Home Life Tips Q&A: How Old Does Something Have to Be to Be Vintage?
how old does something have to be to be vintage

Q&A: How Old Does Something Have to Be to Be Vintage?

by Martha Simmonds

If you’ve ever met a collector or taken a step in an antique shop, you’re probably aware of the term ‘vintage’. And while you might not exactly know the definition of that term, you know it has something to do with the past.

But then again, so do other terms. So, how old does something have to be to be vintage, exactly? Well, this article will help you figure that out.

Definition of Vintage


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Speaking of the term itself, people first started using it in the 1500s, both as a verb and as a noun. Its origin is a bit of a mix between Old English and Old French, both influenced by Latin. And no matter what language you would use as the starting point, the word always referred to one specific item — wine.

The Latin term vindemia serves as the basis and it comprises of two words, vīnum (meaning “wine”) and dēmō ( meaning “to take away”). In other words, the compound noun meant “grape gathering”. From there, it entered Old French as vendange, and then Old English as vendage.

So, where did the ‘T’ come from, and why is it not ventage instead of vintage? Well, that has to do with a different term altogether, vintner.

A late Middle-English term, vintner is a modified form of Old French vinetier, which once again draws its origins from Latin. The original term is vīnētārius (meaning “wine dealer”) from the terms vīnētum and vīnum (“vineyard” and “wine”, respectively).

From Fine Wine to Knick-Knacks and Old Objects

Initially, the term “vintage” was exclusively used to describe wine, specifically aged, fine wines from particular years or decades. You have such examples as 1966 Cantemerle or 1898 Madeira. Broadly speaking, the older a wine is, the better it will taste — and the bigger its price tag will be.

Throughout the centuries, the term “vintage” slowly moved on to refer to any aged object of high value. Soon enough, you could buy vintage cars, vintage pipes, and even vintage toothpaste.

How Old Does Something Have to Be to Be Vintage?

How Old

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Because of how fluid language can sometimes be, people tend to use terms like “retro”, “vintage”, “antique”, and so on as synonyms. After all, it basically means the same thing, right? It’s a valuable item from some time in the past, one that is no longer being manufactured and that we can (or cannot) still use, no?

Well, no. The words we’ve listed exist for a reason, and if you use them interchangeably, you’re doing yourself a disservice. For example, an item can be labeled “antique” or “vintage” with a huge price tag, and you might end up overpaying for something that basically has low value. Worse yet, it could be worthless.

Now, we will cover the difference between “antique” and “retro” a little later, but first, let’s focus on vintage items themselves. In terms of objects, a vintage item should be, at the very least, 20 years old, but not go past 99 years of age. In other words, in the current year, i.e., 2022, an item from the year 2000 can be considered vintage, but one from 2003 cannot.

Of course, with vintage, it’s not just about the age of the object. There is another key component that plays a vital role in determining the classification of items. In order for it to be vintage, the item in question also has to reflect a popular style, feel, or sentiment of the era it comes from.

For example, a mirror from the mid-20th century made in the Op art style is considered vintage. The same goes for 1950s modernist armoires or the 1940s Art Deco radios.

Is 1980 Considered Vintage?


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OK, now that we have our year span and our requirements, we get to ask a simple question. Are objects from the 1980s considered vintage in 2022?

The short answer is “it depends”. Once again, it’s not enough for the object to simply come from the 1980s. It must also have some distinctive feature that links it to the decade, since that feature will make it vintage by default.

Let’s use a simple example. A cereal box from a nondescript brand from 1983 will not be considered vintage. However, baseball cards from that era, or Kenner Star Wars toys, definitely fall under the vintage category.

Difference Between “Vintage,” “Antique,” and “Retro”


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With the term “vintage” thoroughly explained, let’s quickly focus on what objects are classified as “antique” and “retro”.

An object that’s “retro” definitely looks old, or has elements of a bygone era. However, the key point you must pay attention to is the year of production. Namely, a retro item was most likely created within the last 20 years and its price tag is fairly low. In other words, these items are reproductions of old styles, often meant to capitalize on nostalgia. One prominent example is the emergence of pixel art.

On the other hand, an “antique” is an item that is well over 100 years old. These items are usually incredibly expensive and, depending on their age and condition, not viable for reuse. A book from the 1800s or an armoire from the 18th century are both antiques, and the older and better preserved they are, the bigger their overall value.

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