Antique, Vintage, Retro or Just Plain Old?

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Since I started curating items for my new shop I have often been asked, “What is the difference between Antique and Vintage?”   These terms get thrown around a lot today and can be not only confusing but also misleading. Considering that we often assign value to something given its classification or label, such as antique, it is important to understand the nuances so that you can be an educated consumer.

Antique – According to Merriam Webster, this describes a piece that is “belonging to earlier period, style or fashion.” Most authorities agree that it is at least 100 years of age or older and this must be verifiable.

Vintage – Defined by Merriam Webster as, “A period in which something is made or begun, such as a 1967 corvette or a 70’s pair of jeans.

Ruby Lane, an online antique and vintage market provides this explanation.

An item described as ‘vintage’ should speak of the era in which it was produced. Vintage can mean an item is of a certain period of time, as in “vintage 1950’s” but it can also mean (and probably always should) that the item exhibits the best of a certain quality, or qualities, associated with or belonging to that specific era. In other words, for the term vintage to accurately apply to it, an item should be somewhat representational and recognizable as belonging to the era in which it was made.” Ruby Lane also suggests that ‘vintage’ should not be used in reference to objects less than 20 years old.

Retro – Merriam Webster defines it as “looking like or relating to styles from the past.” Retro pieces such as furniture or clothing are not actually old but reference styles of the recent past. For example, bell-bottom jeans have recently come back into fashion. This of course is a nod to the bell-bottom style of the 70’s. However, a pair of jeans from the 70’s would not be considered retro, they would be considered vintage.

I thought it was important to put together a little tutorial that may be helpful as you’re out searching for that special treasure. Be careful not to fall in to the trap of being seduced by the label. The fact is, most sellers aren’t deliberately trying to mislead you. They just have a misunderstanding of the terminology.  So take the time to educate yourself and happy hunting.

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