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How Old Is an "Antique?"


Furniture Masterpiece

This masterpiece desk from the late 1700s qualifies as an antique by all definitions.

-Photo Courtesy of Israel Sack, Inc.

In purist terms, and according to the U.S. Customs Service, an antique is an item with at least 100 years of age under its belt. That means that genuine Victorian pieces are now true antiques.

However, the term antique is used rather loosely among the masses, and often ends up reflecting the age of the person using it. To a teenager, for example, a toy from the ‘60s seems “antique," while a senior adult might see it as something they used or saw in the home of their parents or grandparents as a child.

Differing Opinions Among "Experts"

Of course, you can ask a dozen different antiques "experts" what an antique is and you'll get number of different answers. I've actually been in a room where a moderator encouraged a heated debate on the topic.

Some experts look more at high style and design when deeming an object antique. They see antiques as "masterpieces" of design and of only the highest quality. With this assessment, everything from primitive furniture to faceless Amish rag dolls from the late 1900s would not be considered antique. I disagreed with these folks then, and continue to disagree today.

Your Guide's Antique Definition

From a personal standpoint, I see the dividing line drawn where styles dramatically changed from a old-fashioned look toward modern appeal. Hemlines were shortened and simplified, and art deco design was the all the rage during the 1920s moving into the 1930s. These fashion and design developments with a modern bend, among others during this transitional period, provide a stark contrast to fancy nature of Edwardian, Victorian and Colonial influences witnessed previously.

With this in mind, I view items made prior to the early 1920s as antiques and newer pieces as "collectibles." The antique scale slides in terms of the actual age of these objects as we continue to move forward through the calendar.

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