What is an Antique?

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For anyone who browses specialty shops on the hunt for antiques, the age old question that always seems to crop up is “What exactly is an antique?”

As simple as the question might seem, this query appears to have many answers.

It’s sometimes a revelation that a shopper might be standing side by side with ancient-looking piece of furniture or old-fashioned china, but the same browser may also find ruffled pink glass no older than then their own years.


The question of a true antique is a problem that bewilders not only buyers, but plenty of dealers, too.

So, what exactly is the history of determining what classifies as an antique? It all began in 1930 when the U.S. Government passed a rule stating that objects had to be at least 100 years old to be classified as an antique. This ruling was done as a legislative tax decision so that items could be admitted duty free into the U.S. Since that time however, the rule of thumb amongst collectors and auctioneers is that an antique is defined as objects made before 1830.


As far as Europe is concerned with its long dated history, items that date back before 1830 seem quite young, while in contrast with a classic Roman sculpture, an 18th-century chair is downright modern.

In the U.S., for example, and in comparison to Europe, the oldest American antiques are only 300 years old with the exception of Indian relics and a few Spanish buildings in the Southwest. Not very old in the big scheme of things is it?

Antiques can get pretty confusing for Americans as they experience the same contrasts in their shops. To a steadfast New Englander who if very knowledgeable of pine furniture from the Pilgrim days, a Victorian sofa doesn’t seem antique. On the flip side though, for someone from Nebraska or Oregon, the same sofa seems like an antique because it represents the earliest furnishings in that particular region.


Thus, the age of antiques seems to vary dramatically in relationship to region and not necessarily to the actual age of the item. This brings us back to the original question of “What is an antique?” since it seems to change from region to region and one part of the world to another. The best way to resolve the confusion is the assertion that an antique is what the collector knows or perceives it to be and nothing more in order to to satisfy the buying public.

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