Whats the Difference Between Vintage and Antique?

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What's the Difference Between Vintage and Antique?

Different people use these terms in different circumstances, so crafting an exact definition is next to impossible. Some people use retro, vintage, and antique almost interchangeably for old items. Other people are stricter in defining these words and stick to their own specific definition. Some others are even more detailed and have divided the decades up and do not consider items from the recent decades as vintage at all. Whatever the definition may be, there is almost a universal consensus that one man's rubbish is another man's treasure.

Furthermore, there are several associated terms in society that are close in meaning, as well. Vintage-style, vintage reproduction, and vintage-inspired are a few well known examples. The definition changes from one particular item to another, as well. For example, vintage clothing means something different than vintage furniture. The same is true for 'antique'. Antique means something different to most people for clothing than it means for furniture.

eBay not only offers the latest items for every walk of life, but it also has a diverse collection of vintage, antique, retro, vintage-inspired, vintage-reproduced, vintage-style, and other similar types of items. To shop in person, buyers need to find resale and antique shops in their local area. Understanding the subtle differences in terminology may help buyers find the types of vintage and/or antique items they want.

What Is an Antique?

As noted, the term 'antique' is used in different contexts by different people. The exact definition, therefore, varies from year to year, item to item, and person to person. A general definition states that an antique is an old collectible item that has reached a certain age and reflects a previous era of a particular society. For many people, any collectible item that is old can be termed as antique. For other people, there are specific time frames involved in order to declare an item as 'antique'. One common practice is to declare items that are more than 100 years old as antiques. That would make collectibles the possible antiques of the future, according to this definition, but not in a few short decades. Only the U.S. Customs office has officially defined antiques as anything 100 years old so far.

More often than not, people expect an item that has been classified as antique to exhibit some degree of craftsmanship. For example, a curio is a small cabinet that is often sought by collectors because of its unusual nature. On the other hand, a manufactured collectible or contemporary collectible is an item that is especially made for collectors and are not generally considered antiques, no matter how old they are. Special edition, limited edition, et cetera, are common terms used to brand such items.

The various reasons for buying antique items include beauty, personal emotional connection, utility, rarity, condition, personal use, or as gift items. For brokers and dealers, profit is another reason. The most common places to buy genuine antique items are in antique shops, online stores, auctions, flea markets, garage sales, and estate sales. Valuable antiques can also be purchased from antique dealers, who are usually members of national trade associations. eBay also has a wide collection of antique items.

The 100 Year Rule

The general and widely accepted definition of 'antique' demands that an item be in its original, unaltered state and be at least 100 years old. The exception to the rule is cars because most cars do not meet the criteria yet. There are flexible time frames for cars to declare them as antiques, but they are generally categorised as antiques if they are 75 years or older. Cars that are at least 25 years old are often referred to as 'classic'.


'Antiquities' is the term used for ancient works of art and items of everyday use. The buyers who are interested in such items are referred to as 'antiquarians'. Artefacts are objects of archaeological interest that were created by skilful artisans.


Antiquing is the pursuit of antiques, and it encompasses shopping, negotiation, bargaining, identification, and more. This term is also used to describe the art of making an object look antique through the use of certain paints, pastes, and techniques.

Antique Furniture

Antique furniture is of special interest to most buyers because of its practicality and high value. Many buyers take special care of antique furniture so that it holds its value over the course of time. This is the opposite of most modern furniture, which generally loses its value over time instead. Oak, pine, rosewood, and walnut are the most common woods used in antique furniture.

What Is Vintage and Retro Style?

An outdated style that comes back into fashion can generally be termed as 'retro style'. 'Vintage', on the other hand, is a term that describes the value and characteristics of an item that is at least two or more decades old. Retro and vintage are quite similar to each other in meaning with the only difference being that retro is used for an old-fashioned style that becomes contemporary again. Many vintage items are becoming popular with the general public and becoming retro due to several benefits. Vintage items are the ones that actually existed in a particular decade. Other terms that refer to vintage are often misleading and mean something entirely different.


Vintage-style items are actually reproductions of items from the past and should not be mistaken for vintage originals. No matter how much similarity may exist between these items and the originals, vintage-style items cannot be categorised as vintage, and a buyer should be well aware of this before making a purchase.


As with the example above, copies of vintage items may be referred to as vintage-inspired. Regardless of the inspiration level, these items are reproductions and cannot be categorised as vintage either. Some collectors view vintage-inspired products as a deceptive tool used to fool the public. These items are produced in bulk and lack the quality and craftsmanship of a true vintage original.

Why These Terms Matter

Knowledge of the above mentioned terms and their real meanings is important for a buyer because of the delicate boundaries between the definitions of these terms and their interchangeable, and sometimes misleading, use by the public. Even for authentic originals, what is vintage for one person may just be an old useless item for another. Applying labels like 'vintage' or 'antique' to a certain product may or may not add value to the product. If the labelling is deceptive, the products may not do justice to the real thing, and this can be one of the ways to deceive a buyer. Therefore, basic knowledge of these terminologies and an idea of their interchangeable usage by people helps a buyer make a decision based on the true 'value' of the product rather than the 'term' associated with it.

Buying Vintage and Antique Items on eBay

There are several ways to look for vintage, retro, and antique items on eBay. One easy way of finding a product of your choice is to use the search bar on the eBay homepage. You can enter a relevant query in the search bar to see the listings for that product. For some queries, related searches are also recommended by eBay that can also help you find the right product.

Considering the interchangeable usage of certain terms, it is highly recommended that you look for a particular product by entering different query terms and comparing the results. For example, while searching for antique or vintage jewellery, a buyer should try different terms to see different result pages. Some of the terms for this example could be 'vintage jewellery', 'vintage-inspired jewellery', 'vintage-style jewellery', 'vintage reproduction jewellery', 'antique jewellery', 'retro jewellery', et cetera. The search terms that work best for you depend on exactly what you have in mind for your purchase. Keeping in mind the variations in the usage of these terms, you need to examine item listings closely.

Enter your postcode in the 'Distance' filter to see local listings for a particular item. This helps you save on the delivery charges. Surfing through the user comments and seller history is also a recommended practice.


The exact definitions of terms like vintage, retro, antique, vintage-style, vintage-inspired, and vintage reproduction vary from case to case, person to person, product to product, year to year, and country to country. The only universal consensus is that one man's rubbish is another man's treasure. Old items, based on their era and value, are classified under these labels to enhance their overall value and, if rightly done, are accepted by the public. For example, if the word 'antique' is applied to an item that could pass for a collectible item, then some collectors are more than willing to happily acquire this item at the demanded price.

The buyer should always develop at least a basic understanding of these interchangeable, and sometimes deceptive, terms and learn how to spot the difference in real items and reproductions. Otherwise, it can be confusing to figure out what different people mean by different terms. The product and its value for the money are more important than the term associated with it.

eBay features a huge collection of vintage, antique, retro, vintage-style, vintage-inspired, and vintage-reproduced items in different price brackets. Alternatively, a buyer can search for vintage and antique items in local antique shops, flea markets, resale shops, and even garage sales.

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