Antiques are Green: The Major Disconnect

For years we’ve thought of antiques as brown, but lately a number of dealers are focusing on antiques as being the primary color of green. On the surface they are, and by saying that they’re appealing to a desire among consumers to be friendly on the planet. How can you argue? This antique chest aleady exists, a new one has to be manufactured, perhaps from a quick growth or even virgin forest somewhere on the other side of the planet. Antiques, they say are green.

From Britain the Antiques Trade Gazette and others sponsored a  look into whether antiques were really green. Like the beer company who sponsors a study that finds beer is good for you, it may not come as a surprise the answer came out as a yes.

If we are comparing an antique of reasonable quality with something from a store that sells on price, I suspect this analysis may fall right into line. If we are comparing a top-end antique with a modern piece of similar quality, I would contend there is little difference. In fact, the modern piece may even have a slight edge.

I will undoubtedly be accused of throwing a pail of water on one of the few things the industry seems to have going for it. From my own experience modern consumers are not easily swayed by advertisements or shallow claims, however. If antiques were green we could shout it from the rooftops. But they are in actuality I suspect only sort of green.

They are green if we consider only that the antique chest has already been produced and unlike the chest at the furniture store, it’s purchase will not lead to the production of another. At least not until we run out of antique chests to be purchased. That’s because if we purchase the antique chest, then there’s one less antique chest available and the next person who needs a chest may have only the retail store option to choose from. But for that moment, on a personal decision level, the antique chest may be the greener choice.

Looking beyond the immediate moment and it’s anything but a clear choice.

It’s curious in my conversation with Eric Demby at the Brooklyn Flea, which is frequented by younger customers assumeably more in-tune with concepts like carbon footprint, that he revealed he never sees the concept of green being used to sell at the flea.

The green quality of antiques he says, is a nice added bonus, but not a major selling point.

To me if we’re talking about quality antiques, we’re really talking about decorative art and I can’t imagine purchasing art based on the carbon-neutral qualities of the paint or canvas. Only when they are reduced to used furniture can the green aspect begin to apply.

Yet we have major antique shows today selling on the premise that antiques are green. Whether they are or not is really beside the point. And the point is better made that the concept is a major disconnect.

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