Whether hunting at our store, Back N The Day, or surfing listings for just the right item, understanding what is meant by terms such as “antique” or “vintage” will improve your buying and/or selling process.
Antique and Vintage terms join a host of others (e.g. retro, classic, etc.) that have come to be understood as simply meaning “old.” Often, such words are used to imply that it is from another production era and cannot be purchased new today. “Old” is good, as many people seek items with histories attached to them, whether real or imagined, or some standard of quality or style that only truly existed during a certain era. But just being old does not make an item an “antique” or “vintage.”
These descriptive terms are so frequently used interchangeably with “old,” that many people do not even know that the words do have more formally, and in some cases, more legally, accepted meanings.
While both terms, “antique” and “vintage,” do conjure up images of something “old,” understanding the specific meanings that people knowledgeable about the trade attach to these words will go a long way toward clearer communication.
Even if folks are not aware of what the trade standard is, most people realize that there is some standard for defining an antique. Many speculate that if an item is not antique it must be at least be “vintage.” Sometimes this is the case, but not always. Often, it is all in the wording and how people/shops market their items.
Vintage has several different accepted meanings, and that can cause confusion. The loosest meaning implies that the item is of a fashion that was popular in a different era. Used in this sense, “vintage” may not even mean that it was produced in that era, but simply that it mimics the fashions of that era. This can cause trouble, because most people expect the term to mean something more when applied to something that is being bought or sold.
Many people expect it to have some standard of date applied to it. Accordingly, most experts in the trade have decided that the term “vintage,” when used in a way similar to the term “antique,” refers to items that are over 50 years old, but less than 100. This kind of standard works when dealing with truly old, but not antique, items but falls short when using the term to describe something newer, and from a specific era. Understanding how the term came to be used in this way can help set the path for clearer communication.
The term “vintage” was originally came from the dating of a bottle of wine, where the vintage date, or the date the grapes were grown, gives some added information about the value of the wine. If the vintage year was a good one for grapes, it indicates that this wine is of high quality.
This history of the term vintage helps in understanding and it shows us that the term actually dates something. Just as it is used to refer to the exact year a certain wine was produced, it should, when buying and selling goods, be used in accordance with a date, or some other time frame, in its general usage.
If an item is said to be vintage, then, it should, technically state the year, or the era, in which it was manufactured. Sometimes, this type of dating of a vintage item is implied, as in when a manufacturer produced something that is highly praised for only one season. In this instance, the date is often left off because, just like in wine production, when a highly favorable crop is produced, those in the know don’t need the date, but simply adding “vintage” to it signifies that it was from that one really great year.
For many items, “vintage” is used in this way refers to the year or era that the item first became popular. “Vintage Coca Cola,” then, would refer to items produced in the 1950s era, when the brand was highly popularized. If the item is not from that specific era, it may still be labeled as vintage, but just like with our wine example, it should have a specific year attached to it: “Vintage 1976 Coke.” Labeling as such indicates that the item is not a replica of the 1976 Coke item, but an item actually produced in 1976.
Trade standards are not as demanding about the use of the term “vintage” as they are the use of the word “antique.” This is likely because the term has only recently become widely used in marketing items. A standard may one day be set more firmly, but for now, the above are considered the most widely accepted uses of the term.
To learn more about antiques vs. vintage visit our past blog post here.