A Guide to Online Antiquing: Researching Antique, Vintage and Collectible Pieces
Back in the day, learning about antiques meant hours taking a course, or trolling through shops talking to dealers: That is still necessary, but not as a first step.
Pictures, descriptions, history, even whole catalogues put out by manufacturers, are online for the looking; plus loads of other information for learning about the family heirlooms you own or hope to acquire.
Antique vs. Vintage vs. Collectible
Antiques have a language all their own, and the savvy collector should bone up on it before transacting any business. To quote Uncle Fred of Uncle Fred’s Attic; an ebay antique shop, the debate about the terms antique and vintage is “so old, I’m not sure if IT is Vintage or Antique…This is actually a topic which I have researched a great deal, and on a couple of different occasions, I was briefly convinced I had finally found the answer.”
“Both terms are ambiguous at best…From my experience, the most common interpretation is this: Antique is an item that is at least 100 years old, and vintage is an item that is 50-100 years old.”
“As an eBay Seller, the terms Vintage & Antique are so overused, that different descriptive words, when available…are your best bet” for determining the identity, value and history (or provenance, in antique-speak) of an item.
The Antiques Roadshow glossary defines antique as “an object of considerable age, valued for its aesthetic or historical significance.” In the antiques trade; the term refers to objects more than 100 years old. It defines collectible as “a term that describes valuable objects less than a hundred years old”
Another source, The Bead Shop; an online jewellery supply and design shop, asserts that “today both of these words [antique and vintage] get tossed around quite freely in an attempt to add panache. You’ll often see shops in a mall or flea market touting these attributes. Upon closer inspection, you may find yourself staring at a Mason jar or velvet Elvis painting! To make it even more confusing the meaning and age associated with antique and vintage changes according to whether you are discussing automobiles, clothing, wine or beads!”
According to Wikipedia, an antique is collected or desirable because of its age, rarity, condition, utility, or other unique features. It is an object that represents a previous era in human society.
Korin Iverson, the writer behind the website Antique-HQ, and Graduated Personal Property Appraiser says, “The words antique, vintage, or collectible have no real effect on the value of an item. The value of an item is determined more by whether there is a demand for it. There are very rare antiques which are sold for much less than a newer collectible, but this is because there is no demand for the rare antique and a high demand for the newer collectible.”
What Is It, Who Made It and When?
So now that it’s been firmly established that the meanings of antique and vintage have serious grey areas, let’s talk about sourcing information for particular categories of antique, or vintage, items.
Suzan Wentworth, manager of the Rhode Island Antiques Mall (an actual brick and mortar building), in Pawtucket, RI, suggests focusing your learning on a single manufacturer within a category. For example, to learn about costume jewellery; a quick search for ‘Trifari jewelry history’ returns detailed information about the manufacturer’s design, designers, and brands through the years.
There is still no substitute for actually seeing pieces in person, but going online to do the prep work will save a lot of time and frustration for the would-be collector.