Antique and vintage – these two terms are often confused and often mistakenly used interchangeably to generally refer to something that is old. However, the definition of “vintage” is not the same as “antique”. So what do these terms mean and how old does something have to be to be vintage or antique? Read on to identify the key differences between vintage, antique, or retro, and how to tell real antiques from fakes.
The antiques are at least 100 years old.
You are not alone if you do not know the answer to the question “How old is the antique?” to a question. Many people consider anything that looks “really old” to be antique. However, there is a strict rule that an item must be accurately labeled as an antique. According to the antiques industry and general acceptance, for something to be classified as an antique, it must be at least 100 years old. This is true for all types of objects, which means that even more fragile or rapidly aging goods must be at least 100 years old to be considered a true antique.
Not surprisingly, there have been many different ancient eras over the past few hundred years. For example, an antique desk from a century ago will look very different in style and design than a classic antique desk from 250 years ago. Below is a brief chronology of the various antique eras, starting from the end of the 15th century. Note that some of these periods overlap.
- 1685-1720: William and Mary
- 1720-1760: Queen Anne/XV. Louis
- 1755-1790: Chippendale
- 1790-1810: Sheratone
- 1790-1815: Federal/Hepplewhite
- 1805-1830: Empire
- 1830-1901: Victorian
- 1845-1870: Rococo Revival
- 1850-1914: Naturalist/aesthetic
- 1855-1890: Neo-Greek/Eastlake
- 1895-1915: Arts and Crafts
- 1896-1914: Secession
Pieces that are at least 300 years old can also be called antiques or works of art. These much older objects can be discovered through archaeological work, land development, or even in the attic or basement of an older house.
If you have antique furniture or want to buy it, preservation is important. Storing antiques in a room with optimal humidity and temperature, keeping the pieces out of direct sunlight, and dusting them with a clean, soft brush will help preserve the piece. In most cases, you should try to keep the original look as much as possible. For example, try to avoid painting or changing the surface of the piece.
Related: In search of antique tools
Vintage simply means old.
Age is the most important difference between vintage and antique. While goods must be at least 100 years old to be considered antique, vintage products do not have a specific age limit. The word “vintage” simply means “age,” making it difficult to define a specific age requirement. However, according to many, vintage items are at least 20 years old. So, in general, something is considered vintage if it is between 20 and 99 years old.
Many vintage items are more than just outdated. They often bring nostalgia and fond memories to individuals when they think of past years. Many old vintage items are still functional so people can incorporate them into their daily routine. Some vintage items are also highly sought after and collectable. Some of the more popular vintage items include:
- Trading cards
- Concert T-shirts
- Comic books
- Board games
- China sets it
Vintage items are generally seen as a representation of the time period from which they originate. For example, a poodle skirt is a representation of the 1950s, while a tie shirt is about life in the 1970s. Objects made between 1920 and 1945 that follow a unique design aesthetic are often called “art deco,” while those designed between 1945 and 1970 are called “mid-century modern.”
Related: Antiquing vs. Distressing: 8 Tips to Create the Original Antique Look and Patina
Retro elements refer to earlier styles.
While vintage and antique both refer to older items, retro goods are newer products that mimic the styles and patterns of the past. Vintage retro goods are often reproductions of styles or designs that were popular 20 or more years ago. Retro elements include, for example, a new clock matching the art deco style, a chest of drawers designed in the style of mid-century modernism, or bracelets from the ’80s.
Retro and vintage items are often confused. To distinguish between the two, remember that retro products are more current reproductions or imitations of older products. Another important difference between the two is that retro products are typically cheaper than vintage products. It is also easier to find and buy than vintage items, which can understandably be less. Retro products can be a good choice for those who are on a tight budget but still want to enjoy a vintage feel in their home or wardrobe.
Some popular retro items:
- Mood rings
- Shoes that mimic the styles of the past
- The new board games are sold in packaging similar to the original version of the games
- New vintage-inspired appliances such as refrigerators, stoves and microwaves
5 tips for identifying real antiques
Knowing the difference between antique and vintage items is the first step to identifying genuine antiques. Here are some additional tips to help you distinguish between antique items and items that are simply vintage.
- Look for signs that indicate the piece was made by hand or machine. Antiques are made by hand, and vintage items could have been made by machine. Some signs that indicate handmade furniture may include slight imperfections or unevenness, or hand saw marks.
- When looking at a piece of furniture, look for different types of wood. Most antique pieces contain different types of wood because the furniture makers didn’t want to waste more valuable wood in places where it can’t be seen (like the bottom of a drawer).
- Consider whether the item (or similar versions) is still in use today. If the answer is no, you’re more likely looking at an antique.
- Look for stamps or labels on the piece that list the maker or year of production. For a piece of furniture, these tags are most likely to be found on a drawer, on the back of the piece of furniture, or on the underside of the item.
- Look for signs of wear. True antiques will show uneven wear and some areas will appear more distressed than others. With newer distressed furniture designed simply to look like an antique, the wear will be more even.
- If you find the item’s patent number, you can try to look it up to determine the date of manufacture.
Related: 5 Ways to Weather Your Wood