How Old Does Something Have To Be Before It Is Classified As An Antique?

"A true antique would be at least 100 years old," says 2nd Time Around Antique Mall owner Claudia Reese of Twin Falls, Idaho, who has been studying and selling antiques for 20 years. "But in the 21st century this term is also commonly used when referring to collectibles that aren't that nearly that old," she notes.


In 1930 the United States Customs Bureau, which was then a part of the Department of Commerce, officially defined an antique as anything made before 1830. This date was selected because historians regard it as the start of the American Industrial Revolution in New England. In1966 that law was changed so that items that were 100 years old would be officially classified as antiques and could come into the United States duty free.




Now an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, the U. S. Customs Bureau has rigid laws on importing antiques. Their strict guidelines apply to a variety of antiques ranging from historic documents to art to textiles to jewelry. If your travel plans take you out of the country and you plan to buy old items, or if you're thinking about purchasing an antique in another country and having it shipped directly to your U.S. address, it is important to study U.S. Customs Bureau guidelines carefully to avoid serious consequences.

There are also geographic and regional differences that influence whether an item is considered an antique or not. In China, where many artifacts that are thousands of years old are readily available in antique shops, American antiques seem new. The first American furniture was made by the colonists in the early 17th century. Because of wars and the ravages of nature, there are few pieces of what is known as Pilgrim or Puritan furniture available from this era. High demand keeps the prices high, but examples are available at top shops and malls throughout New England. So, anything made during the late 1800s would seem "new" by comparison to these dealers and collectors. Wyoming and Idaho didn't even become states until 1890, so items made before that time certainly seem antique to western dealers and collectors.

Age is relative. The age of dealers or collectors also influences their opinion about what's old. Most of us think of antiques as things an older generation had. We remember the things our parents and grandparents used in their homes when we were children as antiques. But that varies greatly according to our age. A thirty year old woman will not have the same memories of grandmother's kitchen that a woman in her sixties will have.

In the 21st century, most American antique dealers and collectors use "near antique," "almost antique," or even "antique" to describe items that are 75 to 99 years old. Vintage items are usually regarded as things 25 to 74 years old which means they were made in the 1940s through 1970s and a lot of people can remember growing up with them. Anything newer than 25 years is generally labeled as a collectible.

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