Antique vs Vintage: What’s the Difference?

  • Sumo

For many people, the terms antique and vintage often become pretty interchangeable as they are simply terms used to describe something which is old.

In fact, without doing your homework, you could quite easily mistake one for the other and ultimately make a bad purchase.

To make sure you never make this mistake and to help you fully understand the quality, age and history of everything you buy in the future, this post will put clear water between the terms antique and vintage.

Antique vs Vintage

Antique

As a general statement, antique should always be considered older than any item that is vintage.

While you might see any assortment of items of varying ages described as antique, dealers in the antiques trade have a general rule that for something to qualify as antique, it must be 100 years old or older.

They see 100 years as a benchmark for any given item to have cultural, historical or aesthetic significance.

History plays a big part in the ranking of items as antiques, with a number of time periods associated to pieces that qualify as antique.

For example, one of the most popular areas of trade for antiques is jewellery, an item which is grouped into different ages, mostly relating to the rule of the particular monarch under which it was created.

If you take a look at a traders site such as Laurelle Antique Jewellery, you can see that they separate their jewellery between 4 clear eras.

The standardised eras used by antique jewellery dealers are the Georgian (1714-1830), Victorian (1837-1900), Edwardian (1901-1914) and the Art Deco era (1915-1935). Obviously only the first couple of years of the Art Deco era qualify as the era straddles the 100 mark.

As mentioned, the general age is indeed 100 within the trade, however there are some traders who consider 80 years to be antique.

This is because they see 80 years as a marker of heritage in that it reflects the span of two generations, with the traditional length of one generation being 40 years. While this is an approach of some traders, it is certainly second to the 100 year rule.

Antique Style

While the ruling of antique jewellery is pretty clear, something which can cause greater confusion is antique style pieces.

As discussed earlier, there are a number of different time periods which help distinguish between different antique pieces. Aside of hallmarks and dates, one thing which makes it clear to traders what age a particular antique is from is their style.

If we take jewellery as an example, an Art Deco piece will have very distinguishing features because of the popular design trends of the time.

In the case of Art Deco, this often includes bold geometric shapes as well as exotic culture styles such as Greco-Roman and Egyptian which were common of the jazz age.

However, something to be very wary of is reproductions; pieces which have been made recently, but in the style of an antique period. Reproductions should state that they are reproductions as this would be misleading buyers, however it is still sometimes tricky to spot.

One stone cold giveaway is that they are often much cheaper than a genuine antique, so do your research on actual prices before you buy.

Vintage

First off it is worth noting that the trade standards of vintage are nowhere near as demanding as antiques.

A general approach by experts in trade says that vintage is the term used to describe an item which is at least 50 years old, but no more than 100, at which point it becomes antique. However, this 50 years’ rule is less concrete than 100 is for antique dealers.

It is thought that the term originated in the world of wine, where the word vintage refers to a specific date of a particularly good year of grape production. That is why you may see bottles labelled “Vintage 75” for example.

While this has spread to all manner of items, from cars to clothes, and jewellery to furniture, it has also developed a wider definition, one where vintage describes a particular era.

Vintage also helps clarify that while an item may not be antique, it is genuine and not a reproduction.

While vintage has been adopted by more collectibles than antique (simply because of its general younger age), each generally interprets the vintage age rule slightly differently.

For example, a vintage car is generally considered to be at least 30 years old, while jewellery refers back to the more common age of 50 years or more.

Retro vs Vintage

Like “antique style”, a term which is often confused with vintage is “retro”. Generally retro is a term used to describe something which is created to imitate a certain style or era.

One of the most common crossovers occurs in clothing, where for example a vintage 1970’s shirt may get confused with a retro 1970’s shirt which is technically brand new, but has been created in the style of the old garment.

If you have struggled with the concept of antique and vintage, or have been considering dipping into the market but want to know more, hopefully now the waters will appear to have much greater clarity.