A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Year End Wrap Up

Every year at this time we check the stats at Blogger to see the posts that are most popular among our readers. As has been the case for the past several years, interest in posts on the three major English potters, Wedgwood, Minton and Jones continue to lead in page views with Jones leading the pact. Of the posts written this past year, our post on Asparagus Servers leads the way with our posts on Jardinières and Cachepots and the Majolica of Wasmuel following in that order.

While the prices for majolica have held steady this year, prices of antiques in general have taken a deep plunge since the beginning of the 2008 recession. Prices for all majolica manufacturers are at their lowest point in over 20 years. Even majolica at the highest end is down since its peak in 2007. This is great news for the collector who can now afford pieces once outside of their price range but it is bad for the investor who has seen the value of their collection drop by half. 

Majolica as a collectible has fallen out of fashion after 30 years of steadily increasing interest. This in part is probably a result of decorators now favoring modern design over the traditional design of the past 40 years, but majolica is not alone in losing value. Across the board, antiques have lost their appeal to younger buyers. Many young people associate antiques with the elderly thanks to programs like Antique Roadshow. Antique furniture has taken a dramatic drop in value as younger buyers are more interested in mid century design than Art Nouveau. The clean modern look favored by tv home makeover shows is in direct conflict with the cluttered shelves full of smalls favored by collectors.

We have become a more mobile society where transporting vans full of old "stuff" every few years simply has become impractical. Buying a new suite of disposable furniture from Ikea has become more economically feasible than spending thousands of dollars on a mover. When it's time to relocate you just throw out the old furniture and buy new at your new location. The smaller living spaces most are dealing with also do not lend themselves to the oversized pieces of the past. 

For many years the popularity of majolica could be attributed to the popularity of the "country" look in furniture and accessories. There's no question that majolica lends itself well to this, but as French country and English country and American country have all fallen from favor the market for majolica has gone with it. In part this is certainly a result of the economics of the vanishing middle class. Where the market for high end antiques continues to be relatively healthy, the bottom has completely fallen out from mid range antiques. People of modest means simply no longer have sufficient disposable income to spend. A recent survey by The Economist found that the number of antique dealers who have closed up shop has increased tenfold in just the past few years.

The changing media landscape has added to this. Ten years ago a piece of majolica featured in a popular magazine like Vanity Fair would increase the value of similar pieces across the globe. Unfortunately magazines have lost their sway with the public with social media taking its place. The last thing that social media is concerned with is antiques.. unless of course you have a Kardashian sitting on one!

So where does that leave us heading into 2016? Popularity vacillates with taste. Most observers expect the prices of antiques to rise again in time but possibly not in our lifetimes... but you never know. If you enjoy collecting for the sake of collecting there is no reason for you not to do so, but the days of buying antiques for investment purposes seem to have past. As they say, buy what you love because you love it and you will never go wrong. 

Speaking for ourselves we will continue to cover the majolica market. Our love affair with majolica has not ended and according to our Blogger stats there is still plenty of company for those who join us in appreciating the color, the fantasy and the whimsy of Victorian majolica.