Although everyone knows that an antique is an old object, opinions can differ about how exactly to define these items. Antiques differ from vintage or retro pieces, and their value is based on a series of factors including rarity, condition, authenticity and history. The industry has changed over the years and is seeing a resurgence in popularity as people recognise the worth of these objects. If you’re interested in collectibles, it’s important to know a bit about them before making your purchase.
How Old is an Antique?
A common definition of an ‘antique’ is an item that is at least 100 years old. A piece of furniture from the 1910s, for example, would qualify. Currently, 100 years old is a clear distinguishing marker between the more old-fashioned style of the 1800s and early 1900s, and the more modern or Art Deco looks that began to gain popularity in the 1920s. Others want the distinguishing marker to be 50 years old. Obviously, any definition rule based on a specific number of years will change with time periods, complicating matters somewhat.
However, you cannot only rely on solely the age of an item to define its ‘antiqueness’. After all, there are thousands of years of history spanning the time before the 1920s. Many experts and dealers will only deem an item to be an antique if it epitomises a certain style. Objects cannot only be old; they must also hold value, be collectible, and represent a certain era. Some people only consider items and furniture that are high quality and beautifully designed to be collectible. Others will consider any item – from an 1890s drawing table to a 1900s tin cup – to be an antique, as long as it was made in the right era.
Items More than 100 Years Old
Some items are much older than 100 years. The most popular types of antiques were made in the 18th and 19th centuries. As a rule, collectors will not be interested in items over 300 years of age, which are considered to be antiquities or artefacts. These are less accessible than antiques, given their age and the much smaller number of items available. You are more likely to find antiquities in museums than in the homes of collectors. Ancient artefacts and antiquities could be discovered through archaeological digs and similar academic work. Older artefacts and antiquities are often associated with a specific group of people who are native to an area, and they can play a significant role in teaching us about the past which has been lost to living memory.
The History of Antiques
The drive to collect things from the past is not new. For centuries, people have been intrigued by historical items. In the past, the ability to buy and store collectibles and items of historical significance was confined to the wealthy and educated. However, in more recent times, antique collecting has become more accessible.
After the end of World War II, antique collecting grew in popularity. Nostalgia for pre-war simpler times caused many people to seek out items and furniture that reminded them of their youth or their parents’ generation. With this new interest, more dealers entered the market and the value of antiques increased.
Modern Day Antiquing
Today, antiquing is a popular pursuit of many Australians. From serious collectors to people who occasionally purchase a piece of glassware or a grandfather clock, the dealing industry has consistently grown over the past five years. Experts estimate that the market size for the antique and used goods retailing industry is approximately $3.1 billion. It is the 24th ranked Retail Trade industry by market size and the 266th largest in Australia.
Antique collectors come in all shapes and sizes. While once it was considered to be an older person’s hobby, people of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds are now engaged in the pursuit of antiquing. Young people are seeing the value in items of a certain age, with period dramas and an interest in historical times adding to the appeal of beautiful antique objects. Dealers are noting the increased interest in collectibles, which are rare and hold their value more than many other commodities.
Difference Between Vintage and Antique
Along with the increasing popularity of antiques, vintage items are experiencing newfound interest amongst all sorts of people. The difference between vintage and antique pieces generally comes down to their age. As discussed, for an object to be considered antique, it generally needs to be at least 100 years old. The less popular definition of 50 years old creates some crossover with vintage items. The term vintage literally means ‘of age’. Like the definition of antique, vintage can be open to interpretation. Many people will use the term vintage to refer to something that is at least 40 years old, or an item from the 1920s to 1980s.
The Terms Vintage and Retro
Many collectors of vintage items will have a favourite era within the time considered vintage. In the mid 20th century, styles and fashions changed rapidly between decades. The everyday items of the 1950s were completely different to those of the 1970s. Some popular vintage items that are reminiscent of the period include comic books, vinyl records, classic cars, and toys. The art of this period is also very popular, particularly the artistically designed advertisements promoting many of the brands that are still household names today.
