Terminology Part I: What is Antique?

In the world of collecting, like in anything else, there’s a language used by insiders. From video gamers to traders in the stock market, talking the talk can be half the battle.

Whether collecting is your hobby or your profession, knowing how to navigate “collector speak” is a useful tool of the trade.

Terminology specific to the act of gathering cool stuff can be daunting at first. Once you grasp the basics, it’s simply an easy way to communicate about items and habits particular to collectibles. Knowing the vocabulary and applying it can be a way to feel like you’re “in the know.” In the interest of moving you into “the know,” I’ll be blogging about terminology for the next couple of weeks. For the first of the series, I’d like to break down the term “antique.”

Antique is a simple term but it’s often misused. Contrary to youthful opinion, “antique” doesn’t refer to a piece of furniture that smells of mothball storage and grandmothers.

So what makes an item an antique?

Legally, the term “antique” is an item 100 years old or older. To a purist, “antique” refers to an item made before the Machine Age, or earlier than about 1830. To the general public, “antique” refers to an item made before they were born.

Wikipedia says the definition of antique varies depending on the source, product or time period. Generally, antique refers to an item which is at least 50 to 100 years old and is collected or desirable due to rarity, condition, utility, or some other unique feature.

So there are many definitions. They allow people to make a distinction between genuine antique pieces, vintage items or collectible objects.

Basically, antiques are older than vintage items by about 50 years. The 1970’s beer sign is vintage, while the Coca-Cola sign circa 1917 is an antique. The Studebaker is a classic, vintage automobile, while the Ford Model T is an antique.

Antiques typically are more fragile than vintage items or collectibles and require more careful handling, storage and display. A 1960s vintage dress might be worn, while the silent screen starlet’s antique gown that tears easily is best displayed with protective covering of plastic or set in a frame.

The alternative term “antiquity” refers to the remains of ancient art and archaeological artifacts. “Antiquity” and “antique” are entirely different – by a few hundred years at least!

In collectibles, everything comes down to knowledge. The more you know, the better prepared you are for collecting. In buying and selling, understanding what the item is and where it came from is fundamental to learning its value on the market. If you don’t know what an item is worth on the market, it can cost you.

Learning about your item requires a grasp of the terms, starting with “antique.” It’s a measure of age, not odor.

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