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Antiques, Vintage and Retro...Which is Which?
By Jeffrey Pearson, ISA


Age hits everything around us and jiggles little moments in life loose when we learn what seems like recent history is ancient history for others. When "Golden Oldies" include a song we thought was still relatively hip like "The Macarena", and then realizing that the movie "Sixteen Candles" is almost thirty years old makes most of us hit the reality button.

Everything we buy for the home: furniture; rugs; lighting and artwork can be set on some form of a timeline and affixed with labels like "contemporary", "antique", "vintage" or "retro".   An item's age is not a key determinant of its value because other variables must be taken into consideration such as condition, quality, and relative rarity.  And the age of an item is evaluated not only in terms of its actual date of origin, but also in the context of contemporary fashions and social economic trends.

But not everything for sale has a certified date of origin.  Instead, we have to rely on the claims  placed  by the seller. A quick scan of "Craigslist" or "eBay" reveals that terms such as "antique" and "vintage" are often used interchangeably.  Some say "antique" for almost everything that tends to belong to grandma.  Vintage goes down in a seller's terminology as something that is too old to be considered used, but not as old as our grandparents.  Retro is something that is basically outdated and out of style. By calling it retro, a seller hopes to place sentimental or historical value to something that is simply no longer cool. These are what sellers want us to think, but the official definitions say differently.

An antique is a minimum of 100 years old.  If an item is not definitively datable to 100 or more years in age, it cannot be referred to as antique, unless it is a car then twenty-five years classifies it as "antique". Vintage is trickier!  It is an item that was produced from a certain period of time, as in vintage 1950's, but it can also mean that the item exhibits the best of certain qualities associated to that specific era. In other words "vintage" should be somewhat recognizable to the era in which it was made. Vintage should not be used in reference to objects less than 20 years old.

Retro is more fun in my eyes! Retro is reviving, or made in the styles and especially the fashions of the past: fashionably nostalgic or old-fashioned. Retro furniture may not actually be old but it references styles of recent past. Retro can also mean something that is not old but is old enough to be more than just something made "new" from  last year.  For whatever reason, "retro" makes me think mid-century modern style furniture such as Heywood Wakefield while "vintage" conjures up images of faded, lacey fabrics in beige or off white that adorned dresser tops and backs of chairs.

Knowledge is power. Your present car maybe an antique, the sofa vintage, the marble top parlor table an antique and the chrome and Formica table with the four plastic covered red chairs might be retro.  And sadly, the rest of your items might just be "household depreciable" items.  Hopefully, this will give you a different view and understanding about the terms that makes up the eclectic look in most homes.

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