November 16, 2007
As of late the terms, 'antique' and 'vintage' have started taking on vague meanings in the marketplace. Unfortunately, these and other terms that have always been essential constituents to the lexicon of collectors are, more and more, being used incorrectly. Often this is not due to the fact that the user intends to deceive or misrepresent their goods, but instead occurs perhaps because writing is not their first love or crafting descriptions is a skill they are still honing. And in grasping for words with which to create a title or description, it is often easiest to simply rely on those most familiar in tone and closest at hand. But the practice of using the words 'antique' and 'vintage' in reference to items that should not be described so, and doing this just because those terms are familiar, though not at all apt, can be likened to calling a rhinoceros a rat in a written description, only because 'rat' is easier to spell.
'Antique,' for instance, should be easy for almost everyone to apply accurately. Even so, it is often used to mean only that a thing is vintage or recognizably old and not very new.
And the word 'vintage' is used as a way to indicate that an item is no longer brand new, though the piece being referenced by the term may in fact still very new. Often this term is used in reference to items no more than three or four years old.
If the sellers of collectibles who use these terms when describing an item don't know there true meaning well enough to apply them correctly, it is understandable that buyers might also be confused as to what exactly they are buying. For instance, we've found the word 'antique' used in reference to items from the 1960's and, on occasion, even newer.
Recently, a new visitor to a well-known antiques and collectibles site posed this question:
The terms vintage and antique are used to describe items by various vendors, what does each term mean? How are they different? Do you offer a site that provides a glossary of terms that dealers use for consistency so customers will know how to judge what is sold?
The fact the customer felt that they needed to ask this question illustrates the problem. Online shop owners of antiques and collectibles may not even realize just how their misapplication of terminology can register in the minds of knowledgeable buyers. It can make them walk away from the shop because it places doubt in their mind about the shop's owner knowledge of what they are selling. Worse, a novice customer may make a purchase because poor nomenclature mislead them into believing they are buying something old when they are not.
This practice does a serious disservice to customers – everybody's customers. Particularly in a online mall type setting where groups of shops come together to sell their merchandise from one online location. If the terms being used by individual shop owners are not consistently accurate across a mall site, everyone's credibility can suffer.
Proper Definitions Defined
Most recognized authorities consider the actual definition of the term 'antique' to mean an age of at least 100 years. But keep in mind, some online antiques and collectibles venues allow some flexibility in the use of the term antique when describing an item, for example, one online mall permits items made as late as 1945 to be included in their antiques category. Potential customers should make it a point to check the e-commerce site or specific online shop to determine how that particular site or shop defines an antique with reference to age.
Vintage is a more general term easily applicable to a wider variety of objects, but it also has real and very specific meaning. An item described as 'vintage' should speak of the era from which it came. While it can mean an item is of a certain time period, it can also mean (and often should) that the item also has the best of a certain quality associated with or belonging to that era. In general, for the term to most accurately apply, the item should somewhat represent a quality for which the era in which it was made was known. As a general rule, it should NOT be used in reference to objects less than 20 years old because 'vintage' will almost never accurately describe that object. If manufactured in the present Common Era this fact will almost invariably mean that it's virtually impossible for 'vintage' to realistically apply. Specific attributes have yet to be applied to present popular culture in the eyes of history. Like new wine, it has yet to develop any specific characteristic that can be noted by posterity.
A Final Note
Any time you are unsure about information in an item description, including specific terms used to describe an item in regards to age, contact the shop owner. Sending a question directly to the dealer is the surest way to discover whether or not an item has been described using site recognized terminology, or not.