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Share to PinterestVintage vs. Antique: Learn to Spot the Contrast
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Is it Vintage or Antique? A Guide to Identifying Your Collectibles

By Staff Writer
Share to PinterestVintage vs. Antique: Learn to Spot the Contrast
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The words antique and vintage get tossed around pretty freely wherever old curios are sold. A quick check through Ebay, local stores, and garage sales in your neighborhood will no doubt turn up a random assemblage of items with either descriptor.

It's easy to get confused since there's no legal definition for either term. As a rule, collectors call things antique when they're 100 or more years old, while vintage typically means 20-100 years. These examples should give you a clearer view of the difference between vintage and antique items.

01

Rare books

Share to PinterestOld books on wooden shelf. Tiled Bookshelf background.
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Old books are fun to look for in dusty old shops. Most of them aren't worth much, but here and there you'll find a real gem. If you find an original folio of The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, you might have something worth owning.

Most books have a publishing date on or near the title page, which gives you a clue as to whether you're looking at a vintage book or an antique. As a rule, anything printed before 1900 can be described as an antique book, while later editions are generally vintage.

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02

Old records

Share to PinterestClose up of records for sale in a store standing in the North East of England.
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Vinyl records are almost all vintage. They replaced the even older aluminum discs from the 1930s onward. Even the Edison & Co. wax seals only really go back as far as the late 19th century. Look for rarity here, since many of these records were pressed by the millions.

Incidentally, the top-selling vinyl record of all time was Thriller, by Michael Jackson. That actually makes it less valuable as a collectible because so many of them were produced.

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03

Cameos/brooches

Share to Pinterestold vintage necklaces and jewelry for sale in the antique shop
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Old-timey people wore high collars, and they often closed those collars with large pins called brooches. Very old brooches were made from silver, while pieces from the late 19th century were more often made from pinchbeck or pewter.

Many had portraits screened onto them, or ivory silhouettes of the owner's loved ones, called cameos. Brooches went out of fashion around the 1920s, which makes the ones you find mostly antiques.

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04

Early video games

Share to PinterestHigh contrast shot of an old At*ri game system.
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You're obviously not going to find an antique video game system from the 1800s in a curio shop. Some of the earliest video games were developed for use with ancient cathode-ray TVs as early as the 1950s, though, with the new invention getting popular in the late 1960s and early '70s.

It's probably safe to call anything pre-PS3 a vintage game system, especially if it's a Sega Genesis or NES.

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05

Anything Art Deco/Art Nouveau

Share to Pinterestbeautiful vintage interior. 3d rendering concept. Author's art used
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Art Deco was the hot design trend of the industrial 20th century, and Art Nouveau was its successor. These are not objects per se, but styles you can find on almost anything people were using back then. Art, architecture, advertising posters, ashtrays, cigarette lighters, furniture, and Tiffany-style lampshades all have a claim to being one of these two styles.

They were wildly popular on everything between about 1918 and 1940, so call them both vintage and hang a stylized poster of a steam locomotive on your kitchen wall at home.

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06

Depression glass

Share to PinterestA table with a variety of pink and green American Depression glass at an estate sale.
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Depression glass is one of those incredibly valuable collectible items only a niche market knows or cares about. These very high-quality sets of glassware were made, primarily in Italy, during the 1930s or so, ie: the Great Depression.

A single butter dish might fetch $500 (or $5, depending on the pattern), and a complete set of highly collectible vintage glass can go at auction for thousands of dollars. It's all vintage, but the world's surviving sets will be antique by 2040.

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07

Old clothes

Share to PinterestMan looking through clothing while at a thrift store.
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The history of fashion is largely the history of human culture. If you know what you're looking for, you can place a suit of clothes at a glance, probably to within the decade. Vintage clothes start ariybd the mid-90s with heat-sensitive tie-dye T-shirts, and roll back through parachute pants, power suits, bell bottoms, flannel suits with skinny ties, and jazz-era zoot suits.

Further back, you're looking at antique Norfolk jackets, dresses with leg-o-mutton sleeves, and knickerbockers for the boys.

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08

Tools

Share to PinterestAntique Soviet sewing machine in Kyrgyzstan, 2019
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Modern tools are generally amazing, so there's not much call for ordinary tools from 20+ years ago. Vintage power tools you pick up from 2000 back to around 1950 are probably not very collectible, and it's a toss-up whether they actually function.

Hand tools are a different story. Vintage hand tools are priced for their rarity and condition, though if you're buying hand planes, you're best off carrying a reference book and really knowing your stuff. In the 1890s, the Stanley company tried using its steel rolling process to make tools for every industry, often duplicating antique wooden hand tools. This is one area where the border between vintage and antique gets pushed back a bit. It's all antique if it's old and not made from Stanley steel.

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09

Furniture

Share to PinterestFurniture on flea market, Germany
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Mid-century design has made a comeback, so you might actually be better off investing in vintage furniture than antique, these days. This is especially true for sofas, which, prior to 1900, were an eye-twisting mess of paisley, velvet, and mahogany virtually nobody is buying today.

Stick with something the Ricardos would have sat on in I Love Lucy, and you'll be golden.

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10

Bicycles

Share to PinterestBicycle with a basket of a dried bouquet flower stand in front of wooden and rustic house background.
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Bikes are still around, of course, and many of today's brands— such as Schwinn and Huffy—have a lineage stretching back into vintage territory. The first chain-driven bikes date back to the 1870s, when the penny-farthings were the craze, but if you find a wooden bicycle it might be a French antique from as far back as the 1790s.

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