In the most basic sense, the difference between vintage and antique furniture is it’s age. Antique furniture is any piece that is at least over 100 years old while vintage furniture can be considered pieces that were made as early as the year 2000! Does that blow anyone else’s mind or just ours? There’s a lot of nuance in the world of collecting so let’s just get right into it!
Commonly Used Terms
If you’re new to collecting, here are some commonly used collectible culture terms
- Vintage – Any item ranging from 20-99 years old, culturally deemed worthy of being collected
- Antique – Generally a collectible item that is at least 100 years old
- Collectible – Anything inherently valuable or worth more than it was originally sold for
- Period Piece – Items from a time in recent or past history, often generating a sense of nostalgia
- Repro – Short for reproduction, repro items are imitation collectibles made to look like a valuable item
- Retro – Something imitating a style of the past, can be authentic though more commonly imitation
Buyers and collectors know that the term antique refers to something specific though it is a word that can be commonly misused. True antique furniture or home decor items, according to the United States Customs Service and most professionals in the antique trade, are those that are older than 100 years old. If older than 300 years, they are referred to as antiquities or artifacts. The 100 year rule applies to anything no matter what it’s made of or what type of item. If you don’t know the exact date or time frame the items might have been produced it makes it a bit trickier to nail down whether an item is truly antique or not. It’s pretty common to see items from the 50s in antique stores, but those items are in fact vintage and not antique.
The line between the two can be pretty blurry at times, but learning the distinct characteristics of pieces made during iconic periods such as Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, or Art Deco will help you distinguish between antique and vintage. It’s also helpful to learn about reproductions and revivals of old styles. Antiques are often an investment piece due to their age, craftsmanship, material and desirability. Mixing a few antique pieces into your home gives great depth of design and creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
The word vintage literally means “of age,” so the term is used more loosely to describe anything that can be considered kind of old but not old enough to be antique. It’s a subjective term and largely up to the seller or collector, but the commonly accepted definition of vintage is any item ranging from 20-99 years old and culturally deemed worthy of collecting. Vintage items are often still fully functional and usable and commonly sought after for practical usage with a unique vintage flair, though a lot of vintage items are bought and sold simply for nostalgia.
The term “collectible” can also be used to describe vintage items that might be on the newer end of the timeline. It might be hard to imagine things from the 90s as true vintage items, so purists in the collecting world would likely opt to refer to those items as collectible rather than vintage. Another word that is commonly used in the vintage/collectible realm is “retro.” Short for “retrograde,” this term references the past, but does not indicate from the past. Retro items are not copies or fakes, but items that give nod to the past. Think letterman jackets, bowling shirts, or endlessly popular mid-century modern style furniture.