The word “antique” is often used to describe anything that appears to be old, even if your grandmother purchased it in 1944. Age isn’t the only defining factor when assessing any antique or vintage item.
An item is antique if it is over 100 years old. If a business made it before 1921, it is an antique; after 1922, it is vintage. Congress adopted this definition in 1966.
Before that, an antique was defined as predating 1830 because the furniture was created by hand and not a machine. After 1830, furniture became increasingly mass-produced, transforming the industry by making goods available to the middle class.
Condition is the ruling factor when assessing antiques or vintage items. If a furniture item is damaged or poorly restored, the value plummets, especially if it is a commonplace item. A collector will not pay a premium price on an as-is piece.
Normal wear is expected. An 18th century Chippendale chair doesn’t need to retain its original upholstery. Still, its original legs and feet should all be intact. The same applies to a vintage mid-century chair by Jens Risom or Charles Emes.
Fine glass, porcelain, and pottery chips, nicks, cracks, repairs and scratches on breakable pieces will mean a significant loss of value. Chips on rims of glasses and plates, spouts and porcelain figures are standard, which results in “no-value” for a collector. Even if professionally restored, it lowers the value by 75 percent or more.
Many mass-produced items from the early 20th century – through both world wars – still exist in large quantities today.
Though old, most of these items are not yet antique, nor are they rare. Such porcelain pieces as Haviland or Limoges tableware, dresser sets, depression glass, Nippon teaware, and colonial-style furniture (that many people have inherited from their grandparents) are not as collectible in the marketplace as they were twenty years ago.
Yet, they often have higher sentimental value than monetary worth. Check current and completed auction listings online to help determine how much it sold for, which will help determine what it might be worth.
The style of an antique or a vintage mid-century item has an impact on its desirability. Furniture styles go in and out of fashion in cycles, just like clothing. At one time, Rococo Louis XV style was in demand and fashionable but was later replaced with the more linear neoclassical style and replaced again with today’s market for vintage mid-century modern.
Furniture forms can lose their function, thus rendering them obsolete. Case in point, the armoire that was popular for storing entertainment systems has almost no value in today’s market. Some charities will not accept them because they just don’t sell.
Other factors contribute to the value of an item, including material, provenance, and the maker. The most crucial point is that the “antique” that you so admire has the value of importance to you, your home, and your family history and not to the buyer in today’s crazed vintage mid-century décor demand.