After massive falls in the previous two years, the Antique Collectors’ Club’s Annual Furniture Index (AFI) dropped by a modest two per cent in 2011.
While, for reasons of fashion and function, the English antique
furniture market remains in a parlous state, the decline was no
more severe than those seen on the stock exchange or the housing
Established in 1968, the AFI is based on a blend of retail and
auction prices for 1400 typical (rather than exceptional) pieces of
furniture from seven different periods or categories pictured in
John Andrews' book British Antique Furniture. It does
not reflect the volume of items traded, nor does it include
spectacular sales at the top end of the market where prices largely
held up well.
The index stood at 100 when Mr Andrews began the project and it
reached an historic high of 3575 points in 2002. But the past
decade has seen a steady decline, including record falls of seven
per cent in 2009 and eight per cent in 2010. Last year, the index
moved downwards again from 2505 to 2463. It was last at this level
Five of the seven constituent indices of the AFI registered
falls in 2011. The categories most associated with the decline in
formal dining, Late Mahogany (-3%) and Regency (-3%), show few
signs of returning to form, while falling demand for dressers and a
lack of good examples meant Oak (-2%) and Country (-4%) again
showed the new-found vulnerability that marked them among the
biggest losers in 2010.
Across 43 years, oak and country have been the strongest of all
categories, but post-1770 mahogany furniture now carries the lowest
of all index figures at 1803.
The Early Mahogany category saw a small gain (+1%) and Walnut,
which fell 7% in 2010, was up by 5% in 2011, something Mr Andrews
attributed to a very limited supply.
"There was a shortage of quality in the auction rooms, where
routine antique furniture continued to be in poor demand," he
Early Victorian pieces were again the biggest loser at -8%.
Only items that were well above average in terms of design and
quality, or those with an attractive provenance, maintained their
The separate Victorian & Edwardian Index, started in 1973
and once the recipient of spectacular gains, continues to nosedive,
dropping a further 11%, mirroring double-digit falls in recent
years. While some forms remain strong, such as the upholstered tub
chairs popular with interior decorators, other standard late 19th
and early 20th century pieces, such as the davenport, the work
table and the credenza still languish among the unfashionable.
The Victorian & Edwardian Index, which stood at 2031 in
2003, has lost more than half of its value during the tailspin of
the past decade. It now stands at 871, below the index figure it
held in 1988.
Nevertheless, given the modest fall in the overall index, Mr
Andrews finds some cause for optimism, particularly when measuring
the AFI against comparable indices for the FT250 Share Index or the
average house price in the south east of England.
"In today's economic circumstances it could have been much
worse," he concluded.
Reports from the 'factory floor' during the final quarter of
2011 were also cause for some encouragement. Paul Viney, chairman
of the Society of Fine Art Auctioneers, commented in January: "An
aspect I have noticed in the last few months is that English
furniture has become more sought after, though whether this is
merely a blip or represents an encouraging emergence from the
doldrums of the last few years, it's difficult to say."
A fuller analysis of the AFI numbers is published in the
February edition of Antique Collectors' Club magazine Antique