28 Jul 2014
July 28, 2014

The Appraiser’s Notebook March 2014

July 28, 2014

It’s a sad situation…especially for those of us who like tradition…as in traditional values regarding furniture of the last couple of hundred years.

Yes, hard to believe, but those mid-range pieces are not faring well price-wise. Listen to my colleague, Todd Sigedy, who spends much more time at this than I do. He reports:

The Antiques Collectors Club recently published its Annual Furniture Index.  The index is complied by John Andrews, and in 2013 saw overall values decline by 6%. Overall the report was very disappointing as all seven major categories saw declines. One cause noted for the continued decline in values is the market of collectors is shrinking.

As a whole the index, based on a blend of retail and auction prices for 1400 typical (rather than exceptional) items pictured in John Andrews’ book British Antique Furniture, fell by 6% last year. Set at 100 when Mr. Andrews began the project in 1968, the Index reached a high of 3575 in 2002, but now stands at 2238, down 62% from its peak and a level it last saw in the late 1980s.

The past decade has seen the AFI in steady decline, including record falls of 7% in 2009 and 8% in 2010 – a sustained fall in contrast to the gains seen on the stock exchange or the housing market.

According to the AFI, antique furniture – a marketplace that rode high on the wave of its investment potential in the 1970s and ’80s – is struggling to keep pace with inflation (recorded here as the Mars Bar Index) across 45 years.

In 2013 falls were recorded in all seven of the major categories from which the Index is derived.

The categories most associated with the decline in formal dining, Late Mahogany (-7%) and Regency (-8%), show few signs of returning to form, while falling demand for dressers and coffers meant Oak (-6%) and Country (-7%) again showed the new-found vulnerability that has marked them among the biggest losers in recent years.

Auction Prices

Large amounts of Victorian and Edwardian mahogany furniture continues to be discarded cheaply at auction – “there is a widening disparity between retail prices and those being noted at auction,” observed Mr Andrews – and the separate Victorian & Edwardian index, started in 1973 and once the recipient of spectacular gains, registered a 6% drop.

Some forms remain strong, such as the upholstered tub chairs popular with interior decorators, while other standard late 19th and early 20th century pieces, such as the davenport, the work table and the credenza still languish among the unfashionable. Anything too bulky for the modern interior meets negligible demand.

Early Mahogany, a category based on good-quality, middle-range pieces made between 1730 and 1760, during which period the reputation of English furniture was established, fell 4% in 2013. This wipes out the 3% gains seen the previous year when the words ‘green shoots’ were used amid suggestions of an imminent change in fortunes.


Note the comment about bulky furniture and interiors. This should tell all of us that if the item in question is not currently fashionable or small enough to fit comfortably within most modern interiors, it is either dead in the water or going to make only negligible amounts at auction or private sale.

I recently valued a beautiful server for a client who was moving it from one home to another. My valuation was not much higher than what he had paid for it some years ago and although I was very sorry to have to give him that new appraisal, I am gratified that he didn’t have to insure it for much more than what his family had paid for it years ago.


I like to think of it like this: “You haven’t lost value, you have gained a lower insurance replacement value.” Think about it!

About the Author

Beth A. Kinstler, ISA-CAPP is a certified member of the International Society of Appraisers and the president of Avalon Appraisals and Estate Sales. She may be reached at 912-238-1211 or 912-659-2900.