The Essential Guide to Antique, Vintage, and Retro!

August 20, 2020

The Essential Guide to Antique, Vintage, and Retro!

The words antique, vintage, and retro are often used when shopping at Antique Festivals, second-hand stores, and flea markets. Dealers selling old pieces have been known to use the word antique to add more value to the item.

Learning what these terms mean can only help you in the bargaining process. Knowledge can help you add an elusive piece to your shelves at a fair price. 

The Terms Defined


Anything Antique is defined as at least 100 years old. Sometimes it is used loosely to describe any old object. This can be a contentious subject with antique sellers, artists, and experienced appraisal specialists.


The official industry standard is that items made between 20 and 100 years ago are believed to be "vintage. The pieces follow the fashions and trends of the time of the era of 1960 – 1979

The word vintage first referred to the age of a bottle of wine. This word was highjacked and is now used to describe pieces that have cycled back into fashion or less than 25 years old.


Retro has replaced the word collectible in some circles in the last few years. It includes pieces produced during the previous 20 years. 

Identifying the Age 

When you see the games you played with as a child specified as vintage, it's both an annoyance and a wake-up call. The question in my mind, "Does this make me old?" happens occasionally.

Age is the main factor in deciding if a unique piece is antique, vintage, or retro. Judging an item's age can be the most challenging part of the processes when on the hunt for unique pieces to add to your collection.

A maker's signature is one way to authenticate antiques. There are many books and various internet sites that will have maker's marks for you to study. Save these in your phone to refer back to them. Education is the key to collecting. This and experience will help you make an informed decision. 

Knowledge is Key.  

Here are some item-specific tips for our use while finding unique pieces for the shelves of Reading Vintage. I hope this will help you also.


If you collect paper products, look for a zip code, it was made after 1962. Is there a telephone number in an ad? Before 1958, phone numbers used an exchange name dialing or letter prefix. In the mid-1980s, that exchange name dialing changed to all-number calling.


When inspecting the book for a publishing date, look at the first few pages or the back of a picture. No date, who is the publisher? What is the name of the photographer? You can Google this information to help date a book.

Does the book have a barcode? The first bar code appeared on a pack of Wrigley's chewing gum in 1974.


The way furniture built is an essential indicator of age. Early artisans used hand-cut mortise-and-tenon joints, dovetail joints, and wooden pegs. Classifying antique furniture feet can help you estimate the age of a piece and the period in which it was built.


To identify the age of silver, first, examine the silver for marks. If it's sterling silver, you will find "sterling" or "925." and a symbol that represents the manufacturer. Using that information, you can date your silver find.


In the world of old toys, mint condition means that the original toy is still in its original box with the instructions – and has never been opened.

To identify toys. Examine the toy to see if it appears to be handmade. Then check to see if the toy has any labels or an embossed, stenciled, or printed patent number on the toy or box, and send it to the U.S. Patent Office. For a fee,  you will receive data about the original patent request, the name of the inventor or maker, and date-time range the toy was made.


Globes are a highly collectible item. These following dates will help you "date your globe" and determine how old it might be. 

 Does the globe have the label Persia or Iran? The country name changed to Iran in 1935. Does your globe have Constantinople or Istanbul? This city changed its name to Istanbul in 1930. Is Israel shown? If yes, the globe was made after 1948. Tanganyika instead of Tanzania? If yes, the globe was made in 1946-1961.

Reproduction or Repro

If you are buying or selling antiques and vintage collectibles, it is essential to be able to identify whether an item is authentic or whether it is a reproduction. Education and experience is the key. In time you will be able to pick up an item and be able to judge by the feel, weight, and know it is a genuine antique or vintage piece.  Hopefully, these tips help you make the best choice.

Judging the Value of Pieces

The age of a piece has no impact on the price of the item. A more significant part of the cost of a piece is the supply and demand for that item. There are rare antiques that sell considerably less than any modern-day collectibles due to the supply and demand of the items.

Remember, the only way to preserve yourself when purchasing antiques and collectibles is to do your research and identify the market you are buying into.

Want to learn more?

I hope you found this guide useful in deciding the age of the treasures you are on the hunt for at sales and you refer back to it often.
 I have learned some of these tips by watching other dealers or just asking questions. They will be flattered and would love to talk about their specialty.
If you see me at a sale, ask me about book buying. But please don't out me as a reseller, prices will go up for me in some circumstances. 
Oh and help me carry my boxes to the car….Hey, books are heavy.
For more detailed information to help decide if your latest flea market finds is an antique, vintage, retro piece, or the dreaded repro follow this link from Love to Know

Happy Reading,
Pam of Reading Vintage





1 Response

Thomas Clarence
Thomas Clarence

September 20, 2020

I appreciate you helping me to understand that antique means something is at least 100 years old. My wife and I would like to get some antique decorations and we are hoping to find a local store that sells some valuable items. We are hoping to create an old-fashioned feeling in our home and decorating with antiques will help us accomplish that.

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