What’s the Difference Between Antique, Vintage, and Collectible Items?

If you love to visit auction houses, antique shops, estate sales, thrift stores, or flea markets, you’re in good company. Antiques, vintage items, and collectibles are fun and interesting to buy and sell, no matter if you’re a history buff, a bargain hunter, a fan of old-timey fashion, or almost anyone else! Many people find joy in exploring the past through these old objects, but not everyone knows that the words antique, vintage, and collectible are not actually interchangeable. Read on to find out what sets “antiques,” “vintage items,” and “collectibles” apart.


When you look up the word “antique” in the dictionary, you might not exactly get a clear picture of why it’s different from the other words we’re talking about today. According to Merriam-Webster, the term “antique” means something “existing since or belonging to earlier times.” That’s a pretty vague definition — “earlier times” could include time periods from the caveman days all the way up until one day ago! However, antiques dealers have a more hard and fast rule: if an item is over 100 years old, it qualifies as an antique. This is sometimes called the “century rule.”​ The century rule applies to any object no matter what it’s made of, meaning antiques can be anything from works of art to pieces of furniture, all as long as they are over 100 years old.

Vintage Items

The words “vintage” and “antique” tend to get used indiscriminately at places such as flea markets and bargain shops. However, vintage does not mean antique, and antique does not mean vintage. 

According to generally accepted collecting conventions, vintage items are not as old as antiques. However, their exact age range is a little more subjective since the term vintage quite literally means “of age.” So what age is that? Most experts declare an item “vintage” after it’s 40-50 years old or more; while there are a few exceptions 30-40 years old, it’s very rare that anything younger than 20 years qualifies as vintage. Since vintage items might have been something someone grew up with or saw in their own parents’ homes, they’re often valuable due to nostalgia. And because many vintage pieces are still functional, they are often sought by people who want to create a practical yet personal flair in their homes. 

Something else noteworthy about vintage items is that they are representative of the time period when they were produced, which is a big part of the nostalgia factor for some people. “Vintage Victorian-era furniture,” for instance, is a phrase meant to call to mind a specific style of furniture popular during the Victorian era. 

A note on “retro”

Retro, short for the French word “retrograde,” is another confusingly used word when dealing with old items. Retro isn’t an age-based classification of objects; rather, a “retro” item is created based on past trends. Think of how record players have been coming back into style or the way people are still designing school letterman jackets even though both are marks of an earlier age. These are examples of retro items: things created during modern times to imitate times gone by.


The term “collectible” gets complicated right away when you consider that people do “collect” antiques and vintage items. However, people also collect seashells and vacuum cleaners — does that make these items automatically collectible? You’re likely shaking your head no for a reason you can’t quite place. The reason is that some things fit the definition of both antique and collectible (or vintage and collectible) is that, simply put, a collectible item is something that has increased in value compared to its original purchase price. Your childhood baseball card collection might be collectible if it’s dramatically increased in value over the years. A 150-year-old antique silver dollar collection might also be collectible. Think of the word “collect” in “collectible” to mean “everyone wants to have it because it’s in limited supply.” Maybe manufacturers aren’t making any more pieces of a highly sought-after furniture style, or you bought one of only 50 rare items ever produced. In this case, you might have a collectible on your hands — within reason. Watch out for the overuse of the word “collectible.” Just because a box says something might be a collectible doesn’t mean it’ll automatically gain value. It’s best to watch the collectible market and make safer investments that you know will gain value over time or are already worth significant money.

What Are You Hunting For?

Whether you’re an antiques buff, seeking a one-of-a-kind vintage furniture piece, or want to add to your cabinet of collectibles, Bodnar’s Auction can practically guarantee that you’ll find something you love at one of our North Jersey estate sales. You never know what you’ll see at an estate sale, which is why they’re such a treasure trove of vintage items as well as antiques and collectibles! Don’t wait — contact us today, or you could miss out on something valuable or timeless that you didn’t even know you wanted!

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I’m happy with everything Joe and Janet did, you were both informative and were very helpful with the questions I had being that I was never in that position before. Janet’s response time was also positive for me. It was interesting to watch the auction live. I thought you did an amazing job and had a nice banter back and forth. You seem to be a good team! Thank you for all your hard work and making this difficult time of letting  my deceased father’s collectibles go an easy experience.

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