Antiques Market, Mexico City/ Tianguis de Antigüedades, Ciudad de México

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March 25, 2014
What’s the Difference Between Vintage and Antique?
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” or so we are told. As this adage implies, word choice when describing an item can sometimes be subjective, and the item’s value is often relative to the worth placed on it by an individual. With the value of an item being so variable, then, it is important to come to some common understanding of the standard meaning attached to basic labels.

Whether hunting at the antique shop for enjoyment, or surfing listings for just the right item, understanding what is meant by terms such as “antique” or “vintage” will improve the buying and selling process.

These 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 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.

Defining Terms
While both terms, “antique” and “vintage,” do muster connotations of “old,” understanding the specific meanings that people knowledgeable about the trade attach to these words will go a long way toward clearer communication.

It is important to note that, for some specific items, like firearms and some clothing items, there are standardly accepted definitions of these terms that may differ from those discussed here. In fact, for firearms in particular, the word “antique” is very specific, and there are certain laws about the buying and selling of firearms based on whether they meet specific qualification. Specific guides for items provide information on the use of terminology within an individual category.

Today, everything seems to be an antique. The 1980s brick cell phone and a craftsman-style table, handcrafted during the depression are each slapped with the same “antique” label that a 1800’s era family heirloom quilt justly deserves. For those in the trade, however, this word does not just mean “old,” but signifies a minimum specific age and should not be applied to the ‘80s brick cell phone and, perhaps, not even to the depression-era handcrafted table.

The Antiques Roadshow must regularly decide what is and what is not an antique. According to them, an “antique” is, “[g]enerally speaking, an object of considerable age valued for its aesthetic or historical significance. In the antiques trade, the term refers to objects more than 100 years old.”

Thus, when buying or selling an item labeled “antique,” trade standards suggest that the term should be reserved only for items greater than 100 years old. Outside of the practice of buying and selling items, however, use of the word “antique” can be understood to attach no specific age to an item.

Even inside the trade, though, there is some variability as to the exact age that signifies an antique. Generally speaking, it is safe to stick with the 100 year definition, but some hold to an 80 year marker. The 80 year marker considers the heritage of the item in that it reflects the span of two generations, with one generation traditionally considered to be the length of 40 years.

These are all simply trade standards, but it should also be noted that U.S. Customs has set their own legal definition of an antique, and it is in agreement with the 100 year guideline. U.S. Customs also adds a quality standard to their definition in that, while it is acceptable to repair or restore an antique, the item must retain its original character and be less than 50% restored to be considered an antique.

In keeping with these standards, let’s examine the three items discussed above. The brick cell phone from the 80s, while being the oldest cell phone produced, could not be considered an antique for 70 more years. Likewise, as odd as it seems, that depression era, handcrafted table is, as yet, a few years shy of acquiring a true antique status. Indeed, of the three, only the heirloom quilt from the 1800’s is a true antique.

Even if they may not be aware of what the standard is, many people realize that there is some standard for defining an antique. Many people 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.

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 derived 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 helps in understanding important ideas about the use of the term “vintage.” 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” used in this way refers to the year or era that the item first became popular. “Vintage Peanuts,” then, would refer to items produced in the 1950s era, when the comic strip was first 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 1971 Peanuts.” Labeling as such indicates that the item is not a replica of the 1971 Peanuts item, but an item actually produced in 1971.

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.

Why Do the Words Matter Anyways?
To return again to our adage, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” the value of any particular item is often subjective, depending on the value an individual places on it. In reality, however, parties often need to reach a consensus about the value of an item.

Some look to the labels attached to the item to determine such value, but this only holds true if the attached labels adhere to some standard definition of terms. Sometimes, an item is simply old, or even just “used,” and should be given no extra value for its age. Putting the label of “Vintage” or “Antique” on such an item implies added value, but if the item doesn’t fit the generally accepted definition of the term applied to it, this could be considered disingenuous.

In a physical situation, where one can closely examine an item, it is often easy to decide quickly if the terms being applied are simply colorful ways to indicate that the item is old. In a virtual situation, however, being extra conscious of how terms are used and understanding that the meaning of terms can vary, helps greatly in determining the value placed on an item.

Créditos de este texto:

Definición de antigüedades
Actualizado: 22/02/2015
Como nombre concreto se aplica a los objetos de arte o artículos de valor decorativo o utilitario confeccionados en épocas anteriores. Durante el movimiento neoclásico de fines del siglo xviii, la palabra antigüedades se empleaba para referirse a restos del arte antiguo, especialmente obras griegas y romanas, como pinturas, jarrones, camafeos y especialmente esculturas. Posteriormente se ha ampliado mucho su significación y con la denominación de antiguo se comprende todo lo viejo que pertenezca a épocas anteriores o esté pasado de moda o ya no se fabrique. Especialmente se consideran antigüedades los objetos decorativos del hogar o su mobiliario, aunque los buscadores de antigüedades coleccionen toda clase de artículos, desde partidas de nacimiento hasta automóviles y mármoles. Generalmente, sin embargo, los artículos considerados como antigüedades son muebles, cristalerías, tejidos, cerámicas y objetos de plata.

