Has anyone ever told you to stick to one, specialized collecting area? You can tell them a new trend is emerging, and diversification is the name of the game.
I’m sure you’ve heard that a diversified investment portfolio is a good idea, but we both know that collecting stocks is not nearly the same as collecting antiques. The former usually demands a lack of emotion; the latter just the opposite. Diversification, however, can have equally positive results for both.
I talked to a dealer recently who has been known for fine 18th and 19th century American antiques. Now, he’s mixing in things of different origin because he’s realized the need to diversify his own knowledge and his business model. Other dealers like Andrew Spindler in Essex, Massachusetts, sell things that, regardless of their medium, origin, and age, fit a certain aesthetic, often undefined but always cohesive. A few interesting Shaker pieces Skinner auctioned came from a circa 1970 architect-designed house filled with Shaker furniture and abstract art—a strikingly successful combination.
Because established dealers are changing their aesthetic, and new dealers who think in new ways are emerging, I think collecting will follow on a large scale. What will result in time is not the traditional “period room” look of rigorously categorized collections that Winterthur and any number of English Country Houses put forth, but rather a more integrated, personal aesthetic.
Ready to jump in on the trend? Buy a little of this, a little of that, aiming at making the whole better than the sum of its parts. Add part intelligence to part good old-fashioned gut feelings, and you’ll be on your way to a diversified collection. Of course, you should be ready to hit on some things and miss on others. Sometimes your gut outweighs your intelligence and you end up with Tiffany-retailed Italian silver trinket boxes in the form of miniature Shaker boxes, but that’s how it goes!
If the current trend continues, the art and antiques market will be a place where people aren’t focusing on one narrow category, for example, American antiques made between 1790 and 1840, or Pennsylvania folk art. It will be an arena where a single collector is happy to buy Satsuma vases, Arts and Crafts pottery, Persian carpets, 18th century American painted furniture, Arthur Rackham illustrated volumes, and mid-century modern smalls, all to be displayed together in a collection that doesn’t fit into any category but “I like this.”