Cowan's Corner

Highboys and Weathervanes Most Likely
to Weather the Stormy Economy

By Wes Cowan

For those of you who faithfully read this column, you know that one column each year is devoted to gazing at a crystal ball to make predictions about the world of antiques. Trying to figure out where the antique market is headed in 2009 isn’t an easy task.

After six months of financial turmoil that saw the U.S. economy slide into the first recession in decades, it’s hard not to be pessimistic. For most of us, antiques aren’t a consumer necessity. They are not things we need to live a normal life, but they are things we want. As any economist worth his salt can tell you, that’s a big distinction.

Consumers spend first on necessities and last on luxuries. As virtually every auction house and antique dealer can attest, 2008 was not an especially great year. Collectors, dealers and institutional buyers weren’t spending as freely as they were in 2007.

So what does 2009 hold in store? I would say that I am “cautiously optimistic.” Collectors will still want to buy, and some will want to put their discretionary funds into a tangible asset that they can see, feel and touch. Great antiques will still bring great prices, and whether you’re a collector or dealer, there will be plenty to buy.

Baby boomers will continue to downsize to smaller residences, shedding collections accumulated over a lifetime. Other collections will come on the market through the normal course of death and estate dispersal, while some will appear as a result of financial necessity. Make no mistake; there will be a flood of great antiques to buy.

As these antiques come to the market in 2009, we’ll undoubtedly see a continued softening of prices for objects in the “middle market”. This has been a trend that began several years ago and will almost certainly accelerate in the New Year. The middle market includes items such as cut glass, Haviland or Limoges china, and most antiques that were produced in factories.

If you collect any of these things, this will be good news as you will be able to buy and collect on the cheap. If you are collecting pristine examples of Newport, Rhode Island Chippendale highboys or fine American figural weathervanes, don’t look for prices to drop anytime soon. The market at the top for the rarest items will remain as strong as ever. Even in a recession, the competition for quality won’t diminish, and record prices will be paid in the coming year for great antiques!

About the author: Wes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan’s Auctions, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally-recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series History Detectives and is a featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. He can be reached via email at



Hand-decorated Limoges china like these three pieces will be good buys in 2009.

Outstanding American weathervanes like this unusual grasshopper form will continue to rise in value.



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