There’s a category of collectibles that probably didn’t even exist 10 years ago but which is so popular today that entire auctions are exclusively dedicated to it. They’re called “mantiques” – items that manly men and the women who love them use to decorate their basement, garage or den—the man cave.
Mantiques can take on many forms. Some of the more common mantiques include old gas station signs, anything coin-op (slot machines, Coke machines, trade stimulators, jukeboxes, pinball machines, vending machines), beer trays, barber shop memorabilia and even old cars.
“Collecting mantiques may start as picking up a novelty here or there, but it can quickly explode into filling a den or garage with amazing finds,” said Eric Bradley, Heritage Auctions’ Director of Public Relations. “Each collection is different, and there’s no limit to how these disparate collections come together. Once assembled, the objects harmonize to do one thing: tell a story about the collector and their intellect, sense of humor and proclivities.” Bradley knows whereof he speaks. He literally wrote the book on the subject: Mantiques: A Manly Guide to Cool Stuff.
Recently, Miller & Miller Auctions in Canada held an auction titled “Mantiques! Gentlemen’s Collectibles.” “I’ve never seen such anticipation for an auction,” said Justin Miller, of Miller & Miller Auctions. “The energy in the room from the beginning of the sale was unmistakable. Many items were fresh to the market, unlocked from 30- and 40-year collections. The prices tell the story. Collectors were fighting to get what they wanted.” Canadian auction records were shattered, and the top lot was a 1950 Plymouth woody station wagon (CA$35,400).
What took mantiques so long to come into their own? Answer: they’ve been here all along, just under a different name. “If you want to trace the evolution of mantiques, it was a genre that for years was called country store collectibles,” said Ben Lennox, Miller & Miller’s Operations Manager. “Tobacciana, petroliana, breweriana and automobilia—these all fit under one neat and tidy umbrella. It wasn’t until the 1980s, when collectors began to get more refined in their search for basement and garage items that the term ‘man cave’ and later ‘mantiques’ came into vogue.”
Today, gentlemen’s objets de vertu are in great demand, and that demand is only growing stronger. The category has expanded, to include items ranging from vintage watches and cameras to tufted-leather and quarter-sawn oak furniture. Women have even muscled their sway into the conversation, searching for items to outfit their “she-shacks” —items of a softer tone for their personal home space, such as quilts, textiles and kitchen collectibles. For the guys, some things have been, and will always be, popular, like gas station signs and beer trays.
Sports, of course, can be a huge component of a man cave. The website for Steiner Sports has a toolbar category titled “Man Cave Essentials.” Items for sale include an aluminum sign that reads “NOTICE – Bleachers Are Now Alcohol Free” ($59.99); a Giancarlo Stanton 8-by-10-inch plaque with game-used Yankee Stadium dirt ($24.99); an Oklahoma City Thunder subway sign wall-art photo, framed ($59.99); and a Sacramento Kings “Home Sweet Home” sign ($59.99).
Those signs are replicas, which explains the low prices. To own or display a baseball or football signed by a marquee player or group of players understandably will cost much more.
One’s budget can be an important factor when outfitting a man cave. A restored 1950s-era Wurlitzer bubbler jukebox, for example, will set you back thousands, but a man on a budget might be just as happy with an old Bakelite AM radio and reproduction rock ’n’ roll poster from the same era. The effect is the same: to recreate a feel for a carefree time and place long past.
The costliest man cave items, not surprisingly, are vintage cars and motorcycles. But even the big-name car auction houses like RM Auction and Barrett Jackson now incorporate petroliana and automobilia collectibles into their sales as ancillary offerings, and have even held stand-alone sales for just those items—no cars at all. Morphy’s also conducts highly successful auctions of petroliana and automobilia.
Vintage motorcycles hold particular appeal to men, plus they take up far less space than a car. Prices are robust, too. At auction recently in Texas, a 1951 Indian Blackhawk Chief in beautiful condition roared away for just over $12,000.
Man caves are nothing new. They date back to the days of the Industrial Revolution, when the home was often divided into spheres defined by gender. For men, who were all about politics, business and the law, that meant a place where they could let it all hang out, without fear of offending the womenfolk. The ladies tended to the rest of the house and were in charge of maintaining a strong moral fiber within the family. Over time, men expanded their reach into the mantiques realm, adding things like woodworking tools, vintage firearms and edged weapons, and such.
Much later, with the debut of TV shows like Pawn Stars (2009) and American Pickers (2010), interest in the idea of “antiques for men” (or “mantiques”) enjoyed a sharp spike. Men everywhere got the itch to get out there, climb through some old barns, get their hands dirty and bring home a rusty Texaco sign. Suddenly, antiques shopping was less intimidating to the average Joe.
Are mantiques here to stay? Judging by the fact that there are shops springing up that are dedicated expressly to man cave collectibles, the easy answer is yes. “The only caveat I have is that people should be on their guard for fakes and reproductions, especially when it comes to porcelain signs,” Ben Lennox said. “They’re coming out of India, and some of them are scary good, but if you look for certain things, like correct fonts and logo color matches, whether there are grommets where the holes are, etc., they’re fairly easy to spot. Just don’t let it deter you. Be a man, get out there and look!”