With the current economic situation antiques have taken a definite hit in terms of price. This is understandable with fewer people having money available for unnecessary things. And the fact that demand is the major driving factor for the price of antiques. I hate to admit it, antiques are not a necessity, even though I feel they are at times.
The more common items have been especially effected because of high availability and low demand. Those who want to buy can demand and get very low prices as dealers just want to get out from under buying mistakes. Even some less common items are selling for bargain prices as some dealers get desperate for a sale and let items go cheaply to get cash flow to pay a bill.
In the art market items under $10,000 have been slow also, with some auction houses either lowering starting bids or being willing to put unsold items up for sale in a later auction if there are no opening bids.
High end items have been doing well and record prices are still being made. Modern Art is doing especially well right now. A life-size bronze sculpture entitled "L'homme qui marche I" ("Walking Man I") by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (circa 1960) has been sold by the Sotheby's auction house in London for 65 million pounds ($104.3 million). This is the highest price ever paid for a work of art at any auction. A September 2010 sale (New Orleans) sold 60 of 64 John James Audubon “Havell Edition” prints from The Birds of America; and achieved 18 world record auction prices; and came in second place in terms of record sales for 28 more of the bird prints. In February 2010 Masudaya's multiaction “Target Robot” brought 3 times the last record price for an example of its type when it sold for $52,900. It was mint with the original box and all shooting accessories. (Tin shooting pistol plus the two rubber-tipped darts in unopened plastic.)
So what does this overall picture mean to the average collector ? Well first there is hope. The high end items show there is still value in antiques and collectibles. But like other things right now they are in a down turn but will recover. So this makes NOW a great time to buy antiques. We all would like to go back in time to the stock market crash and buy some stock at the record low prices in the early 1930's. That is your opportunity right now. I recommend that collectors today use their leverage (willingness to buy now) to gain some investment quality antiques at rock bottom prices. Do not buy low and middle price items unless you get a fantastic deal. Instead buy one high end piece where you would have bought 3-4 low end ones. This has always been the best buying strategy but with the lower prices it has multiplied.
What to buy is always a question people ask me and I recommend buy what you know. Whatever you love and collect buy the very best and finest you can. Be willing to research some new areas though somebody desperate for cash often does not take the time to research and that can make the difference in a good buy and a great buy. I did a recent appraisal where a customer bought several pieces of art because he liked them and then hired me to appraise. The person selling thought they were lithographs and sold the art at a wholesale price based on that value. They turned out to be original water colors and for around $1000 the client had bought art worth $100,000 - $ 150,000. He did not buy all the art available so there may be more of those sitting on somebodies wall right now.
Be prepared to get less for your items right now. If you bought an item at the height of the old market it might be shocking what it will bring in the current market. However, like many dealers you might be better off to sell and take your lumps rather than paying three or four times what it is worth to store it.
There is hope in selling as well. Right now the Asian and European markets are booming! If you have good quality Chinese, Russian, and Early European items, now is a great time to sell. Especially because the Russian and Chinese economies have grown so large compared to what they were, even a few years ago, the wealthy are buying back their countries antiques. They do not want any of the tourist stuff or items exported for our use. They want real antiques made for use in and by people in their countries. But the market is harder to reach as those with deep pockets are not buying on ebay but through the big auction houses. (In the first half of 2010 Sotheby's and Christie's reported an increase in annual revenue by 67% and 140% respectively compared to the first half of 2009.) Look especially for Russian enamel wares and early Chinese jade but be aware there are a lot of reproductions and out and out fakes on the market too.