How has the internet affected the antique market in the UK over the years? 

by | Dec 2, 2023 | Antiques, Fine Art Removals, Interior Design | 0 comments

The internet and its influence have undoubtedly affected the antiques market in the UK over the last few decades. However, it is worth considering the overall growth of the antique market, with a particular increase in the last century. While the internet has the effect of removing the real-time antiques shop from the high street or town centre, there is something about the market that holds fast in its appeal. This article looks at the various factors that have and are influencing the antique market and the role the internet plays in that. 

Contents

  1. London-  a mecca for antiques
  2. eBay and changes to the antiques market
  3. Global reach in the antiques market
  4. Information and research for antiques online 
  5. Baby Boomers and antique furniture
  6. The future of antiques in the UK 
  7. Ensuring condition of valuables when moving house 

1-London – a mecca for antiques 

During the 1960s and 70s, the antiques market changed in the UK. Key factors were the commercialization of air travel, more space in suburban houses, and the advent of car boot sales and garage sales. London expanded to accommodate the interests of international buyers who saw London as an epicenter for antiques.  Galleries and dealers opened in the West End and in Notting Hill Gate. Mount Street in Mayfair, The Kings Rd in Chelsea, and Westbourne Grove in Notting Hill became streets synonymous with antique hunting.  Regular antique fairs at Olympia Earls Court and Grosvenor House in Mayfair as well as the regular markets in Camden Passage Islington and Portobello Road maintained a pulse throughout the subsequent decades. To find out more about London’s top antique markets, read our article here.  Car boot sales and markets brought the treasure-hunting trend into the mainstream. 

2-eBay and changes to the antiques market 

Ebay mobilized the possibility for anyone to become a trader or dealer overnight. Prior to eBay, selling antiques required knowledge of the field and the ability to discriminate the origin and condition of an item. Establishing the authenticity of an item was essential to place an accurate value, based on its current condition.  See Antiques Roadshow for the experts in action.  If you do watch this show you will see there is something tactile and exploratory in ascertaining the condition and origin of the piece.  Traditionally antique dealers and collectors had condition criteria that could drastically affect the value of the collectible. So, dealers would have a way of assessing value based on condition, but the inexperienced buyer would not have the same information.  With the rise of eBay inexperienced sellers, unversed in this code of condition tended to over-price their offerings.  Items can be enhanced online, essentially the point is, that the ability to assess the condition was altered through this new market.  With this, serious collectors adjust their evaluation to assume that the item is overpriced, so there has been some distortion in the market and change to the importance of the condition of the antique. 

3-Global reach in the antiques market  

Clearly, the rise of Internet auction houses has opened the horizons for foreign investors and collectors.  Most of the UK’s auction houses now operate online as well as in-house.  Christie’s operates with online and live auctions, and all top auction houses have carefully curated sites showcasing their collections. After Brexit, many foreign investors took advantage of the opportunity to buy antiques and collectibles from the UK.  Foreign investors can browse the repository of antiques that the UK has shored over the last centuries.  While this also means that British collectors can access Chinese antiques markets and those from the Far East, there is always the danger of purchasing a counterfeit. As throughout time in antiques sales, the burden falls upon the buyer to know what they are buying. Further research is required in order to navigate these new online pitfalls. 

4-Information and research for antiques online 

There are many valuation services online that can guide you in ascertaining the value of your antiques. Similarly, internet pricing guides can also give you a rough idea.  In the realm of antiques and auctions, there is always going to be an element of flexibility. Price guides are used as a starting point and are not definitive. As video technology improves it is easier to see the condition of an item more clearly, and to receive evaluations from experts online.  Various apps are available online to help value antiques. Miller’s Antique Handbook and Price Guide is the bible every collector should have at hand to swear upon if necessary.  

5-Baby Boomers and antique furniture 

The generation that was so fond of antiques and antique furniture and increased the popularity and distribution of them, is now downsizing.  As a result, there is an increased amount of stock in antique shops, Salvation Army stores and general circulation. This is one reason why antique furniture has lost its value over the last decades.  For this generation, furniture was a major household expense and it chimed well with the period housing of the times. However, cheap flat-pack furniture that sings along the minimalist hymn sheet has flooded the market and the aesthetics of modern times.  Technology also commands subtle cabling strategies and layouts which accommodate, something that Victorian dressers and mid-century bookshelves had not anticipated. Fundamentally, the post-Boomers face a rise in house prices which overshadows income, and trends that suggest smaller first-time buys. Simply, the space doesn’t lend itself to antique furniture, particularly if it reminds younger generations of the homes that they grew up in. 

6-The future of antiques in the UK 

While the internet has dismantled the niche aspect of antique trading, it has opened the market globally.  Trends in antiques come and go, so while furniture may decline, it may have another moment in another era.  The scope and value of antiques have changed, for example, for an item to be considered an antique on Etsy, it must be 20 years old or more. There was a time when two decades rarely raised an eyebrow in the arcade of the antiquated.  The decline of actual antique shops and markets is a result of the Internet. It is hard to imagine that the very specific smell of an antique shop will no longer accompany the purchase and process of antique buying. However, in the UK there is still a passionate following for antique markets in the UK, for the live auction house, and essentially for the joy of treasure hunting. While there may be some fluctuations in value, appeal, and trend, due to the internet, there is still a passion for the past in the UK. 

7-Ensuring the condition of antiques when moving house 

At Anthony Ward Thomas, we are somewhat traditionalists when it comes to preserving the condition of posessions to retain value. That is why we specialize in handling art and antiques with our Fine Art Logistics team.  Whatever the size or scale of a removal project, we bring the same expertise to it that we do for our auction house clients, or when importing artisan furniture.  If you are moving house and want an expert team to curate your possessions like true artifacts, look no further.  Whether you are moving office or home, or require our services for a professional project, we will bring to it our signature of excellence. Consider our reviews to verify our authenticity here.