"Antique" disco ball?
March 23, 2006 6:44 AM   Subscribe

What makes an antique an antique?

I've been looking for a good wooden trunk and found a cedar one listed as "antique". It said "bought in the 1970's in the middle east" and is $150 (Cdn$). I'm assuming it wasn't built in the 1970's. But then I thought, "Well, how old would it have to be before it could be seen as antique?" Does it have to be from a previous "era"? What defines an "era"? Does it have to reach a certain level of craftsmanship? I have looked up the wikipedia entry for "antique", but I was hoping for a more thorough explanation.

And as a side note, if you know of a good place in Toronto to buy a quality wooden trunk, lemme know. Thanks.
posted by Idiot Mittens to Home & Garden (15 answers total)
According to my mother, who is an antique dealer, an antique is an artifact that is at least 100 years old. Obviously lots of "antique" cars are not antique by this definition, but there you go.
posted by adamrice at 7:16 AM on March 23, 2006

100 years for furniture and collectibles, but that wouldn't apply to cars or computers or a host of other things. And it often doesn't get used in its strictest sense for furniture, especially when it's not dealers who are doing the selling -- people can use "antique" when they really just mean "vintage" or "old-fashioned."
posted by occhiblu at 7:33 AM on March 23, 2006

An antique has special value because of it's age. It's subjective, but I would say an item needs not only to be old, but have a decent level of craftmanship in the first place and in most cases be decorative. Otherwise, it's an artefact rather than an antique.

Antique as a word can be used in a similar way to "vintage" or "out of date," but that has little to do with the traditional notion of antiques despite the two being confused.
posted by fire&wings at 7:38 AM on March 23, 2006


In Toronto, have you checked the mini-congregation of antiques places at Roncesvalles and Queen W?
posted by docgonzo at 7:40 AM on March 23, 2006

This from Wikipedia sounds pretty good: "In a consumer society, an antique is above all an object whose atypical construction and age give it a market value superior to similar objects of recent manufacture."

Something like "age + craftsmanship + not like everything made today + valuable = antique," with age perhaps defined by how old it is compared to most similar items currently in use. A car that is 50 years old is older than, what, 99.9999 percent or better of the cars on the road? If it's that old (relative to similar items) and it's well made and well preserved, it's definitely an antique. If it's that old and it's a piece of crap, maybe it's just an old piece of crap, but even old crap (literally) can be interesting.
posted by pracowity at 7:42 AM on March 23, 2006

To be very technical, an "antique" is any object that is more than 100 years old. Generally, it does not need to reach any level of craftsmanship, although obviously items that have either very excellent or very unique (think folk art) levels of craftsmanship will demand more on the open market.

These days, you see the word antique kicked around a lot on places like eBay -- misused, I would say. Sellers use the word antique when then mean "vintage" "old" or (sometimes) "ugly/a style I don't like but you might".

But, ultimately, the price you pay for something doesn't really have anything to do with the specific age of the item. Obviously older items get more and more rare, and certain items made by certain makers or in a certain obsolete style are more valuable than newer items, but in the end if you're looking at two cedar chests (say) that are identical in construction and materials, and one is 100+ years old and the other is 10 years old, their value is not going to be that much different. Some people may pay a premium for the older one, based in the idea that "older = better craftsmanship" -- on the other hand, other people may pay more for the newer one, based on the idea that "older = nearly worn out". Both viewpoints can be valid.

I actually think (being the 3rd generation of my family involved with antiques) that $150 is not a bad price to pay for a good, solid cedar chest in a style you like -- you're going to pay at least $100 more for a new one -- so the question you really need to ask in regard to this specific purchase is "do I think its worth the money in terms of construction". If its going to be a piece you use for the rest of your life, then its a good price. If its rickety and you're going to have to toss it in 5 years, and you can finda cheaper one, then continue to shop around.

