Collector’s Piece… Of Junk?

Yeah, I said it.  

Well, it wasn’t exactly me, and it’s not exactly junk. 

Here’s the thing: Times have changed, and what was once held as a collector’s piece of antique furniture might not have the same value it used to. 

Let me back up a little…by some 20-40 years…so you can see my perspective. 

My wife Carrie and I bought our first home together in 1994. We had no furniture to speak of, other than some select pieces from IKEA, a futon (from my first apartment in DC), two beds, and the usual incidental items. We certainly didn’t own anything “fine” at that time. 

Growing up, I had the privilege of visiting my grandparent’s house in Huntington, West Virginia at least once a year. My three favorite things about each visit were: 1) The present (usually a toy to keep us boys occupied during the visit) dutifully awaiting our arrival on the den’s fireplace hearth; 2) The heavy cream sitting aside freshly cut strawberries AND the Kellogg’s variety pack of cereals (yes, including the sugary ones we never seemed to garner back home) at the breakfast table; and, 3) The truly fine antiques which my grandparents thoughtfully sought out, collected, and positioned just so throughout their formal, Colonial, three-story brick home. 

The bow-front chest, the breakfront, the desk with hidden storage pockets, the sleigh beds, the handsome chests of drawers…all the way down to the oriental rugs, the crystal, and the silver service…everywhere I looked it went on and on, each piece pristinely maintained, polished, and displayed to its full intended extent.  

Fastforward back to circa 1994-95 when the passing of my grandparents initiated the discussion as to the disposition of many of those fine pieces awaiting the next chapter of their fate as they say in a storage facility in West Virginia. 

Having been born and raised in Virginia and Alabama, Carrie had an admiring eye early on for all things traditional and pretty in a home. You can imagine her amazement and delight as the photos of the pieces in West Virginia arrived for our viewing and possible selection. At this point, regardless of which (or how many) items we might have the privilege of inheriting, I suddenly felt confident that our marriage was all the more secure under the newly-possible mantra: We stay together for the sake of the…antiques.

We were honored to receive some very special pieces, and we truly love each and every one of them. Through various moves over our 24 years of marriage, we have always had fun placing them with a certain level of excitement and reverence. After all, we are simply their current caretakers, doing our best to honor them as they bring joy and beauty into our home. They were (and still are), after all, bonafide collector’s pieces, having been hand-selected by my grandparents so many decades ago.

It seems, however, that outside our four walls, at least in the Lowcountry of SC, they don’t hold the same inherent market value they once did. One man’s treasure is another man’s….you know the drill.

The latest furniture market trends in our area show a flood of similar inventory as baby boomers focus on downsizing out of the homes where they also proudly displayed antiques from France and England set upon hand-woven rugs from the Orient. 

Their adult-children, who may have coveted such pieces some twenty years ago now have a house-full of furniture themselves, rendering the once clear and dreamy option of gifting those family heirlooms up the family tree into a disappointing and sometimes heart-wrenching dead end. 
And so, as that reality sinks in, the next chapter for many such pieces becomes the way of (gasp!) consignment stores, thrift stores, and in many cases the unthinkable auction house (PS: Don’t think Sotheby’s…think inland-Georgia, every Thursday night, with such fine pieces sitting aside anything and everything else that the auctioneer can sell for pennies on the dollar).  
So be it, they are just things after all, and life must move on.  

As for us, our love affair continues regardless of any change in their objective value. We’ve never imagined selling any of them to realize “market value” anyway, and so, to us, they remain wholly and completely priceless in every way.  

Maybe some day the girls will want them, or maybe they won’t. Maybe the market will turn around in 20 years, or maybe it won’t. It doesn’t much matter, for to us they are absolute treasures, and we offer our thanks, appreciation, and gratitude to Russell and Edith for these special gifts with the hope that our use and enjoyment of them honors the passion they employed when they first brought them into our family’s collective home.

Author: Chip Collins

Along with his wife, Carrie, Chip enjoys boating, home improvement projects, and quality time with his girls, Martha Preston and Sallie. Over the past few years, Chip has earned his stripes as an amateur triathlete, competing in local and regional events around the Southeast, including recent participation in the Ironman Florida and Ironman Louisville 140.6 mile events, as well as, back-to-back Boston Marathons. Chip is the proud owner, broker-in-charge and Hilton Head Island listing specialist of Collins Group Realty, which he founded in 2002.

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