G.T. says that the objects in my column don’t seem to be very hot in the market today. She asks if this is the end of an era in the world of art and antiques. If so, she wonders, what is hot?
The perception of value and collecting has changed. I’ll explain what’s changed, using the example of the recently dead Apple iTunes. But first, here’s what will make G.T. some money: If you own a vintage Nintendo (30 years old!) or Atari, you can sell it to Gen Xers who may be nostalgic for their distant past. If you own original “Black Panther” comic books, you’re in luck. If you have your mom’s mid-20th century furniture, you will have hordes of millennials waving $100 bills at you. If you have a nice collection of political “Elect Me!” campaign memorabilia, plan to sell before November 2020. If you have vintage female superhero comic books (“Wonder Woman,” “Ms. Marvel,” “Scarlet Witch,” “Black Widow”), you will be rewarded (but wait till the eponymous movies are announced, then sell.) If you have a designer vintage handbag in good shape, you’re golden.
My older clients, who own other things, are sometimes disappointed. We’ve been consoling a number of clients recently who have inherited stamp collections. Even if your granddad spent good money back in 1960 for stamps, you may not get the value out of them. Still worse is a collector of mine who thought she had some money in children’s board games. Electronic games are HOT; board games are NOT. Most books are not hot, either. Things that the boomers treasured unfortunately do not attain the status of “hot collectible.” Among the boomer treasures that are dead in the water are English 18th century furniture, landscape paintings with cows, antique rugs, china services, our mother’s sterling. These are going for less than they did in 1980.
There is a solid reason for this market shift today. It has to do with the growing link between the object and the experience. Take vintage video games, for example. They were objects designed to offer an experience. In a similar vein, vintage comic books are objects that, through movie franchises, become experiences.
Here’s some hard data about this phenomenon: The biggest market share of buying power today belongs to millennials. This is the generation raised on experience, not static objects. Globally, millennials have $2.5 trillion in spending power. And in a recent poll, given a nice inheritance to spend, 76 percent of millennials would purchase an experience (entertainment, travel, dining, concerts/stage events) rather than an object. And even once an object is purchased, 76 percent of this age group are not loyal to any one object or brand. So collecting a genre of objects is not their goal. If an object is connected with an experience, then you have a good chance of a sale.
Think of the recent furor over the death of Apple’s iTunes, in its 18th year. This very week, the world is mourning the passing of an experienced-based product. That’s because it has emotional resonance: The object itself, the sleek and small iPod (an MP3 player), from which to run the Apple library of songs, marks the beginnings of a collection. For an analogy, think of cassette tapes if you are a boomer. They were your music library, and the binder (or glove box) was the vehicle to hold the library; the Walkman or cassette player was the device to play the song. (An interesting mashup was the look-alike to a cassette tape that was actually an MP3 player.)
Millennials and late Gen Xers kept music on iTunes. Those were their songs in a certain personalized library. The death of iTunes means the death of a personal experiential library. What was once filled with referential memories is now empty. The perfect size and shape of an object to hold this, the iPod, is now simply nostalgia, and memories of this devise are also the beginnings of the memories of how to collect and curate. This personal library is now replaced by an infinite library. And the infinite is a scary and impersonal place to be. Thus, the merging of the object and the experience creates value (and not just dollar value) when an era ends.