Collecting Treasures: Will our Western romance survive?

Dean Batson Blog

When meeting with families and seeing this generational shift in tastes and collection, my fear is that the Millennial is not going to be collecting this genre

I often look for trends and try to forecast what we see coming in the auction world. Being here in the desert Southwest, one of the most common genres we sell is Western art and collectibles. I’m often asked about the best timing to sell these collections.

After more than 20 years of handling many large estates at auction, I am starting to see a trend that tells me, now is the time.

When meeting with families and seeing this generational shift in tastes and collection, my fear is that the Millennial is not going to be collecting this genre. I worry that its effects will be felt until the romance returns some generation later, or as the forthcoming generations, fall in love again.

This is why I say that now is the time to sell instead of waiting to be caught in the downward spiral of prices as we’ve seen too many times with other collectibles.

Waiting too long
My parents waited too long in regards to antiques and primitives. We saw the late ’80s boom of Colonial furniture and folk art, as my parents collected, and then when it was time to sell, the market had shifted and it was too late. Selling for pennies on the dollar or a tenth of what they had paid.

Will the prices come back? Yes. But, will we live long enough to see it? I don’t know.

I am not a fatalist as I see it’s just a 40-year or so cycle in most all things; however, like most, I am not storing things for 40 years for their maturity.

Sell now
Back to Western art and collectibles, the signs are here and I’d be a seller now. Western-listed artists are selling well.

Bronze works, oil paintings and all things rustic are still commanding prices, but the buyer still tends to be the Boomer. And how long will they be buyers versus sellers?

Recently we had a Dave McGary “Last Stand Hill” bronze that realized $24,000 with buyer’s premium. It was a beautiful depiction of Sioux warriors, and there was a lot of demand, but I wondered what a Millennial would pay for it five years from now.

Millennials tend to be minimalists. I wonder if the “namers” of the generations saw that coming.

A Frank McCarthy, famous for his western pulp illustrations, original oil on board hammered for $8,500, and I have the same feeling that three to four years for now, the buyer pool of interested people may be greatly diminished.

Simple supply and demand.

Effect from global market

One hope, and perhaps a silver lining, is that we’ve become a world economy, and as more live auctions are broadcast internationally online, other cultures may have an interest in collecting our heritage. This has happened before and may happen again.

Pop culture, the movies and the media can greatly influence this. Shows like HBO’s Westworld can influence buyers and peak interest. After all, Game of Thrones has me wanting to buy a throne.

Josh Levine owns J. Levine Auction & Appraisal in Scottsdale. Contact: josh@jlevines.com or @jlevines1 on Twitter.