Antique, Vintage or Retro?
These three simple words are so often misused that we have set out our understanding of how they should be used, and are used in our item descriptions
Oxford dictionaries defines an antique as "A collectable object such as a piece of furniture or work of art that has a high value because of its age and quality "
The problem with this definition is that it is highly subjective. What age is needed, how much quality and is it collectable?
With antiques sometimes attracting lower customs import duties this was a problem facing US Customs until, in 1930, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act was passed which codified most antiques as objects produced prior to 1830, i.e. over 100 years old.
There are variations but this highly unpopular Tariff Act established the 100 year age criterion for most antique items that remains the rule today and is used on this site when describing items for sale.
This is much harder to define but, like wine, vintage is linked to the year/period a collectable object was produced. So you might say a " vintage 1960s lamp".
But the V word has long been used and abused and the period/year is seldom included, vintage is left to stand on its own and now covers a wide age spectrum. At the top end is the purist view that vintage items should be over 50 years old but under the 100 year rule. But we have seen arguments that the lower limit is 40 years, 25 years and any style that has come back into fashion!
Many people use the word just to denote that it is used or has some undefined age. We use it for items over 50 years old or if linked to a year/period e.g. "vintage 1970s". The chart shown would be correctly described as a "Vintage 1940s Ford Wall Chart for an 8-Cylinder Engine"
Retro means looking backwards, and is usually applied to new objects or styles that imitate or are inspired by past styles. So a new ceramic item in the style of an Art Deco figurine could be described as "Retro Art Deco Figurine" or, better still, "Retro Art Deco Style New Figurine". Only if the figurine is genuinely from the period should one say "Vintage Art Deco Figurine" or better still "Vintage 1936 Art Deco Figurine" if the precise year is known. Retro can apply to recent periods/styles.