design awards.

As a result, many items in her collection have doubled or tripled in value in less than 20 years.


Things that have gone out of use are generally a good bet for the investor-collector. But to avoid becoming a hoarder, it goes without saying that you need to be selective.

As much as the iPod deserves its place in design history, there are just so many of them.

In fact, technology, in general, is hard to value.

But the very first "brick" cellphones are beginning to attract interest, and first-generation 1960s televisions are gathering a following.

How about a limited-edition necklace from a trendy fashion designer? Wedde sounds a note of caution.

"Most limited editions have invariably flopped. They were promoted as investments, they were sold in smart department stores.

"I'm thinking not so much of jewellery here, I'm thinking of Royal Worcester, for example, limited editions sold in the 1950s and 60s - polo players and birds and branches, things like that.

"Those things lost value the moment you walked out of the department store with them and they continue to lose value."

But genuine rarity is something else. Part of the appeal of Crown Lynn is the fact that the factory is closed.


A basic maxim handed down by an old antiques dealer to Wedde was: "Is it early? Is it perfect? Is it rare? And is it decorative?"

By early, he's not referring so much to the object's age as whether it was the first of something.

By decorative, he means something that people will simply enjoy. And quality matters.


Everything old is new again. Already toys and memorabilia from the 1980s are becoming desirable. Think Space Invaders and Star Wars.

It's worth noting that an antique is traditionally considered to be older than 100 years, vintage from the 1920s to the 50s, and retro is generally regarded as being from the 1960s onwards. But those distinctions are blurring.

What could be next?

At the serious end of the market, there are whispers about Polynesian art and Chinese artefacts. The Chinese are more affluent and are repatriating their own work, says Wedde. That market has "gone utterly ballistic".

Sarah Baker's picks include items that represent sustainability. And don't forget textiles - she suggests keeping even the odd leftover roll of wallpaper.

But whatever you collect, do it for love. Wedde says: "I'm fond of saying to people, buy it if you like it and love it and enjoy it. And if it goes up in value, that should be a bonus, not an expectation."

The Dominion Post