The Difference Between Antique, Vintage, And Retro Collectibles

If you were to ask a group of casual collectors to explain the differences between antique, vintage, and retro collectibles; you would likely receive a variety of off-the-cuff answers.

The purpose of this lighthearted guide is to explain the differences in practical terms (don't worry, this won't be as boring as it sounds).


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So What Exactly is an Antique?

Imagine that you're rummaging about at a local estate sale when an eye-catching stopwatch grabs your attention. Without delay, you joyfully scamper over to the cashier to buy the elegant timepiece.

After doing a bit of research you discover that your find originated sometime in the early 1900s.

Is it an Antique?

According to The Tariff Act of 1966, an antique is defined as any object that's been in existence for at least a century (100 years). Based on that standard, it's fair to say that our imaginary pocket-watch meets the requirements.

But How Do You Determine the Age of an Antique?

While vintage and retro items generally have some sort of date-stamp to help you determine their age, this isn't always the case with antiques.

That being said, here are a few pointers to help you deduce whether or not a particular thingamajig is an antique or not:

  • Look for materials that aren't generally used in modern day collectibles (visibly hardened glue, old nails, hand stitches)
  • Depending on the item, look for obvious signs of wear and aging
  • Look for a patent number or trademark
  • Try to locate unique marks or signatures on the piece
  • Invest in a worthwhile antiques guide

    What Qualifies an Item as Vintage?

    Although the expression vintage is usually applied to items that are at least twenty years old (this is the official definition), some collectors believe that it's clearly a matter of how the word is being used.

    For instance, through the eyes of a casual automobile hobbyist, a vintage car may simply be a vehicle that's over ten years old. Yet, earnest collectors are generally a bit more meticulous in this regard. Serious enthusiasts generally define vintage cars as automobiles that were manufactured between 1919 to 1930.

    As it relates to clothes, the word vintage is generally used a generic term to represent authentic garments from a previous era.

    Also, it's not uncommon for bargain hunters to loosely use the word (vintage) in relation to thrift stores garbs, resale attire, etc.

    At the end of the day, It's generally acceptable to apply the expression (vintage) to any thingamajig that's been on the planet for a minimum of twenty years.

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    Does Retro and Vintage Mean the Same Thing?

    After a little contemplation, I decided to turn to Google for the answer to this riddle (listed below). I altered the words a bit to avoid any accusations of blatant plagiarism:

    According to my research...

    Retro or retro style is the method of consciously emulating or imitating trends, music, techniques, fashions, or attitudes from the recent past.

    The word retro emerged sometime in the 1970s.

    On the one hand, it's used to describe new artifacts that intentionally mirror particular styles, motifs, products, or things from the past. This is considered to be the correct use of the word. On the other hand, some collectors (incorrectly) use the expression to categorize styles that have been created in the past.

    Retro style refers to new things that display characteristics from the past - as in retro items that resemble 80's decor. It’s primarily the recent past that retro seeks to duplicate.

    To put it in simpler terms, retro applies to items that duplicate the past in some form or another, while vintage applies to objects that actually originated in the past (at least twenty years in the past). So, while the words may not have the exact same meaning, they're undeniably interconnected.

    Why is This Important?

    If you're someone who collects for the mere fun of it, distinguishing the differences between antique, retro, and vintage may not be a priority. However, if you hoard collectibles as an investment, this information is priceless.

    For example, Millennials seem to have very little interest in stockpiling their parents time-honored pieces (old china, baby shoes, passed down furniture, etc.). Yet, they're undeniably drawn to items like:

  • Vinyl Albums
  • Old Polaroid Cameras
  • Vintage Hardcover Books
  • Thrift Store Clothes
  • Calligraphy Pens
  • Vintage Toys
  • Comic Books
  • Old Sports Memorabilia
  • Vintage Art

    That isn't to say that Baby Boomers and Generation Xers never invest in the above-mentioned desirables, but they tend to gravitate toward traditional antiques and collectibles.

    From a resell point of view, the goal is to market the right item to the right group. Doing so will definitely have a positive effect on your bottom line.

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