Antique Vs. Vintage: A Self Education

When I first began at Walnutts, for the purposes of this blog, actually, I was relatively new to the world of “antiques.” While estate and tag sales are a regular fixture of my weekend, there is still a lot for me to learn when it comes to collecting. The first thing I learned how to distinguish, however, was vintage vs. antique.

Now, to me, they were synonymous. The only difference I believed to exist was that “vintage” had a friendlier tone to it. I wouldn’t mind if someone came up to me and said, “I love that purse you’re carrying! It’s so vintage!” I would mind however if they said, “It’s so… antique.” So, to begin this journey, I first looked up the definition of each.


vintage [vin-tij]
1. Of or relating to a vintage.
2. Characterized by excellence, maturity, and enduring appeal; classic.
3. Old or outmoded.
a. Of the best: played songs that were vintage Cole Porter.
b. Of the most distinctive: ”Fatalism has coexisted with vintage American overconfidence” (Thomas Oliphant).
[Middle English, from Anglo-Norman, alteration (influenced by viniter, vintner) of Old French vendange, from Latin vndmia : vnum, grapes + dmere, to take off (d, de- + emere, to obtain; see em- in Indo-European roots).]


antique [an-teek]

1. Belonging to, made in, or typical of an earlier period.
2. Of or belonging to ancient times, especially of, from, or characteristic of ancient Greece or Rome.
3. Of or dealing in antiques.
4. Old-fashioned
[from Latin antīquus ancient, from ante before]

Hmm. You can understand my confusion. Next, I took to the Internet. A quick Google search brought up a very lively discussion, on a multitude of fronts, over the distinctions between “vintage” and “antique.” Thankfully, one of my favorite sites, Apartment Therapy, outlined the differences rather nicely:

What is antique?
According to Merriam Webster, an antique is “a relic or object of ancient times” or “a work of art, piece of furniture, or decorative object made at an earlier period and according to various customs laws at least 100 years ago.” Ruby Lane, an online marketplace of independent antique and collectible shops, offers a similar definition, explaining, “Most authorities consider the actual definition of the term ‘antique’ to mean an age of at least 100 years. If an item is not definitively datable to 100 or more years in age, it should not be directly referred to as an antique.”

What is vintage?
If antiques are things that are 100 years old or older, what are vintage pieces? The defnition of vintage is trickier. According to Merriam Webster, the term vintage relates primarily to wine and is an altered form of the French word vendage, meaning “the grapes picked during a season.” One of its secondary definitions is “a period of origin or manufacture” (e.g., a vintage 1960s Mercedes) or “length of existence: age.” Ruby Lane provides a much more helpful explanation, noting that “an item described as ‘vintage’ should speak of the era in which it was produced. Vintage can mean an item is of a certain period of time, as in “vintage 1950′s” but it can also mean (and probably always should) that the item exhibits the best of a certain quality, or qualities, associated with or belonging to that specific era. In other words, for the term vintage to accurately apply to it, an item should be somewhat representational and recognizable as belonging to the era in which it was made.” Ruby Lane also suggests that ‘vintage’ should not be used in reference to objects less than 20 years old.

Essentially, it not only has to do with age (antique being over 100 years old, vintage for items 20+ years old), but more so has to do with syntactical usage of each term. Now, I do realize that majority of the readers of this site have no difficulty in defining and distinguishing the two. But as someone learning, I feel as though I can better navigate the “world of antiques” and understand categorizations and valuations of objects.

I look forward to continue this learning process as we continue to build and fill up the Walnutts site! The wealth of resources already contained herein have afforded me so many outlets to expand my education.

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One Response to Antique Vs. Vintage: A Self Education

  1. Tom Cardaropoli says:

    Thanks – I too have difficulty with getting my mind around “vintage” – it is often used by eBay seller to mean the “look” of being old – I have come to the conclusion over the years that unless it is coupled with a date or period (such as “vintage 1940′s” or – more properly – “Chateau LaTour, Vintage 1978″) the word “vintage” when used to describe an item for sale is totally meaningless and tells one nothing about whether an item is actually old or not – it seems it should, but it appears that this is one of those words that is ill defined enough to be used by retailers to lend an aura of importance to an item, even if it is brand new.
    Google “Vintage Posters” and you will see what I mean – the search returns 13,000,000 web pages and almost NONE are selling anything but brand new posters.
    GREAT post!!!!

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