What is an Antique and What is Not?

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The antique market fluctuates as trends change. The things that sold for thousands of dollars a decade ago might only be worth a few hundred today. In addition, the items that people considered vintage twenty years ago are now marketed as full-fledged antiques. But what is an antique exactly?

According to most antique dealers, an antique is a collectible item that is over 100 years old.

Does that answer the question? Not quite.

For some upscale antique dealers, an antique should have a relatively stable (and high) market value. In this case, not every century-old item would qualify. For instance, these dealers would consider inexpensive knick-knacks as collectible items instead of antiques even if they were over 100 years old.

Other antique dealers think that the value of an item shouldn’t impact whether something can be called an antique. In this case, items like 100-year-old door hinges would qualify as antiques.

Think that’s all? There is another school of dealers that think anything over 50 years old should be considered antique. In most cases, these newer pieces would labeled as either vintage or collectible.

What does this mean when you’re antique shopping? When you go into an everyday antique shop, you’ll likely find things from all eras and in all price ranges. Not everything in the shop is technically an antique. This might not be the case in a high-end antique shop.

For example:

  • Antique malls usually don’t have requirements when it comes to the exact age and quality of items.
  • A high-end online site like 1stdibs has many restrictions in place to ensure only top-quality antiques are listed.

Some niches have more defined terms that make qualifying an antique less of a gray area. For instance, according to the Antique Automobile Club of America, an antique car is any car over 25 years old.

Also, just because something is antique doesn’t mean it’s more valuable. Age is only one factor when appraising antiques. Other factors include rarity, demand, and condition.

In summary:

What is an antique? In broad terms, antique terminology is subjective. However, the most widely accepted definition for an antique is any item over 100 years old.

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