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ANTIQUES : Collectors Take Turn Toward the Whimsical

October 08, 1994|From Associated Press

Country-style auctions have been changing. Where once they offered fine cherry and maple chests, drop-leaf tables, sturdy rockers and hooked rugs, today they are more apt to sell Fiesta ware, kerosene lamps and architectural bygones such as hitching posts and old gates.

There are fewer of the traditional furnishings because people have been selling them off for a long time.

"There's a new generation of 'antiques' we'll have to get used to," said author and lecturer George Michael of Merrimack, N.H., host and producer of the PBS series "Antiques and Americans."

He said the choicest antiques are in museums or owned by affluent collectors, although an occasional early 19th-Century American cabinet or four-poster turns up at a country auction. He added that prices for top-notch antiques have been going up and up.

"Discriminating collectors are not daunted by economic conditions," said Tom Porter, president of Garth's Auctions Inc. in Delaware, Ohio. "In a sale (some) months ago, we had a California Indian basket, a rare piece that we dared to estimate might fetch $6,000. It sold for $35,000."

A new generation of buyers with a different lifestyle accounts for some of the changes. Eat-and-run kitchen meals, for example, have made dining room furniture almost obsolete. One auctioneer said old maple or cherry dining tables with matching sets of six or eight chairs--all in fine condition--are selling far below their value.

What are amateur buyers and dealers bidding on as investments or collectibles?

"China, glass, pottery from the 1920s to as late as the early 1950s--the things our parents had and we didn't like--are now considered beautiful and trendy," said Ron Seifert, an auctioneer in Hoosick, N.Y.

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