The terms “vintage” and “antique” are often used interchangeably and incorrectly. While there is some debate around the exact definitions of the terms, it is generally agreed that antique items are more than 100 years old, while vintage items are 20-100 years old.
The collection of vintage and antique items is fun and rewarding, and fascinates people the world over. It’s important to know whether an item is vintage or antique before buying or selling it, as this can affect the value and cultural or historical significance.
Today we will explore the key differences between these terms and what defines an antique item as opposed to a vintage item.
Vintage vs Antique: What’s The Difference?
- Both words have similar synonyms (old, classic…) but different origins. Antique comes from Latin words meaning “old” and “ancient”, while vintage comes from words associated with wine growing and harvesting.
- Vintage periods include Art Deco and Mid-Century Modernism. Vintage items date between 20-100 years ago.
- Antique periods include Victorian, Georgian and Regency. Antique items are older than 100 years.
- Vintage items tend to be made from more modern materials with simpler designs and brighter colors. Antique items tend to have been hand-made from more expensive and higher quality materials with ornate designs.
- Both vintage and antique items can be valuable depending on age, condition, rarity, and historical or cultural significance.
Antique Or Vintage: Definition & Origin
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, antique items are those which were made in olden times – items which may be ancient and high quality, and older than 100 years. Vintage items on the other hand are “from the past” and associated with the words old-fashioned and classic. So there’s definitely some overlap in definition and associated keywords are similar.
However, the roots of antique vs vintage show a little more divergence. Antique comes from the latin words “antiquus”, “anticus” and “ante” (meaning former, ancient, and before respectively). Vintage has a few potential roots including “vintner” (Middle English for wine producer), “vendange” (French,”grape harvest”) and “vindemia” (Latin which literally translates as “wine remover”).
While vintage is still used to describe wine, it is also used to describe old items and has become a popular buzz word especially in terms of interior decoration and fashion.
What Is The Difference Between Vintage And Antique?
Age & Origin
The number one rule of antique vs vintage: antique items were made more than 100 years ago while vintage items were made between 20-100 years ago. However, some argue that vintage items are actually between 40-100 years old. Anything newer is either retro or contemporary.
There are some specific time periods which are often referred to using the term vintage. These can include the Art Deco period which is formally defined as between 1920 and 1945, and Mid-Century Modernism which is defined as between 1945-1970.
Some of the most famous antique periods include the Victorian era (1830-1901), the Rococo Revival (1845-1870), the Arts and Crafts period (1895-1915) and the Art Noveau period (1896-1914).
As you can see, some of these periods may overlap which makes the antique and vintage timeline a little confusing!
Here you can find a handy guide to different historical antique periods from a few regions around the world.
Characteristics & Design
The designs and characteristics of an old piece can help you find clues as to the origin and therefore whether the piece is antique or vintage. It is vital to look out for signs of trends and details which were in vogue during specific periods.
Vintage items often create a feeling of nostalgia and tend to define the fashion trends of the period they were produced in. Often vintage items tend to be simpler and sleeker, and sport bolder colors compared to antique items.
Some of the key eras (with links to useful areas of Etsy) and associated designs from the vintage periods include:
- 1920s – Bauhaus / Art Deco / Egyptian Revival, flapper dresses, colored glasss hanging lamps, Art Deco jewelry.
- 1930s – Art Deco / Depression era, Depression glassware, Bakelite kitchen items, travel posters.
- 1940s – Mid-Century / Danish Modern, WWII uniforms and memorabilia, Pyrex dishware, mass-produced Persian rugs.
- 1950s – Mid-Century / Danish Modern / Atomic Age / Electronic Age, Mid-Century modern furniture, record players, poodle skirts, hoop earrings.
- 1960s – Electronic Age / Hippy Movement / Pop Culture, psychedelic posters, lava lamps, low sideboards.
- 1970s – Pop Culture/ Disco / Computer Age, fiberglass furniture, over-sized sunglasses, Disco fashion platforms, polaroid cameras.
- 1980s – Computer Age, bold printed shirts, fanny packs, TV show trading cards.
