The Declining Value of Age: People and Antiques

The Declining Value of Age: People and Antiques

Daniel Stein Antiques, San Francisco, photography by Ken Bredemeier,

How are people like antiques?  The value of antiques increase over time because they become more rare.   A person’s value increases because he or she becomes wiser as a result of a lifetime of experiences. However, I’ll be the first to admit that this concept flies in the face of what our society is saying about older people and of an antiques market not as robust as in past years.  Both antiques and older people are struggling through a decline in interest within the younger population.

Having photographed thousands of antique objects and hundreds of antique dealer showrooms over the years, it may have been inevitable that my interest in old things now includes the antique dealers themselves (not that they are old mind you, but will be some day) as well as the older population in general.

In William H. Thomas’ book, What are Old People For?, he points out that our society treats the aging process as a disease, something to avoid at all costs.  Mr. Thomas states that a whole industry has sprung up to ward off aging.  Anti wrinkle creams, Botox injections, human growth hormone treatments are just some of the “solutions” marketed to us to help prolong, or hide the aging process.  The waning interest in antiques and in old people seemingly go hand in hand, or at least represent two separate phenomena that are running in parallel.

On the antiques side, the interest in antiques (while historically cyclical) is certainly in a down cycle at the moment.  But I can’t help but think that something else is going on, something related to both antiques and the older population.  The value of age seems to be lost to our younger generations.

Antiques and old people can teach us a lot about our history.  Both have withstood the age of time (in relative terms).  Every antique object (and older person) has a unique story to tell.  Antique objects offer a glimpse into the past.  They offer a tangible connection with lives from generations of long ago.  An antique object serves to connect us with our pasts and in doing so derives its value.  Herein lies where I believe many antique dealers have the opportunity to revive their market. By providing a narrative that tells the story of the object (and the people using or making it) helps forge a connection to the past adding interest and (subsequently) value to the object.

On the people side, using the definition of an antique as something that is 100 years old or older, most people never themselves become antique.  But they too can connect us with a distant past by sharing the memories of their parents’ and grandparents’ lives and experiences as well as archiving their own life experiences for future generations.

Maybe if we older people find a way to instill a sense of value in our own family narratives (history), the appreciation of objects that relate to that narrative and of that time will appreciate as well. If antique dealers do a better job of revealing the stories behind an antique while older people do a better job of revealing the stories of their own life experiences, the younger generation will take note and come to better understand and appreciate both. was created to help develop, preserve and share personal stories and the stories of objects – one short story at a time.