Antique vs. Vintage Wares: This is the Actual Difference
While the terms are frequently used interchangeably, there are distinctions between what is considered vintage, antique, and retro. Learn how to tell the difference between older and newer items.
Antique and vintage are two terms that are frequently confused and incorrectly used interchangeably to refer to anything old. However, the definitions of "vintage" and "antique" are not the same. So, what exactly do these terms mean, and how old does something have to be to be considered vintage vs. antique? Continue reading to learn the key distinctions between vintage, antique, and retro items, as well as how to tell real antiques from fakes.
Antiques are at least 100 years old.
If you don't know the answer to the question "How old is antique?" you're not alone. Many people regard anything that appears "really old" as an antique. There is, however, a strict rule for accurately labeling an item as antique. According to the antiques industry and popular belief, something must be at least 100 years old to be classified as antique. This is true for any type of item, which means that even items that appear to age faster must be at least 100 years old before they can be considered a true antique.
It should come as no surprise that there have been several different antique periods over the last several hundred years. For example, the style and design of a century-old antique desk will differ significantly from that of a classic antique desk that is 250 years old. A brief timeline of the various antique periods, beginning in the late 15th century, is provided below. It should be noted that some of these time periods overlap.
- 1685-1720: William and Mary
1720-1760: Queen Anne/Louis XV
1845-1870: Rococo Revival
1895-1915: Arts and Crafts
- 1896-1914: Art Nouveau
Antiquities and artifacts are terms used to describe items that are at least 300 years old. These much older items may be discovered during archaeological work, land development, or even in an older home's attic or basement.
If you have antique furniture or plan to buy some, it is critical to preserve it. Storing antiques in a room with ideal humidity and temperature levels, keeping the pieces away from direct sunlight, and dusting with a clean, soft brush will help keep the piece in good condition. In most cases, you'll want to keep the original appearance as much as possible. For example, avoid painting or changing the piece's finish.
Vintage simply means old.
The primary distinction between vintage and antique is age. While antique items must be at least 100 years old, vintage items have no set age. The word "vintage" simply means "of age," making it more difficult to set a specific age requirement. Many people believe vintage items are at least 20 years old. In general, something is considered vintage if it is between 20 and 99 years old.
Many vintage items are more than just out-of-date. They frequently evoke nostalgia and fond memories in people as they reflect on the past. Many vintage items are still functional, allowing people to use them in their daily lives. Some vintage items may also be valuable and collectible. Among the more popular vintage items are:
- Trading cards
- Concert t-shirts
- Board games
- China sets
Vintage items are typically viewed as a representation of the era in which they were created. A poodle skirt, for example, represents the 1950s, whereas a tie-dye shirt represents life in the 1970s. Items following a specific design aesthetic and crafted between 1920 and 1945 are often referred to as "art deco," while those designed between 1945 and 1970 are referred to as "midcentury modern."
Retro items are nods to past styles.
While both vintage and antique refer to older items, retro goods are newer items that are designed to look like vintage styles and designs. Vintage retro goods are frequently reproductions of styles or designs that were popular 20 years ago or more. Retro items could include a new clock designed in the art deco style, a dresser designed in the midcentury modernism style, or '80s throwback bangle bracelets.
Items that are retro and vintage are frequently confused. To distinguish between the two, keep in mind that retro goods are more recent reproductions or imitations of older goods. Another significant difference is that retro goods are typically less expensive than vintage goods. They are also easier to find and buy than vintage items, which are often in short supply. Retro items can be a good option for those on a tight budget who want to enjoy a vintage feel in their home or wardrobe.
Among the most popular retro items are:
- Mood rings
- Shoes designed to mimic past styles
- New board games being sold in packaging that resembles the original versions of the games
- Vintage-inspired new appliances, such as refrigerators, stoves, and microwaves
5 Tips for Identifying True Antiques
Knowing how to tell the difference between antique and vintage items is the first step in identifying genuine antiques. Here are some more pointers to help you tell the difference between antiques and vintage items.
- Look for clues to determine whether the piece was made by hand or by machine. Antiques will be handcrafted, whereas vintage items may have been machine-made. Some signs of handmade furniture include minor imperfections or unevenness, as well as marks from a hand saw.
- Look for different types of wood when inspecting a piece of furniture. Because furniture makers did not want to waste more valuable wood in areas where it would not be seen, most antique pieces will have different types of wood (such as the bottom of a drawer).
- Think about whether the item (or similar versions) is still in use today. If the answer is no, you're probably looking at an antique.
- Look for stamps or labels on the piece that list the maker or the year it was made. These labels are most likely to be found inside a drawer, along the back of a piece of furniture, or on the underside of the item.
- Examine the item for signs of wear. True antiques will have varying degrees of wear, with some areas appearing more distressed than others. The wear will appear more even on newer distressed furniture that was simply designed to look like an antique.
- If you can find the item's patent number, you can use it to determine the production date.
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