An Embarrassment of Riches or…..Just an Embarrassment?

To the Blue Ridge

By Julie Reardon

An Embarrassment of Riches or…..Just an Embarrassment?

For the baby boomer generation, all those antiques and silver are not worth what you were led to believe. All of my life, I remember being told by my mother, aunts, and grandmothers how valuable this or that antique piece of furniture was worth. We had china sets we never used because they were way too valuable to risk using for holidays and special events that included heathen children who might break things. They sat, dainty and beautiful, in valuable china cabinets and on the very top shelves of our mid-century modern kitchen cabinets. That they were not dishwasher or microwave safe was an added reason they were never used.

Silver, including monogrammed tea sets might sit proudly on an antique sideboard. Polishing silver became a childhood household chore, along with learning the stories behind these valuable pieces of sterling that were way too expensive to be able to afford these days. Back in my grandparents’ day silver was freely given for christenings, birthdays, graduations, Christmas, weddings and other occasions. My parents couldn’t afford that type of generosity but oh how Mom loved that sterling silver. But now, no one else does and often it’s worth more melted down and sold by the ounce. And forget silver plate—you can’t even give it away.

And all those beautiful antique pieces? The sideboards, the desks, the dressers and tables. Forget it—today’s young adults shun brown furniture as if it was tainted.

The reality is that the collectible business is changing all the time. The big demographic shift is of baby boomers downsizing after 50 years of post-World War II consumption. The bad news is that the resale market is glutted with their household goods that no one wants.

Items in the general antique category have lost 50 percent or more of their value since the late 1990s, say some reports. Young families that once bought second-hand furniture or took hand-me-downs, now want new but cheap and sleek imports ala IKEA. No heavy brown furniture. In my early years of living on my own and then as a young newlywed, I gladly accepted hand-me-downs from my parents and grandparents…furniture, dishware, sterling silver. It was a way to get started. There was no IKEA or Target or imports from China. Families ate around a real dinner table separate from the kitchen. Now it’s one big happy free-for-all bar-style meal, or even plate on your lap in front of the TV or computer.

According to those who deal in antiques or estate sales, the market is flooded with boomer rejects. “Hardly a day goes by that we don’t get calls from people who want to sell a big dining room set or bedroom suite because nobody in the family wants it. Millennials don’t want brown furniture, rocking chairs or silver tea sets. Millennials don’t polish silver.” The formal furniture is often sold at bargain prices, or if it’s not in good shape, it might go straight to the dump.

For generations, adult children have agreed to take their aging parents’ possessions—whether they wanted them or not. But now, the anti-clutter movement has met the anti-brown-furniture movement, and the combination is sending dining room sets, sterling silver flatware, and knick-knacks straight to thrift stores or the curb.

From the Publisher: I guess the moral of the story here is that if you are of a certain age or at the point where you think that everything old is new again and have always wanted a fancy silver tea set or that ornate sideboard you coveted at a more monied family’s home when you were younger, now is the time to get them at rock bottom prices. The Blue Ridge is filled with some amazing antique and consignment stores tucked away in the amazing small towns that dot the mountain sides. This month might be a good time to take a drive and do some sourcing for some pieces to repurpose or just to see how good a deal you can get. While you are at it, take a side trip to a winery or two and have something to eat in one of the many small town eateries you will encounter on the way.

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