The Merriam-Webster definition of the word antique refers to "existing since or belonging to earlier times." The definition of vintage is surprisingly similar: "dating from the past." So, if both terms essentially mean "old," how do you know exactly which category that dining table, painting, or vase you have your eye on falls into? The term antique refers to something 100 years or older, says Rebecca Rau of M.S. Rau Antiques in New Orleans. Furniture, works of art, jewelry, rugs and carpets, and everyday objects—like housewares and accessories—can all be antiques. So, if you have a necklace or a music box that is more than 100 years old, you are the owner of an antique necklace or an antique music box.
Vintage items, on the other hand, are much younger—typically prior to 1999, though often from much earlier, like the 1930s, '40s, '50s, '60s, and '70s, she clarifies. Clothing, jewelry, watches, accessories, housewares, and furniture are all common vintage items. Other media, including postcards, periodicals, photography, vinyl records, cassette tapes, VHS tapes, and even electronics like cameras and gaming systems are also popular vintage items with collectors' appeal, says Rau.
It's a relatively simple distinction, but one Eric Silver, an appraiser on Antiques Roadshow, says isn't necessarily as important as you think it might be. The age of a piece doesn't directly correlate to value, says Silver. In fact, a vintage ring from the 1930s could be worth much more than a similar piece from a much earlier time period. That said, antiques in excellent condition generally do garner a higher value because of their age and history—especially if they are from a reputable maker or artist and have a record of previous ownership or authenticity.
But what if you're not entirely sure of the origin and age of the piece in your possession? Since an item must be a century or older to be considered genuinely antique, discerning collectors are typically familiar with the hallmarks of styles popular through the ages, such as Victorian versus Edwardian, says Rau. If you can't date an item yourself, seek out a reputable expert—like an antiques appraiser or a vintage retailer—who can pinpoint the time period when the item was most likely created.