It is always fun to enjoy the latest new and trendy
things, no matter how temporary or ephemeral. But the real richness
of life lies in the authentic, the enduring, the fads and fashions
that evolve into “classics.”
A “classic” is hard to define, but we know it when we see it.
Instinctively, we think of a “classic” as something of lasting,
proven value that doesn't go out of style, something timeless and
not to be discarded tomorrow.
We recognize classic architecture, whether Georgian or Art Deco, as
pleasing. Great art refers to the works of artists who have stood
the test of time. “Literature is news that stays news,” said Ezra
Pound. We still listen to Beethoven and the Beatles. A classic
Mercedes or Corvette in beautiful condition never fails to elicit
admiring smiles. “Casablanca,” “Gone with the Wind,” and “The
Godfather” still draw an audience. Traditional styles of furniture
from many periods are frequently copied by contemporary makers for
placement in brand new settings.
What do we mean when we say someone has “good taste?” We really are
talking about having a good “eye” or a sense for classic style.
Most modern things - movies, books, cars, art, or bedroom sets - are
introduced with as much hype and publicity as can be mustered. After
the initial excitement, most of these novelties slip quietly from
our consciousness. The height of fashion will mostly be rejected in
a few months. Most modern things fail to engage the public or arouse
lasting interest. As Oscar Wilde noted, “Nothing is so dangerous as
being too modern. One is apt to grow old-fashioned quite suddenly.”
Contemporary fashions almost never slip directly into “classic”
status, they first endure a dark period of neglect, suffering from
dated styling or obsolescence. After hibernating out of the
spotlight, the best of neglected slumbering styles will be
rediscovered, reborn as a classic. Nostalgia doesn't happen
overnight - it takes time for a rejected style, a rare one out of
many that fell from favor, to mature into a classic. The great
physicist, Neils Bohr, said “It is always hard to make predictions,
especially about the future.”
An economist would define a classic to be something
whose marketplace value is no longer depreciating, but is stable or
increasing. Most antique furniture preserved for posterity has
become classic. The best designs are prized - as the years go by,
the furniture's value and desirability actually climbs.
The supply of vintage furniture is fixed, every passing year a few
more pieces are lost or locked up in someone else's collection. Like
land, “They ain't makin' any more of it.” New manufactured furniture
has to include today's expensive labor, materials, and shipping
costs, giving comparable antique and vintage furniture a price
Our brand new possessions from furniture or department stores can
slip out of date the very next season. The work of cutting-edge
artists celebrated in New York often loses its luster in a few
years. “Out of fashion” really means having lost its desirability.
After a month in our homes, mass-produced furniture, pictures,
lamps, china and crystal all drop in value to a tiny fraction of
what was paid for them. New furniture, even from famous makers,
takes a sharp fall in value when it arrives at your door. A year may
pass, and a dining set or sofa, still like new, might sell for
pennies on a dollar at a moving sale or auction. Automobiles
depreciate thousands of dollars on the drive home from the showroom.
Let someone else take that big depreciation loss. For your own home
or office, consider survivors from the test of time - classic
vintage or antique furniture. Durable and well made, antique pieces
will appeal to your emotions, and outlast most of their new
competition. Their style, patina and traditional workmanship will
warm your home or workspace, and they will save you a bundle.
Author Ken Melchert has taught Art History for many years. Since 1985, Ken and his wife Rebecca have operated the Harp Gallery Antiques in Appleton, WI.