On (today's) Objects and (Tomorrow's) Artifacts

As some of you may know, I’m a big collector of retro design objects (furniture, typewriters, lamps, record players, TVs, kitchen appliances, etc.). Well as I’ve been collecting for more than 10 years, I’ve acquired quite a lot of stuff. After a few moves, and limited space in my loft, a lot has ended up in storage in boxes. Recently I decided to do a bit of a purge and had a garage sale…

…anyhow, it got me thinking -

What does the future look like for today’s artifacts and tomorrow’s collectors? I think the collector landscape will be radically different in say, even 30 years time, from what it is now for people looking for stuff that is 30 years old. I’d reckon to say there will a lot less stuff and it will be much harder to find.

A few reasons for this-

  1. Many things are cheaper and more disposable. Compared to 50 years ago when things were made to last and be fixed, it’s now often cheaper to trash it and get a new one at Walmart or wherever. Not very likely you’ll find a “classic” coffee maker that’s survived 50 years when you can buy a new one for $15.99

  2. Recyclability. More things are now made to be recycled (good in many ways), but this also leaves us with less stuff. In Europe, for example, I understand all electronics manufacturers MUST provide the option to take back old goods for recycling. Good luck finding an old package of whatever when it’s been dumped in the blue bin.

  3. Digitization. As more things become digital there are less “things” to survive and be collected. I can’t imagine people collecting old MP3s the way people collect old records. Same for iBooks…

  4. Convergence. More things converge, the less things there are. Camera + phone + music player + ? = iPhone < all these things individually.

I’d guess that some of these or other issues has happened in the past. Victorian times had all kinds of crazy devices and objects that were quickly replaced with more standardization and industrialization, electricity, and home appliances. Are there less Things now than 50 years ago, 100? 500?

On the flipside of course, maybe there are more Things? It’s easier to make low volume production thanks to CAD, mass production technologies and RP. We do have tons of specialized devices that were never before needed. There are tons of accessories (iAnythings) for many of the devices we do have.

So, what does the future hold for Artifacts, Collectors and the tomorrow of Today’s objects?

I’m not looking for what design things will be classics (that’s another thread), or if recycling is good or useful, but rather the bigger picture of what will be left for future generations of collectors or anthropologists to see…

All thoughts +/- welcome.


Interesting topic. I will throw out the obvious be cars and furniture.

One that I have thought of quite a bit is the way cars going to be looked at in the future. I am not huge car guy and do not claim to know a great deal about them. But I look at the way technology is changing along with the gas prices going up and no sight of them coming down, I think the is going to cause the performance and luxury cars of today to be more collectable or desirable that the ones of the past. My thoughts on this all around availability much like you posted above.

As far as the other artifacts you mentioned above, I think it depends on the product, category, and brand. Take kitchen appliances and tools. I have a set of professional Henkel knives. As long as they at taken care of they will last forever. They high quality, keep a hell of a sharp edge, and very well made. They could be pasted down to my kids and still perform the same as they do now. In that same category, we have a Kitchen Aid Mixer test will also keep going.

I guess my general thought is that I think it depends on the quality of the artifact much like it did in the past. However this does not cover digital items.

Isn’t that kitchen aid mixer a design from the past already? It’s’ a classic older design still popular today.

Cars sure, this will always be the case.

Furniture, i’m not so sure. At least not like it is now. What furniture today will be iconic like the eames and herman miller furniture of the past? Those were so mass produced, and today there are tons of smaller furniture makers. IKEA comes to mind but those won’t last.

Of course, if you traveled back in time to say the 60’s, would they be able to tell you what’s collectible now?

by the way, I have be scouring craigslist for an old stereo/turntable cabinet. It’s funny to think you had a large piece of furniture to house your stereo and store large records and now it’s in your iphone playing through small speakers.

Maybe not designer furniture, but Ikea is actually what cam to mind. Their chip board furniture may not last bit their plastic molded stuff will. Or if the other items do make it through the times that may make them more desirable. Back in the 60s no one probably thought that office furniture or classroom furniture would be collectable. The argument there is that those items were made to last.

One more thought…is it what attracts are going to be around or the quality of those artifacts. In you case R it appears you like the nostalgic aspect of the artifact but It really comes down to the quality and design of the item. There is always going to be nostalgic items, but I think we can all agree that the quality is going down.

