Antiques 101

What is it about antiques that makes them so popular? Maybe it’s the mysterious connection with the past – wondering where the antique has been, who owned it, what their lives were like. Maybe it’s that an antique can be at once a beautiful decoration for the home and a lucrative investment.

Knowing About Antiques

Knowing about antiques is just the beginning of the journey. Whatever the draw, every year the search for an antique sends millions of people worldwide tramping through country shops and scanning websites with fingers crossed, hoping that the actual product really is as wonderful as it looks on the screen. In addition to all the articles we have here, we also offer a Q&A antique community called What’s It Worth.

What Is an Antique?

Generally, an antique is more than 100 years old and items that are less than 100 years old, but not new, are referred to as vintage. The 100 year mark was set in 1930 by the United States government. At that time, antiques were exempt from customs duties when being brought into the country and many people had been trying to save a few bucks by calling anything that wasn’t brand new an antique. After consulting several experts, the government decided that an object had to be older than 100 years to be considered an antique and that definition has been widely adopted by the industry. However, there are some exceptions to that rule – for example, there are very few automobiles that are more than 100 years old, so the oldest autos are called antiques, even though they may hail from the 1920s or 1930s. Also, some use 75 years as the cutoff point for an antique.


A little more in depth

A true antique (Latin: antiquus; ‘old’, ‘ancient’) is an item perceived as having value because of its aesthetic or historical significance, and often defined as at least 100 years old (or some other limit), although the term is often used loosely to describe any object that is old.[1] An antique is usually an item that is collected or desirable because of its age, beauty, rarity, condition, utility, personal emotional connection, and/or other unique features. It is an object that represents a previous era or time period in human history. Vintage and collectible are used to describe items that are old, but do not meet the 100-year criteria.[2]

Antiques are usually objects that show some degree of craftsmanship, collectability, or a certain attention to design, such as a desk or an early automobile. They are bought at antique shops, estate sales, auction houses, online auctions, and other venues, or estate inherited. Antique dealers often belong to national trade associations, many of which belong to CINOA, a confederation of art and antique associations across 21 countries that represents 5,000 dealers.

Definition of Antique

The common definition of antique is a collectible object such as a piece of furniture or work of art that has a high value because of its considerable age, but it varies depending on the source, product, and year. Motor vehicles are an exception to the 100-year rule. The customary definition of antique requires that an item should be at least 100 years old and in original condition.

In the United States, the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act defined antiques as, “…works of art (except rugs and carpets made after the year 1700), collections in illustration of the progress of the arts, works in bronze, marble, terra cotta, parian, pottery, or porcelain, artistic antiquities and objects of ornamental character or educational value which shall have been produced prior to the year 1830.”[citation needed] 1830 was the approximate beginning of mass production in the United States. These definitions were intended to allow people of that time to distinguish between genuine antique pieces, vintage items, and collectible objects.

The alternative term, antiquities, commonly refers to the remains of ancient art and everyday items from antiquity, which themselves are often archaeological artifacts. An antiquarian is a person who collects and studies antiquities or things of the past.

“All these things we find are pieces of ourselves. I’ve built a futre by rummaging through the past.”


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