These are only a few examples with many more items out there depending on the areas you are interested in.
Antique items tend to be more highly ornate and made from more expensive materials like hardwoods, precious metals and quality fabrics. Often items such as furniture and jewelry were crafted by hand and may bear maker’s marks to distinguish them from mass-produced items and other makers.
Some iconic examples of antique items from different historical periods (with links to relevant parts of eBay) include:
- 17th century – Jacobean / Colonial, Baroque furniture, antique candlesticks.
- 18th century – Colonial / Rococo / Georgian, Chippendale furniture, porcelain figurines, Grandfather clocks.
- 19th century – Georgian / Regency / Industrial Revolution / Victorian, precious jewelry, antique dolls, oil paintings.
- Early 20th century – Renaissance Revival / Art Noveau, Tiffany lamps, Art Noveau vases.
Value & Rarity
As with all old objects, the rarity of an object will boost its value greatly. Other factors which affect a vintage or antique item’s value include age, condition, provenance, and historical or cultural significance.
Items in excellent condition with an authenticated provenance will be more valuable, whereas broken or worn items with an unclear origin will be less valuable. This goes for both vintage and antique items.
As a general rule, antique items tend to be more expensive than vintage due to their age and greater rarity. However, some vintage items are an exception to the rule including those made by iconic and desirable brands such as Chanel or Rolex.
Determining the value of vintage and antique items is not easy. It is recommended to conduct thorough market research and find out the current market price of an item of interest, and the way in which is it being marketed. Supply and demand can also affect the value.
Collection & Preservation
Collectors of antique items often like to theme their collections by focusing on particular eras or styles from many years ago. Vintage collectors are often driven my nostalgia or an attraction to the recent past.
Often, vintage items are in good enough shape to still be used for their original purpose, whereas antiques may be too old for use and used just for decoration today.
If you are interested in collecting antique or vintage items, make sure the pieces you like are genuine and in good condition before making any purchase. If possible, try to see the items in person and ask questions of the seller before you pay. Otherwise, don’t be afraid to ask the seller for more information and detailed photographs.
While antique are often more fragile due to their age and the materials used, vintage items also need special care in order to preserve them for future generations. Storing items in an appropriate way is a good place to start. Many items need to be stored away from direct sunlight, in a dry and cool location. Other items could require special methods of cleaning for appropriate preservation.
Restoration is another option that could be required to maintain the antique or vintage item for future use. However, it is important to note that incorrect restoration techniques could damage the item and devalue it greatly. It may be bests to consult an expert on a good way forward to preserve your antique or vintage item.
Is there a difference between vintage and retro?
There is a difference between vintage and retro. Vintage items are classed as those between 20-100 years old (of 40-100 years old according to some experts). Retro items are newer than vintage items, and are often intended nostalgically to resemble vintage items in some shape or form.
Are all antique items valuable?
There is not one rule which fits all in terms of the value of antique items. Typically, antiques are more valuable than vintage items due to their age and historical significance. Antique items in great condition and proven provenance are highly valuable, especially if they are also rare. Those which are badly damaged with unknown origins are likely to have low value.
Can vintage and antique items be sold online?
It is easy to sell vintage and antique items online through marketplaces like eBay and Etsy. While eBay tends to be better for antiques, Etsy can be better for vintage and retro items. You can also sell vintage and antique items through specialized stores which may be a better option if you have them close-by. Be aware non genuine items and fake buyers when selling online. Make sure to include plenty of detailed images and information about the item you’re selling.
Can I still use vintage and antique items? Or are they only for display?
Of course you can still use these old items if you want to and if they are in good enough condition. You also need to bear in mind what you want to do with them in the future – are you happy for them to be a beautiful home decoration to pass down through generations? Or do you think of the item as an investment which could be sold further down the line?
Vintage items can often still be easily used for their intended purpose as long as they are in good enough condition and not made of hazardous materials (for example we once though asbestos was a great material to use – however it is terribly unsafe to use as we know today!). Older antique items may have to be stored carefully and could just be for display purposes to preserve their historical significance and fragile features.