There has been a debate for years on what these terms should represent.  They mean different things to people in a wide variety of items that dealers sell, from cars to old six-shooters or fine art to bottle caps.  In the strictest sense, the difference between an antique and a vintage item is its age.  With Collectibles it’s not the age, but the desire or the demand.

I’ve spent a number of hours reading and researching this subject, and it’s clear to see that not everyone is going to agree on how these terms should be defined.  I’ve taken from what seems to be the majority opinion and what makes good sense to me and written the following terms and descriptions.  I’ll call them the:

Roberts Guidelines and Definitions for Antiques, Vintage, & Collectables


First lets look at the definition of an Antique?  This would be an object of considerable age that is valued for its artistic or historical implications.  To most antique dealers, the term “antique” is applied to items that are more than 100 years old from todays date. 

As defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

     1:     a relic or object of ancient times

     2 a:  a work of art, piece of furniture, or decorative object made at an earlier period  

             and according to various customs laws at least 100 years ago

     b:     a manufactured product (such as an automobile) from an earlier period

According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s publication on Works of Art, Collector’s Pieces, Antiques, and Other Cultural Property:  “In order to qualify as an antique for CBP purposes, the article must be over 100 years of age at the time of importation.”

Therefore it is a commonly accepted standard that an object must be OVER 100 years old in order to be classified as an antique.  Condition of an object has nothing to do with classifying an object as an antique.  However condition and the rarity of an item will greatly play a part in determining the items value. 


Now lets look at a badly misused term, “Vintage.”  The word literally means "of age" and was originally applied in the early 15th century to the age of a bottle of wine.  It was adapted from the Old French “vendage” (wine harvest) derived from the Latin “vindemia” (grape-gathering).  Today it has been so freely misused throughout the antique and collectables market that it is now considered a part of the accepted vernacular.  Most reputable dealers believe that it should only apply to items more than 40 years of age, but less than 100. 


Now we come to the term “Collectible.”  The term is used loosely to describe an object that is less than 100 years old, is in high demand, and therefore of value, sometimes more than the item’s original retail cost.  Some buyers incorrectly use the term collectible for an antique or vintage item.  You can have an antique item that is 110 years old, but if there is no market demand for it, it’s simply an antique. 

On the other side of that coin you can have an item that is any age and it is a valuable “collectible” because there is a high demand for it and collectors are willing to pay prices over the normal value.  In fact you could have a “collectible” item before it even hits the marketplace i.e. “Bennie Babies” or “Cabbage Patch Dolls.” 

Other Terms To Know

You will also hear of several other specific terms such as “retro” that is shortened from the words “retrograde” or “retroactive” which the original meaning references the past.  Most dealers typically apply the term retro to items that are at least 20 years old, but not yet 40.  People, like the “baby boom” generation believe this refers to the time period between 1950 to 1959 and items from that period.  

Retro items are not from the past, instead they are objects that imitate the styles of the recent past. We’re not referring to copies or fakes being sold as real items from that time period, but items which are representations to the past.  That Philco radio that looks like it came from the 1950’s, but was made in 2010.  New jackets that look like a high school letterman’s jacket, but you just bought it at J.C. Penney. 

You may also hear terms like “Repurposed.” An object that is being used or combined with another object for a new purpose.  Also you will hear “Repro” or “Repops” which refers to “Reproductions.”  They are copies of older items, not "fakes," because they are being sold as copies of much older things such as doorknobs, Coke products or cast iron toys.

Have you ever heard someone say something like “Antique dinosaur bone” or “Antique sword from ancient Rome?”  Well, they meet the over 100 years old rule, but that’s not correct, even antiques have an age limit.  Any item over 300 years old and is the remains or impressions of formerly living things are called fossils.  If the items were manmade, they are called antiquities or artifacts.


Simply labeling something as an “antique,” “vintage,” or “collectible,” doesn’t set a price range for the value of an item.  As in almost everything we buy, the value is determined more by whether there is a market or buyers demand for it.  When it comes to purchasing items on the antique or collectible market, the buyer should do a lot of research on the items they are planning to collect before handing over a bundle of money and suffering a lot of disappointing purchases. 

So, when you compare antiques to vintage or collectibles remember, antiques stand the test of time.  Their value is more likely to remain stable.  So called vintage or collectibles, however are priced more on the current demand of the market and their long term value is highly speculative.  Be sure to exercise much more caution when investing in a vintage or collectible items as opposed to antiques.