Antique vs. Vintage
While both vintage and antique denote an object that’s considered old, defining its period of origin hangs on the difference between the two descriptions.
When you visit an antiques shop, anything described as antique must be over 100 years old. There is some variability within the market and some consider 80 years old to be antique as well. Furthermore, while it’s acceptable to repair or restore an item, U.S. Customs insists that the item must maintain more than 50% of its originality to retain its status as antique.
In the antique's trade, most experts define vintage as an item that is over 50 years old, but less than 100 years old. Trade standards are not as demanding with the use of this term as they are with the descriptor antique, so ask a seller what they mean when they use it.
Listen to the Right Words
When searching for vintage and antique merchandise through stores or sellers you’re unfamiliar with, be wary of the word choice describing an item. When an item is valuable and authentic, usually its history will be well documented and prominently displayed. However, often a merchant may try to impress you with an item that looks great but isn’t as valuable. Listen to words like ‘influenced,' ‘inspired,' or ‘in the style of,' as these are most likely newer pieces that imitate a specific era, not an item created in that period. Don’t be afraid to leave the store to do your own research before coming back to purchase the item.
Purpose and Placement
Deciding how you want to use an item is an essential part of antique shopping. Consider whether you want art or something for everyday use. If you’re looking for a piece of art, your main concern should be the quality and craft of a piece. Keep an eye out for items you love that fit in with your current display. You may have found your new favorite piece, but does it fit in with the French country home furniture that currently decorates your home?
Looking for items that you want to use on a day to day basis presents a completely different series of problems. The durability of a certain item should be considered, as well as the cost of restoration. Antique and vintage items used on a daily basis will eventually need treatment and care. If the cost of repair is extensive, it’s probably better to forgo the item as useful and present it as decor only.
Care and Maintenance
Knowing how to take care of a vintage piece is essential. If you expose an antique item to certain factors, like sunlight, dust, or cleaning products, you may ruin it forever. Read up on the item you just bought to avoid mistakes.
Love What You Buy
The most important part of shopping for vintage and antique items is ensuring you absolutely love a piece. Sometimes immersion in so many old items makes you consider value before beauty. Sometimes, buying something you adore instead of something that has a large price tag is the bigger investment. Find something to love in the non-traditional, and you’ll ensure a home that speaks to you.
Carl Turner is an antiques enthusiast and freelance writer from Los Angeles, California. He spent much of his youth working at a local antique store, helping buyers find pieces for their home. When he’s not writing or working, he enjoys his guilty pleasure, Antiques Roadshow.