Just exactly what does vintage mean? How old does something have to be before it can be called vintage or antique? Those are questions that come up often in the world of thrifting, reselling, and collecting. Today we’ll look at the difference between vintage, antique, retro, collectible, and classic.
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We’ll start with the term “antique” because it’s the easiest to define. Merriam-Webster defines “antique” as “a work of art, piece of furniture, or decorative object made at an earlier period and according to various customs laws at least 100 years ago.” That’s referring to the United States Customs laws. This makes defining antiques much easier.
For example, it’s 2020 when I’m writing this so anything made before 1920 is officially an antique.
The hard part about that definition is that sometimes you don’t know when an item was made. Not everything has a copyright or trademark date printed on it. So you’ll have to do a little research as a seller or collector. After doing this for a while, you’ll start to recognize eras and be able to pinpoint the time period something was made.
It’s important to learn to recognize the characteristics of certain periods such as Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Victorian, Edwardian, etc. It’s also important to learn about retro styles…. that’s next.
Merriam-Webster “relating to, reviving, or being the styles and especially the fashions of the past: fashionably nostalgic or old-fashioned
Usually retro means that the item (clothes, dishes, furniture, etc) is a new item modeled after an older style.
Many of the household items sold at Target today are retro. Many of the popular clothing styles sold at Forever 21 or H&M are retro. They’re new items styled to look like they’re from the 70s, 80s, or even 90s.
For example, an original 1960 lava lamp is “vintage”. A lava lamp that you bought last week at Target may look exactly the same but it’s “retro”.
One of the best things about retro products is that they have an old look but they work with modern technology. And you don’t have to worry about fraying cords catching your house on fire! Take a look at these products I found on Amazon:
There are two “official” definitions of the word vintage:
One — Vintage refers to “a season’s yield of grapes or wine from a vineyard.”
Two — “a period of origin or manufacture”, used with a year… “My car is vintage 2007” or a WWII item could be described as vintage 1943.
Another definition of vintage is “of old, recognized, and enduring interest, importance, or quality: classic” or “dating from the past: old: outmoded, old-fashioned.”
Online resellers have hijacked the term and use it for describing lots of non-wine items. The term is used pretty much however the seller wants to use it so beware when buying something on eBay that’s described as vintage. Since there is no clear cut definition, sellers use the word to mean anything that has been used.
How Old is Vintage?
If you’re buying or selling on Etsy.com or RubyLane.com the term “vintage” has been defined for you. Those platforms define it an anything 20 years old or older. So unofficially the definition of vintage is between 20-100 years old… old enough to be in fashion again.
In a way, that’s a little hard to comprehend. That means that something made in the year 2000 is now vintage! I usually deal with “older” vintage items bordering on being antiques so it’s hard for me to call something from 1990 “vintage”.
When I sell online I often use the word “vintage”. I know it’s overused and a die-hard collector would probably not approve. But I often search for “vintage ___” just so I can find things that aren’t new.
Still, if you’re buying online be very careful about sellers that describe an item as vintage when it’s actually new. They may mean “retro” or they may just not know. Remember, ANYONE can sell online so many of these sellers are inexperienced. I try to buy from reputable online dealers but sometimes I take a chance, especially on eBay.
To confuse the issue even more, the word “collectible” is often applied to items being sold online. This term used to mean items that were on their way to becoming antiques but not quite 100 years old yet. The term “vintage” has now taken its place.
Now the term “collectible” can be used for anything a person might collect… glassware, art, sculptures, Beanie Babies. Big difference there, right?
Unfortunately (for sellers), collectibles aren’t bringing the high prices that they once did. You’ll have to do a lot of research and find a very specific niche to make money online with collectibles.
You’ll occasionally see an item described as “classic”.
I usually associate that word with cars or novels.
According to Wikipedia, “a classic is a book accepted as being exemplary or noteworthy…”
Cars are a completely different category and considered classic if they’re over 20-25 years old, antique if they’re over 50 years old, and vintage if they were built between 1919 and 1930.
And I learned something while researching this article. The age is very important for cars because they can be registered and insured as “classic cars” if they’re 20-40 years old. Since I’m not anywhere near a car expert, I’ll point you toward some of the interesting articles I found about classic cars:
On eBay, you’ll see everything from pearls to Crocs called “classic”. I’m assuming they mean “traditional” in some cases. In other cases, they may mean a style that has lasted a long time and will continue into the future.
“Classic Rock” is also another highly searched term and a good one to follow if you’re collecting vinyl or cassettes.
Conclusion & Feedback
To sum it all up… Buyer beware!
Even though the word “vintage” isn’t an official term, you may still want to use it to search eBay and Etsy. Very often an uninformed seller may just describe an item as “vintage clothes” when its actually a pair of pants from a WWII era uniform.
NOTE: Please let me know if you still have more specific questions. I’ll be updating this article from time to time and welcome any feedback you might have!
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