La vejez que debe alcanzar un artículo para ser considerado una antigüedad depende de la del país o zona de que proceda y varía de acuerdo con el ambiente. Por ejemplo, una mesa con tapa de mármol de la época de Luis XIV se considera en todas partes una antigüedad; pero una mecedora de Grand Rapids, del mobiliario del periodo colonial, aunque en Estados Unidos sea considerada como una antigüedad, no lo es generalmente en Europa. La mesa Luis XIV tiene 300 años, la. mecedora quizás 70, pero ambas, por distintas razones, pueden denominarse antigüedades.

El interés por los objetos antiguos es casi tan viejo como la civilización misma. Los sumerios y babilonios fueron coleccionistas de objetos de arte más antiguos que sus propias civilizaciones. Entre los romanos la afición a coleccionar antigüedades estaba tan desarrollada que había modas en cuanto al tipo de artículos objeto de búsqueda. Las tapicerías de Malta, las alfombras de Babilonia y las joyas grabadas estuvieron sucesivamente en boga entre los coleccionistas. El emperador Augusto coleccionaba antigüedades griegas y mobiliario fino. La colección de antigüedades llegó a ser parte tan importante de la cultura romana que Cicerón (que no era rico según los cánones de la época) estaba dispuesto a pagar una suma equivalente a un millón de pesetas actuales por una mesa rara de madera de limonero. Aunque el interés por las antigüedades ha sido propio de las civilizaciones adelantadas, no se ha limitado a las mismas, ya que incluso pueblos primitivos, como los indígenas de Borneo, Samoa y Nueva Guinea, coleccionaban objetos antiguos por su interés y valor arcaico.

La pasión por los objetos antiguos no se generalizó en América hasta mediados del siglo pasado. Sin duda hubo personas aisladas que importaron antes muebles y otras obras de arte europeas para sus colecciones, pero fue en la última parte del siglo xix cuando la colección de antigüedades se convirtió en pasión general, en una afición de puro pasatiempo. La demanda de artículos para coleccionistas fue tan grande que los abastecimientos europeos no podían satisfacerla y los coleccionistas viéronse obligados a reconocer como antigüedades objetos que habían sido confecccionados en América. Vajillas de peltre con la impronta de un águila, cristalerías Amelung, toscos trípodes de hierro, faroles de hojalata y toda clase de objetos antiguos americanos fueron considerados adecuados para las colecciones.

Las reglas por las que se rige la colección de antigüedades son variadas. La autenticidad es condición esencial, como lo es también la calidad, belleza, rareza y valor histórico. Sin embargo, la significación histórica puede reducirse a la simple vinculación de ar-tículos vulgares con un personaje importante o lugar famoso. A menudo no se tienen en cuenta los factores estéticos, sino la simple rareza, de suerte que el precio de un objeto puede llegar a cifras fantásticas sólo por el hecho de saberse que existen pocos ejemplares del mismo. Además, la competencia entre los coleccionistas aumenta el precio de una antigüedad, no habida cuenta de su valor intrínseco. Frecuentemente se prescinde de la calidad de la artesanía y de los materiales si existe una gran demanda del artículo (esta indiferencia por la calidad se mantiene también, hasta cierto punto, en un objeto raro). Si existe gran demanda por un objeto determinado, el precio será elevado, sin que se tenga en cuenta el valor del material y la destreza del artesano que lo trabajara. Por otra parte, la buena calidad de un artículo dará lugar a un precio más alto, prescindiendo de si está en boga o no. La autenticidad es el criterio definitivo y absoluto del valor. Si una antigüedad no es genuina, pierde su carácter de tal. Cuando se lleva a cabo con seriedad, la colección de antigüedades requiere un estudio a fondo de la historia y geografía de la región de que procede un objeto, así como un conocimiento profundo de los procedimientos técnicos empleados en la producción del mismo, y ello no solamente para aumentar el placer que pueda proporcionar una colección sino también para no ser engañado. Un coleccionista improvisado, sin un conocimiento verdadero de las antigüedades, compraría tal vez como muebles antiguos los construidos completamente al margen de las formas genuinas y con maderas recientes. El estado de conservación es un factor de importancia relativa. Las antigüedades, por propia naturaleza, son viejas y han sido objeto de gran uso.

El móvil más corriente del coleccionista es de carácter recreativo. Se trata de un pasatiempo que proporciona aumento del caudal educativo y cultural con el recuerdo de civilizaciones y costumbres desaparecidas. Ofrece al mismo tiempo una especie de emoción deportiva a aquellos que deseen aumentar sus colecciones sin ayuda de intermediarios y satisface, en fin, el sentimiento estético del coleccionista rodeándose de objetos de arte y bellos ejemplos de artesanía.

Al igual que todas las aficiones coleccionadoras, proporciona una salida al anhelo adquisitivo del individuo. Existen también otros motivos particulares, como el deseo de fama e inmortalidad (obtenida legando la colección a un museo o al gobierno) y la creación de una base de seguridad económica, ya que las antigüedades se venden a menudo con grandes beneficios. Para ilustraciones véase Arqueología; Cristalería; Muebles; Vajilla.

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