A number of letters to the editor of the Maine Antique Digest have responded to reports in that publication regarding the cancellation of several long-established shows. In the August issue, a letter from a subscriber in Arizona who defends the next generation of collectors begins with the statement “I’m amazed at the amount of stereotyping used when describing younger collectors,” yet in the next paragraphs he purports to speak for the entire younger population by grouping them together: “Millennials don’t have the time or desire to attend a show, they don’t have the time or desire to sit through an entire auction either online or in person…A millennial makes virtually all types of transactions electronically…” His advice to dealers wanting to attract younger adults: use social media and text often. Otherwise, things look bleak from his viewpoint in Phoenix: “Ten years from now auctions and shows will be ghost towns.”
Let us reason together as we consider the matters of time and desire among the young and restless. Antique shows are held all over the country, not just in large metropolitan areas, often within moderate traveling distance of just about everyone, and these events are almost always held on a weekend. If millennials are pressed for time on a Saturday or Sunday to drive less than 150 miles to attend a show at which they can actually see and touch objects, learn from knowledgeable dealers and build relationships with actual human beings face to face, what are they doing on those days? Binge-watching episodes of the first seasons of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones? Programming robots or flying drones around the living room? Seeking the Boulevard of Broken Dreams in the mosh pit at a Green Day concert? Lining up to see the premiere of the latest “must see” Hollywood blockbuster? Hunting for cosplay outfits? Priorities, priorities. Collectors of all ages soon discover the wisdom of these words: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Reproductions and charlatans thrive on the Internet. Vetted dealers who attend shows have nurtured friendships with customers and other exhibitors, and therefore have reputations to uphold. Collectors also learn quickly that vendors at shows are more willing to negotiate prices with an eager and informed “cash and carry” customer who will likely be a caring custodian of an antique or collectible than they are to dicker with an impersonal browser visiting the dealer’s website. Regardless of how many times the cutting edge of virtual reality is sharpened, there is no substitute for the actual reality of holding a desired object in one’s hands.
By their very nature, antiques tend to be fragile or bulky, and usually travel much better from exhibition floor to customer vehicle than through the vagaries of delivery systems. Just a few examples of such antiques frequently seen at shows: pottery, wall mirrors, tables, phonographs, cupboards, Tiffany lamps, mantel and grandfather clocks, art glass, oriental rugs, paintings, crystal, slot machines, marble sculptures, advertising signs, and lawn statues. Wouldn’t a customer feel more comfortable leaving an expo center with a horse and sulky weathervane purchased from a congenial dealer specializing in folk art than buying a similar item from an unknown online vendor and trusting that party to carefully wrap and insure an oversized package that could arrive looking like a copper pig that got poked by Pokémon?
Regarding the issue of the time required to bid at auctions versus the immediacy of seeing and buying it right away from a dealer’s site, millennials wanting to start a political or superhero collection might ask the question: Who should I trust more for a Civil War campaign banner or vintage Superman figure? The “buy it now” online dealer whose descriptions include lines like “Got this at an estate sale” and “Worn a bit but great condition for its age” or Ted Hake, author of numerous guides on political memorabilia and character collectibles, who for the last 49 years has been conducting auctions and issuing catalogs in which each item is shown and described in 100-400 words? Winning bidders receive certificates of authenticity signed by Ted Hake. The novice who places an impulsive order from Buy It Now Buster may be disappointed with the purchase and discover too late that time saved turns out to be money wasted.
If Hake’s Americana and Collectibles is still active in ten years, I believe that young collectors will be placing bids and their trust in what Ted has wrought. If I am alive in 2026, I will still be attending antique shows, even if they are held in ghost towns. Any young collectors I see along the way are welcome to ride with me, providing they are not running with the crowd or walking with the dead.