Retro is another word used to describe older collectibles. Retro is a shortening of the French word ‘retrograde’, meaning ‘referencing the past’. This means that retro items imitate the style of these eras, but are not necessarily from the past. For example, you could buy a dress that was made this year in a retro style. Technically, retro means an object is a copy or a fake. However, some people will use the word retro to refer to a vintage object or an object that is not antique or vintage, but still not modern. Recent nostalgia for the area of 1990s has caused a rise in popularity of technology from this time, such as cassette tapes and CDs. These items, which are at least 20 years old but not yet 40 years old, may be considered retro.
What Makes An Antique Valuable?
Although being old is the clearest definition of an antique, age is not the only criteria that makes an antique valuable. If you are hoping to begin collecting or you are hoping to make money through these valuables, it is important to know what attributes an antique must have to be worth selling.
The authenticity of an antique is the most important element in determining its value. Unfortunately, the collectibles market contains some clever replicas, and you need an expert eye to pick the difference. If you are thinking of purchasing an antique, it’s always a good idea to have an experienced and professional dealer examine the item first to ensure it is a true antique. Reproductions have become more sophisticated in recent years, as people find new ways of ageing wood and other materials to make things seem older than they are.
A good tip for ascertaining authenticity is to always do your research. If you have a thorough understanding of the style of a certain era, you will be less likely to be tricked into believing a more modern piece is from your desired time period. Check that the design elements of the item you are looking at align with the decade it was supposedly made. Also consider the materials used and any signatures of an artist or manufacturing company that can be found on the piece.
The condition of an antique is another factor in determining its worth. While an item may be old and rare, if it is severely broken it will not fetch much money at an auction or by private sale. Collectibles in good condition are always preferred by dealers and collectors. Some common damage to antiques includes chips, cracks, water damage, discolouration, scratches and tears. Any obvious signs of repair, such as visible glue or putty, mismatched screws or nails, or running paint also affect the value.
The effect of damage will vary according to the type of antique. For example, a very small chip on a sideboard may be forgiven by a buyer, but the same sized chip on glassware will be very obvious and significantly devalue the item. The way that condition plays a major role in the value of an antique is proof that it is vital to take good care of your antique items in case you ever want to sell them. These are precious objects that are not easily repaired, and they must be treated with respect.
The provenance of an antique can affects its significance. Provenance means the history of the item, such as who owned it previously and where it was made. Determining the history of an antique can be difficult and it is quite easy to make up details of an item’s past. However, when proof can be provided that an item has a special history, it can significantly increase its value. For example, some pieces of furniture or paintings have been owned by famous people or families with a long lineage. Any items that have been passed down for several generations can also have worth.
Finally, the rarity of an antique can determine its value. Antiques are often rare by their very nature; there is no way to produce more of them. However, some antiques are particularly hard to source or very few of them remain in the world. When considering the rarity of an item, it is a good idea to do some research. Find out how many of the item were originally made. If it was one of only twenty, for example, it is exceedingly rare and will be worth a lot more than something that was produced over one hundred times.
When an item is uncommon or unusual for its time it can also be considered rare. Perhaps the designer or manufacturer broke the mould when creating it, or it is the first of a new style. You can speak to an antiques expert to find out more about which items are considered particularly rare.
An unusual quirk of rarity is that sometimes mistakes can actually add value. For example, some stamps that are produced with a distortion are considered very rare and are prized by collectors. An item that may have been produced many times but has an imperfection can be worth more than the pristine versions. If you notice a flaw that is not the result of damage, it may be worth getting a valuation to check if your antique is worth more than you realised.
Types of Antiques
There are many types of antiques which can be collectible, and your personal preference will determine what you decide to purchase or collect. Some popular items include:
Antique furniture pieces are beautiful items that can also be used as part of everyday life. Many people will use antique furniture in their modern homes. It is typically made of sturdy wood and features decorative upholstery and art.
Antique jewellery is known for its superior craftmanship. Family heirlooms are often antique pieces. It can encompass many styles and fashion trends, and include both richly decorated and more simple necklaces, bracelets, earrings and more.
Art of the 1800s and early 1900s features a unique style and can be very valuable. Art pieces will often have a unique story or provenance.
From useable items like drinking glasses to decorative pieces for display around the home, glassware is a rarer type of antique due to the difficulty of preserving this breakable material for 100 years.
Often made of porcelain or similar materials, figurines were used in the past as decorative items within a home. They can add a classic touch to a modern-day home.