The antiques and collectibles world has been turned upside down in recent years. Certain items that were long desired by collectors are rapidly losing value…and others that had been considered garage-sale fodder suddenly are selling for significant sums. Why the collectibles world is changing: A new generation is doing the buying now. These young collectors aren’t interested in knickknacks, ornate antique furniture or fine china. Even the Disney collectibles market is showing signs of weakness—though Mickey Mouse– and Snow White–related items have maintained their value.
What younger collectors want: Large, eye-catching decorative pieces…items that have an interesting story attached to them…and works associated with famous-name designers and artists.
2023 Hot Collecting Categories
Midcentury modern furniture. This 20th-century style is virtually the only vintage furniture in strong demand these days. Known for its clean lines, midcentury modern is the opposite of the older ornate antique pieces preferred by earlier collectors. Pieces from big names such as Eames, Harry Bertoia, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Arne Jacobsen have been highly collectible for years, but these days virtually any furniture in the midcentury modern style is likely to have reasonable value—even certain IKEA pieces. Examples: An Eames plywood child’s chair with a heart-shaped cutout sold for $10,625. A rare IKEA Cavelli armchair from the 1950s brought $16,725 at auction. Even IKEA’s Vilbert chair and Skye lounge can reach low four figures even though they date back only to the 1990s.
Anything otherworldly. Memorabilia related to NASA and the space race is tremendously popular these days…as are vintage maps and globes of the stars and furniture, decorations and toys featuring space-age styles or themes. Examples: A 1969 Rand McNally Apollo Moon Map autographed by 15 astronauts recently sold for more than $38,000 at auction. A space-themed 1950s/early-1960s toy robot called “Machine Man” made by Japan’s Masudaya and in mint condition with its original box sold for nearly $160,000. The seller wasn’t even a collector…he just found the toy while cleaning his mother’s attic.
“Amphora” art pottery from the late 19th and early-20th centuries. Also known as “Teplitz” pottery, these pieces are increasing in value even as interest in other types of pottery wanes, perhaps because Amphora looks distinctive, eye-catching and artistic, not dated and dainty. Produced by Alexandra Works, Amphora Porcelain Works and other companies in a region that was then part of Bohemia but now is in the Czech Republic, desirable examples are art nouveau vases from before World War I and adorned with three-dimensional figures—often women or snakes but sometimes other nature themes. Example: An Amphora Porcelain Works vase with a three-dimensional figure of a gold octopus on its top—two of the tentacles form the vase’s handles—sold for $6,600 last year at auction, easily topping presale estimates.
Vintage garden decorations. Homebuyers are looking to make their outdoor spaces special—with sundials, garden statues, weathervanes, urns, fountains and other distinctive garden decor. Examples: A garden “armillary sphere”—a spherical metal framework and base featuring representations of earth, sun and moon—recently sold for around $2,700. A bronze sundial in the form of a golfer made by Providence’s Gorham Foundry sold for $4,320.
Automotive memorabilia. Prices of collectible cars shot up dramatically during the pandemic and then cooled somewhat in 2022. When collectible car values are high, automotive memorabilia values increase—collectors who spend a small fortune on cars often want to decorate their garages with related memorabilia. Examples: A light-up sign from a Jeep dealership sold for $2,875 at auction…a similar sign from a GMC dealership brought $5,980. A Castrol Motor Oil tin sign from the 1960s sold for $345, while a 1960s Skelly Oil electric garage clock brought $460.
Luxury-brand garments and accessories. Vintage fashion items aren’t sold only at consignment shops and on eBay anymore—some are auctioned off at major auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s. The value of a particular vintage garment or accessory is driven primarily by the prestige of the name on its label, not the aesthetics of the item. If the piece was made by a famed luxury brand such as Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Chanel or Gucci, there’s a good chance it has significant value. Examples: A Louis Vuitton steamer trunk with fitted tray and metal handles might bring around $7,500—even though people don’t travel with steamer trunks anymore. Hermès “Kelly bags”—a type of handbag popularized by actress Grace Kelly—commonly sell for between $12,000 and $30,000 at auction, depending on the bag’s size and other factors. Some rare Kelly bags have brought more than $100,000.
Anything associated with Picasso. Picasso paintings have sold for more than $100 million. That’s not something the average person is likely to find in his/her attic, but thousands of people do have Picasso ceramics tucked away. During the second half of Picasso’s career, images he drew were slapped on plates and vases. These have not been considered desirable because so many of each piece were produced and Picasso didn’t personally touch them. But prices are rising quickly, perhaps because younger collectors associate Picasso’s ceramics with his $100 million paintings, not with the artist’s tendency to cash in on his fame. Examples: Many lots at a 2022 Christie’s Picasso ceramics auction sold for well above presale estimates, including Chouette, a vase with a painting of an owl, which sold for $69,300…and Vallauris, a plate painted with a trio of faces, which sold for $201,600, more than six times the high-end of its estimated range.
Pre-1960s fishing gear. Old fishing rods, reels and lures can have collectible value—and these items sometimes go unnoticed for decades. One clue an old lure might be collectible: It is made of wood, not plastic. Example: A wood Shmoo Plug Bait lure from 1948 with its original box recently sold for $348.
Vintage neon signs. Neon signs are eye-catching, which means they’re the sort of decoration today’s collectors like. Value varies dramatically depending on aesthetics, size, age, whether the sign advertises a collectible or fondly remembered business, and whether the neon is working. Nonworking neon signs can be restored, but that could cost hundreds of dollars depending on the repairs required. Examples: Vintage 1950s/1960s neon and porcelain gas station signs from Texaco and Mobil sold for $28,750 and $69,000, respectively, at a 2021 auction. A 1940s Greyhound bus line sign featuring a neon dog sold for $29,325. A 1950s porcelain and neon sign from the Piggly Wiggly grocery store chain sold for $14,950. Those are examples of especially desirable signs, but a simpler, more common Stroh’s beer neon sign sold for $345.
Vintage cast iron cookware. Rare cast iron cookware from the 19th and early-20th century is sometimes worth big bucks to collectors. Desirable brands: Griswold—very early Griswold, might be marked “Erie”—and Wagner. Cast iron cookware that’s not particularly rare or old but in good condition can have some modest resale value, too—these often are bought by home cooks searching for the special flavor that only well-used older cast iron can provide. Example: A Griswold Skillet 720 Number 13 in excellent condition regularly brings more than $2,000.
Photos by famous photographers or of interesting subjects. Photographic prints from Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz and other famous photographers have been climbing in value, and they’re not alone—vintage photos of interesting subjects taken by unknown photographers are hot as well. Most surprising: Certain photos by amateur photographers depicting everyday life have caught on with collectors. Known as “vernacular photography,” these likely were originally considered ordinary snapshots but now are thought to capture something compelling about daily life in the past. Example: A collection of more than 100 photos of trailer park residents from the 1950s and 1960s sold for $8,750. A large print of Ansel Adams’s “The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming” sold for $988,000.