This answer has been very long-winded, and I don't think it addressed your real questions.... but I hope it did.
posted by anastasiav at 7:44 AM on March 23, 2006

As far as the selling/purchasing (not the "dictionary definition") of antiques goes...it may have something to do with the relative age of the geographic area. For example, I've observed that the items in antiques shops in New England and New York are generally much older than the items in antiques shops in Minnesota and California.
posted by hsoltz at 7:45 AM on March 23, 2006

I think you're right, hsoltz...West Coast "antiques" are ~50 years old, usually.
posted by folara at 7:53 AM on March 23, 2006


-- Horsefeathers on Yonge near Summerhill
-- Antique / Furniture shops on King near Jarvis
-- If you like asian stuff, there's a terrific (and cheap) place on Queen west of Bathurst called Jaran or Janar or something like that. (There are a few asian places but this one is the best and cheapest--they also have a weekend warehouse sale on Atlantic).
-- Craigslist (there are a few on there right now)
-- The above mentioned shops on Roncy.
posted by dobbs at 8:05 AM on March 23, 2006

Obviously lots of "antique" cars are not antique by this definition, but there you go.

Damn near all of them, in fact. Which is why the standard's a bit different for cars than for furniture or whatever else, as that's sort of expected when you're talking about such a (historically speaking) new technology -- a different standard is applied. It gets ridiculous sometimes, though: the other day I saw a classic VW Bug with antique plates on it and just damn near beat my head on the steering wheel. I'm roughly as old as that car is. Antique? I'm fucking 30.

Yes, the definition of "antique" is purely one of age and the century mark is the best one for most items. Though there is a "close enough" margin of error, say a decade or so either way.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:41 AM on March 23, 2006

Thank you for the excellent answers so far. It expanded well on what I saw on wikipedia.

And thank you for the suggestions for Toronto specifically. I had actually seen this particular ad on Craigslist. When it comes to the trunk I don't necessarily need an antique, but I just wanted to make sure I wouldn't get jerked around if I bought something advertised as one. And in any case I wanted to get something with a little more character than Ikea could offer. I will definitely check out some of those other shops.
posted by Idiot Mittens at 9:02 AM on March 23, 2006

I have asked this same question countless times to antique dealers as I have seen antique stores change specialty over time, for example from "Art Deco" to "The 40s".

There is also a difference between Europe where there is a relative abundance of older stuff and North America. I' say that in Europe the 100 years mark generally works. There is also a gradation in the naming of the store depending of the age of what you are selling; for example, in France, it goes roughly from Puces to Brocante to Antiquités.

In Montreal, "Antique" covers a wide variety of ages, and age is not the only factor. For example, the guy whose store went from "Art Deco" to "The 40s" (and is now in 50s-60s) told me first that "antique" meant once "more than 50 years" and now was "more than 40"; but the real reason was one of availability: when he couldn't find enough Art Deco stuff anymore, he moved forward.

So that makes for at least three factors: location, age and market.
posted by bru at 9:24 AM on March 23, 2006

Try Hanoi Chic on Queen East near Jones. I think the prices are very reasonable. I fell in love with a chest (it was 400) and I lost out by saving up for it.

I love T.O., but there is serious inflation in the antique market.
I find I have more luck out of town when I am traveling.

(p.s. I favour loose interpretations of words like antique and art. Anything made by a person can be art, and will eventually be an antique, but not just anything can be good art, or a good antique. You have to decide if you like it.)
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 2:43 PM on March 23, 2006

Not strictly on topic, but in the case of buildings, a building generally must be at least 50 years old to be considered for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (US). The problem with this is that buildings are generally considered "old" "out of style" and "ugly" at around 30-40 years old, and get torn down/remodeled before they have a chance to become "historic".
posted by Rock Steady at 8:09 PM on March 23, 2006

Where I grew up, an antique was any old junk a seller thought they might be able to sell, or garbage needed to pad out the store and make it look less barren.

Some of it even just had a dated look but was still being manufactured - you could walk a few stores down and buy new.

"antique" is not just whatever the market thinks it is, it's whether a seller can get away with it in trying to bolster the perceived value of their wares :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 8:19 PM on March 23, 2006

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