Antique Trader Inbox: Letters to the Editor

Here’s what we asked the readers of our e-newsletter during the first week of December, as temperatures dropped and a major snowstorm blanketed the great American Midwest:

How do you define the word “antique?”

We spend our days here at Antique Trader constantly dealing with the word, as you might imagine. It is a catchall for almost anything. There are some areas that are labeled as antique, such as Mid-Century Modern, which are the subject of constant debate among people who buy, sell and collect.

Dictionary.com lists 13 different definitions for antique, among them is number 8, “Any work of art, piece of furniture, decorative object, or the like, created or produced in a former period, or, according to U.S. Customs laws, 100 years before date of purchase,” which seems to be the most widely agreed-upon definition among those who choose to define such a thing by a specific measure.

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Hello Noah,

I define it the same way. I also add that it does not indicate value, condition or marketplace demand. That it’s defined by condition, condition, condition and supply and demand.

Regards,
Zoe TeBeau, ISA
Claremont, Calif.


Dear Noah,

To me, an Antique is 100 or more years old, or before 1910 A.D. However, I usually place “semi-antiques” into the period of time between 1910 and 1940. I also usually place items created between 1945 and 1964 (Tokyo Olympics) into a special category because, although not an antique, items created during this period of time were often of good quality. I consider all items made after 1964 to be of recent manufacture.

Best Wishes,
Tom Carr


Hi Noah,

Have enjoyed the Antique Trader Weekly since the early 1970s. Thank you for inviting readers to interact in your forum.

As you indicated, a U.S. Customs Order requires the item to be 100 years old. Yet they do not address the same identical item that may have been made 10 years later. As with most governmental rules, they are usually black and white in statement, yet fall into the big swirl of gray. The customs rule serves the government’s purpose at face value; to obtain money (duty) from owners of goods bringing them into the country. It becomes an academic debate as to when an item is truly an antique. Some argue that the use of the screw negates the item as being a true antique. Others argue that significant use of machinery (post-Civil War) to manufacture furniture excludes the item.

This is getting too picky for some and confusing for others. I think most would agree that the realm of 100 years is realistic. As (the qualifying period for) the 1920s is just around the corner, I consider some of these items antiques for my purpose of buying, selling, educating or appraising.

What we need to do is to show Generations X and Y that antiques are still here waiting for them to appreciate and to become the next caretaker for them.

Terry Sonntag,
ISA Accredited Member
Santa Clarita, Calif.


Noah,

Quite simply: An antique is an object that is at least 100 years old. It does not necessarily mean it is valuable or attractive … just that the object, generally manmade, is at least 100 years old. A vintage object is one that is between 75 and 100 years old.

Anything else is a collectible.

Murray Weisberg
Los Angeles


Noah,

I am a dealer and also work at an antiques mall. At the store we call anything over 100 years (or close to it) an antique, and everything else is referred to as vintage, but I can see calling anything from a former period an antique. I enjoy your articles. Keep up the good work.

Deborah Schneider
Annapolis, Md.


Hey Noah,

I also think antiques are at least 100 years old, but for most of the dealers at my “antique” mall, collectibles pay our rent and any antiques that we do sell are “icing on the cake,” so to speak.

Terry Wert
Terry’s Treasures


Hello Noah,

I would guess that the old definition used by U. S. Customs is out the window. We no longer should use the phrase “antiques and collectibles.”

Antiques, properly, at least should be more than 100 years old. That, however, qualifies anything made in the 20th century before 1907 as an antique. Wow, the things my grandmother had are now antiques!

Thus, we come to the “collectibles” category. After much consideration, and after 40+ years in this business (add to that the many years before when I was a collector), a collectible is anything that is at least one generation before the present one (i.e. more than 30 years old).

As an example, my area is ephemera: Posters for the Grateful Dead are garnering higher prices than some WWI posters.

Regards,
Dave Williams


Noah,

My definition of an antique is something that is 100 years old or the first of its kind, like the first Beta Max tape player, or the first desktop computer. Near antique is 75 to 99 years old. Then we get into vintage and collectible from there. Vintage has to be 30 years old (which means watch out, the 1980s are soon hitting the vintage era) and collectible is anything newer that people want to collect. I believe all jewelry falls into that category!

Thanks for the question!

Diane Sibille
Nostalgia Nook Antiques


Noah,

I’ve always understood an antique to be more than 50 years old.

At the Alameda Point Antiques and Collectibles Faire in Alameda, Calif., dealers are not allowed to have anything newer than 20 years old. In finding the correct name for this show, I saw someone indicate that an antique was more than 125 years old.

Even though, by my definition, I almost am an antique, I’m sticking to older than 50 years.

Tom Stillman


Hi, Noah,

I think most of us dealing (buying, selling and speaking the vernacular … ) with antiques are often forced to use the U.S. Customs “rule of thumb” definition in a selling situation, which seems to be an effort, at least, to regulate a constantly changing, unpredictable and sometimes unknown collection of global stuff. Pretty daunting, when you really think about it, eh?

Ruby Lane uses the rule of thumb mentioned above, and even extends it to an absurd corollary/conclusion (aka selling rule): “At least 75 percent of your antique items must be priced at $100 or more. The remaining 25 percent of your antique items must be at least $50 or more.”

In my virtual Ruby Lane shop, I only sell a few antiques, with most of the others left unchallenged, safely in the black hole called “collectibles.” I hope true collectors seeking specific items will be smart enough to come up with keywords to find my listings anyway.

The other factor that comes to mind about the definition of antiques is time. People often write or discuss changes in the way we currently experience time. Fast. That’s the operative word. Everything experienced feels like it’s moving faster than it was just 20 or 30 years ago. If you think about that in relation to antiques, then the definition is really itself out of date.

For example, my 8-year-old Nokia cell phone stopped functioning last year, not because it was broken, but because it was no longer being made. It was already becoming a collectible as evidenced by the fact that people actually bid on it, and I sold it for an acceptable amount of money

While we’re on the subject of definitions related to antiques, let’s chew on something with even more glistening fat clinging to it: vintage. Now, there’s a word for your column. Go for it, guy. Better you than me.

Regards,
Stephanie Spika


Dear Noah,

This has been a perplexing problem for me as a poster dealer. When I began in 1994, my business cards said “Antique Vintage European Lithographic Posters.”

I was corrected by a dealer, who stated that only items more than 100 years old could qualify. He may have been one of a handful of dealers at this particular antique show whose inventory truly was 100 years of age.

I define antique as an item more than 50 years of age, which now broadens the category and includes Modernism. How many items 100 years of age or older are there at shows? Country furniture could qualify, but not “estate jewelry,” or most glass and china items.

I define my inventory as “vintage” and inform the customer when the poster was printed. If a poster is more than 100 years old (I have a few), I do not call it antique, but say that it is two centuries old.

This debate will continue as different parameters are used, much like the question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Best Regards,
Art Finkel
Vintage Poster Art of N.J.

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