"World Collectors" Night?

One Opinion of the Event in Philly

By: Julie VanDolen • Apr 30, 2010 • 1 Comments

I have to preface this blog article with a light warning—I have my opinions about the World Collectors Night.  I’m open to feedback; that’s what this site is for. Sign in and post a comment—let me know how you feel about the topic.  Let’s discuss and keep the blood pumping through our industry.

While I think the sponsorship of this event by Anthropologie speaks volumes about the state of the antiques industry, the event itself was not at all what I expected.  For starters, the term “collector” connotes a totally different buyer than the demographic attending the event Saturday evening.  “World Collector” missed the mark and didn’t fit this group at all.  I believe this was the beginning of the disconnect between buyers and sellers, but I’ll give it a pass because I really like the concept in general.  Here’s the skinny.

Holly and I attended the Philadelphia Antiques Show and the World Collectors event with great excitement.  After a few hours (and sales) the overall mood of the show lightened and the energy was good.  The more we chatted with dealers, the more we realized most of them didn’t know much about the evening’s World Collectors event or its purpose.  The description of the event from the show company’s web site sounded like an event not-to-be-missed:

"Join us for this inaugural event aimed at individuals with a unique style who are inspired to accessorize and furnish their homes with unusual finds, original creations, and distinctive pieces from their world travels.

Armed with a special passport and sneak peeks with Anthropologie buyers, World Collectors will travel to our participating dealers' booths to get stamped between 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. while enjoying cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.

Dealers will offer special curated "found items" for sale. At 8:00 p.m., the event will travel next door to the Urban Outfitters Corporate Campus for the final passport stamp and an "after-party" hosted by Anthropologie, Inc. with dancing and prizes."

The idea itself was truly stellar: bring in a crowd of affluent 40-somethings in the evening when the show is slower and cocktail hour is ramping up.  Expose these collector-wanna-be’s to cool antiques under $1,000.  They buy, dealers sell.  The event was meant to be an opportunity for dealers to meet potential new and younger buyers, as well showcase some great, more affordable pieces the Anthro crowd could dig.  It should have offered nice visibility for dealers and a good chance for them to cultivate a new and different audience.  A win-win, right?  Not exactly. 

Honestly, it was impossible to ignore the disconnect between most of the dealers and this entourage of young, upper middle class party people (most appeared to be in their 30s).  Most of the World Collectors were forming long lines waiting for drinks at the bar.  Many were scrambling to get their “stamps” to try to win the prize.  While some attended for the sheer novelty of it, others attended for the charity of the event (proceeds benefitted Penn Hospital).  The few who attended to learn about antiques and perhaps even buy a piece or two were less obvious to spot.  They were not “World Collectors” by any means—and don’t get me wrong, that’s ok.  The simple fact is, this was not the show for them at all. 

While the effort was valiant, the partnership just didn’t work at this show.  Great idea, but the wrong mix of buyers and sellers.  In fairness, the dealers were not totally in the loop, either.  Dealers who had a solid grasp of the purpose of the event unveiled their affordable items and pressed the flesh.  We spoke with several sellers who expressed a desire to reach out to a new audience, showcase merchandise that would mix well with any décor, and prove antiques are fresh, hip, and fun.  They proved to be approachable and did a great job!  Others were clearly not interested in selling lower-priced items to a group of hipsters sipping cocktails.  A few dealers even told me they didn’t bring anything under $1,000.  Hmm.  Dealer participation was optional, but it was obvious some “World Collectors” were unsure where to go, who was participating, where to see the affordable items, etc.  This part was a bit of a mess, but hopefully they’ll get it right in future years. 

While I believe the whole idea is a great concept, it seems the Armory Show on 23rd Street would have been a better fit for this crowd.  Both shows are fantastic, but very different.  I won’t get into that now, but let me just say this show would have been a much better fit for the Anthropologie set.  Dealers would have seen more sales from this crowd and buyers would have had more opportunities to interact and learn about antiques.  “World Collecting” would begin.

I look down the road a few years and see this event well organized, well publicized, and garnering more attention and respect on both buyer and seller ends.  The idea is definitely a winner for introducing those curious about antiques to the trade.  I think it will take time and education, and we do have the desire to educate the next crop of buyers.  There is no denying Anthroplogie’s success in making antiques and vintage finds fresh and fun again.  What they do, they do well and we should take a look at what they’re doing and who they’re selling to.  This group may not be able to buy antiques tomorrow, but they will in another 15 years.  There is no question newbie antiques enthusiasts could benefit from the wealth of knowledge and expertise from the dealers at these shows. 

Overall the event was simply another example of change in the industry.  It wasn’t a failure; it wasn’t a success.  It was the first!  It was a clever step in the right direction to attract the next wave of antiques collectors.  Now we know what we can improve upon.  It can only get better from here as buyers learn what and how to buy, and dealers learn how to sell through new channels (plug Latique).  Kudos to the show and Anthropologie for giving this a whirl.  Sometimes you just have to try something.

Any way you slice it, the antiques business is reinventing itself and there’s no stopping it.  Events like this are happening more and more.  “Young Collector” groups and young dealers are popping up across the country.  Change is happening and if we keep trying new things, we’ll eventually get it right.

Amanda O'Brien