Collectors Corner: Vintage, Collectible, or Antique?
By Michele Alice
In the world of online auctions and commerce, there are few other terms as overworked as vintage, collectible and antique. Experienced collectors, upon seeing these in titles or descriptions, will often discount them. They want facts - when the item was made, its condition, and physical details - not generalities.
Sometimes, sellers use the terms to disguise a lack of knowledge regarding the merchandise they are offering - i.e., they may be unsure of the actual periods to which the pieces belong. More often, sellers utilize the terms as emotional "hooks" to capture the attention of potential customers. A novice collector, especially, may be more captivated by a porcelain cat that is described as "vintage" or "antique" rather than just "secondhand" or "old."
On the other hand, the terminology can be effectively employed to impart additional information when used appropriately.
Merriam-Webster defines collectible as "suitable for being collected," and it would appear that just about anything today - from fruit stickers and business cards to Tiffany lamps and Renoir paintings - could be considered a collectible as long as there is someone who wants to collect it. But the term also connotes that there are attributes - such as rarity, intrinsic value, historical importance, and aesthetics - that factor into making something desirable as a collectible. Using "collectible" to describe anything and everything merely serves to devalue this meaning. It might be more prudent to simply describe an item in detail and let potential buyers decide whether it is "collectible" or not.
Antique's connotations have been similarly diluted by an over-reliance on the 100-year rule. For official purposes, U.S. Customs has determined that "In order to qualify as an antique for CBP purposes, the article must be over 100 years of age at the time of importation."
This narrow standard has been so widely adopted that almost anything of the proper age is now described as "antique." But the Oxford Dictionaries' definition of antique as "a collectible object such as a piece of furniture or work of art that has a high value because of its considerable age" implies that there is more involved than just age - it should possess those factors that make it collectible in the first place.
English is a living, changing language, and "vintage" perfectly exemplifies this dynamism. Originally pertaining to the harvesting of grapes and the making of wine, the term expanded in the 20th century to include such things as cars manufactured between 1915 and 1942, and fashions from 25 to 99 years old.
Today, vintage is used to describe many kinds of collectibles that are "Out of date: No longer fashionable or modern" (The Urban Dictionary) or that denote "something from the past of high quality, especially something representing the best of its kind" (The Oxford Dictionaries).
Like antique and collectible, there is a tendency to overwork the word vintage: a check of today's listings on eBay revealed that there are over 4 million (!) employing the term in their descriptions.
All three terms might have greater impact if they were used more sparingly.
If you are interested in exploring this topic in greater depth, check out the resources listed below, and
Antiques: The History of an Idea, by Leon Rosenstein
Antiques Roadshow Primer: The Introductory Guide to Antiques and Collectibles from the Most-Watched Series on PBS, by Carol Prisant and Chris Jussel
Antiquing for Dummies, by Ron Zoglin and Deborah Shouse
Antique - Entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Classic Car Club of America - Classics 101 - Helpful glossary defines antique, classic, and vintage.
"Collectibles" terminology returns to the fold - Harry Rinker's take on the subject.
Common Errors in English Usage - Dr. Paul Brians' (Professor of English, Emeritus, Washington State University) invaluable site explains the difference between a word's definition and its connotations (denote/connote).
Did You Know...U.S. Customs Declaration Made London Bridge the World's Largest Antique Ever Sold? - and don't miss their pictorial Timeline.
What is Vintage Fashion? - This informative site (Atelier Mayer) discusses vintage fashion.
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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