I agree that objects like Ikea furniture, because they won’t last like an ‘heirloom’ piece, could become very valuable in the future, especially if they are kept in good/ like new/ MSIB condition. Stamp collecting shows this- millions made that cost a few cents each, but unused proof sheets can be worth a fortune.
It also depends on the stories objects tell- most people have some Ikea somewhere, and the association with home/ family/ emotion will make these type of objects resonate more in the future.

I imagine digital data will indeed become more prized and collectable in some futures. ( i guess we are really talking about probablities here - so I use the plural)

Actually , is’nt it here now ? - I imagine many of us would totally freak out if somehow ALL of our personal digital content suddenly got wiped!

I challenge how digital media would be collectible. Digital Media is only as good as the device running it and it is stored on. Old digital media is eliminated and new is added everyday. It is not the same as signs, magazines, and newspapers of the past. In 30 years time I do not see collectors “collecting” digital media to be plaid on modern devices. Not to mention if it’s digital is can be copied exactly which defeats collecting.

I think I was thinking more about the possible increasing value and exclusivity of our digital content in an uncertain future . I’ll try to think of some imaginary examples to explain my admittedly sketchy feelings!

Let’s take a cd. Most people seem to think mp3’s stored on ipods & harddrives are the future, and they may well be for all i know. But personally speaking , I enjoy the piece of mind that a physical disc represents - ie - knowing that the full quality uncompressed WAV is always sitting on the shelf and not dependant on a hardrive that you know will likely die one day rather unexpectedly. So whilst i presume there is likely some sort of agreement with the company that licences the mp3 file to them for use, I feel it’s an agreement that I can personally do without right now ( Ok, I admit it, I have a not-so-inner Luddite dimension to my personality!)

Another example being perhaps a big hitting youtube video that half the developed world has seen…But we’ve only ever seen the hugely compressed pixelated version. But lets say somebody somewhere has the full HD sitting on their camera or harddrive because they originally took it. Even though a million copies could be made, the fact is they haven’t . Might this not be an example of digital information being cherished or collected?

Maybe I’m way off here but I can imagine collectors in the future sharing (not copying?) their old (copyrighted?)antiquated digital material with each other…especially if perhaps some unforeseen future events result in the loss of files and information that somehow manages to fall through the cracks of time, and later being reclaimed from a HD discovered in an attic or lead lined basement somewhere.

I’m wondering if digital info is already really a currency of sorts, it’s value being centred around it’s content and its exclusivity. I imagine the first person who thought to produce limited print runs of original artwork was likely scoffed at?

I can imagine collectors in the future sharing (not copying?) their old (copyrighted?)antiquated digital material with each other…especially if perhaps some unforeseen future events result in the loss of files and information that somehow manages to fall through the cracks of time, and later being reclaimed from a HD discovered in an attic or lead lined basement somewhere.

I’m a book guy. I also cherish black & white photographs. I can’t help but wonder if a CD will even survive fifty years, let alone a thousand. The same applies to magnetic tape, digital drives, etc.

It’s not like …

While the meaning of the symbols can be lost, the “data” is still there; 4,500 years and counting.

CDs I can see becoming the next albums but I’m sure the same was said about 8 tracks. My issue with digital is that in these time technology changes so fast and has become disposable. An iPone or a new tv is nothing more that a box. The media is what makes the device. Are we going to be collecting nonoperational iPhones in the futures…I don’t see that happening.

I don’t see CDs being collectible. Being digital you can reproduce them exactly. Maybe the odd rare liner noted or packaging but it’s not like vinyl.

Interesting comment above on how as things are more disposable (ie.ikea) they may be more rare and collectible…dunno where I stand on that.


I am in agreement with you. Not saying I would collect them, but a CD with all the packaging and books could be desirable to the right person.

I like I think everyone on here am not a huge fan of Ikea but we are designers. For the average person this could be looked at as design. I have not been to one in quite sometime don’t know if the is items that could be iconic.

I know there was already a thread on this so I’ll just touch on it as I don’t want to go off topic, but iconic, classic and collectible are all different. Um looking more at collectible artifacts. Umbro Garbo can may be iconic but will never be collectible. Same for 99% of ikea I think though they do/did have some more unique prices I think will be.

For example I have (in a box someplace) a chair and ottoman they made in a premium, short lived collection that was inflatable (multiple ld pe bladders, not like a cheap PVC inflatable chair). It was quite unique and expensive for ikea. I could see that being an artifact. Billy bookcase or random pot holder. Nope.