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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 how old does an object have to be to be regarded as an antique? Here’s a quick breakdown.
History of Antiques
Antique collecting has been popular since ancient times. In fact, some believe that the first pieces of collected art were found in tombs dating back to 5000 BC. These early works of art were painted on pottery, stone, metal, ivory, wood, and other materials and kept for seemingly sentimental reasons.
For contemporary collecting, you’ll find antiques from several design periods, including:
- Victorian: 1837-1901
- Arts and Crafts: 1895-1915
- Art Nouveau: 1890-1910
- Art Deco: 1920-1935
Retro and Modern design eras followed, but items from these eras are still considered vintage (not antique).
How Old Are Antiques?
Antiques are generally considered to be at least 100 years old, although they can range anywhere from 50 to 200+ years old. The age of an antique is one of the key factors used in determining its value.
Some antique dealers think an item’s value and historical significance shouldn’t impact whether it can be called an antique. In this case, any 100-year-old item, like a simple and inexpensive door hinge, would qualify as antique. In this context, a century-old rusty nail could be called an antique.
High Market Value
On the contrary, some upscale antique dealers think 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.
Finally, some dealers think anything over 50 years old should be considered antique, but this is less common (and the term might be used to try to make an item seem more important than it is). Usually, these newer pieces would be labeled as either vintage or collectible by most dealers.
However, 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.
Definition of Vintage
Antiques generally have an age range associated with them in some capacity. On the other hand, vintage is a term used much more loosely. Anything that shows a little age can be called vintage, whether that be a 15-year-old tablecloth or a 60-year-old teapot.
One exception is heirloom jewelry, where anything less than 40 years old is considered estate and should not be called vintage or antique. Vintage jewelry is any item between 40-99 years old.
What does this mean when you’re antique shopping? When you go into a typical antique shop, you’ll likely find things from all eras and price ranges. Not everything in the shop is technically an antique—and you may even find some antique reproductions. However, this variety might not be the case in a high-end antique shop, which only carries antiques of a particular era or quality.
- Antique malls usually don’t have requirements when it comes to the exact age and quality of items. You’re much more likely to score a deal here by finding something where a dealer “doesn’t know what they have.”
- A high-end online site like 1stdibs has many restrictions in place to ensure only top-quality antiques are listed. These items would have to be old, collectible, and valuable.
Just because something is called an antique doesn’t mean it’s more valuable. Also, age is only one factor when appraising antiques. Other factors include rarity, demand, and condition. In broad terms, antique terminology is subjective. However, the most widely accepted definition of an antique is any item over 100 years old.