What is an antique?

A historic and characterful addition to your home, antiques can be a worthwhile investment. Here we explain what they are

A selection of antique dining chairs at Clevedon Salesroom. Photography by Jesse Wild

Spanning from a chipped dinner service found at a flea market, to a priceless heirloom sold at auction – what makes an item antique can be baffling. But with the trend for sustainable decorating and classic English style on the rise, their popularity is increasing. So, what exactly is an antique?

What is considered an antique?


The Oxford Dictionary definition of an antique is ‘a collectable item’, such as a piece of furniture, an artwork or an item of jewellery, ‘that has a high value because of its age and quality.’ Though the word is often used casually to describe any old or nostalgic man-made object, strictly speaking, an item needs to be of a certain age in order to be categorised as an antique.

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How old is an antique?


An antique is a man-made object that’s over 100 years old. Though this is a hot topic among antiques dealers! As antiques are categorised by their age, new objects become antiques every year. Antiques can be items made of any material (glass, ceramic, wood, metal, textile etc) and an item does not need to be of a high value in order to be classed as an antique.

How to identify an antique


For many antiques enthusiasts, researching the history and social context of an item is all part of the fun of collecting! However, certain items sometimes feature symbols which can help you to identify its place and date of manufacture. For example: hallmarks on silver, makers marks on ceramics, tags on furniture or labels on textiles. For more specialist information about an antique, we recommend contacting your local auction house or antiques dealer.

How to buy antiques on Instagram

How much are antiques worth?


Though we all dream of finding a priceless heirloom in the attic, the value of antiques varies greatly. The prices of certain antiques can rise and fall according to the vagaries of fashion. And while some wear can make a piece charming and tell the story of its journey, a different set of flaws can devalue it completely. The benefit of this however, is that whatever your budget, you can find an item or collecting field that suits you!

How to find out what an antique is worth


For a ballpark figure, you can always search online for similar items for sale with antiques dealers, or for pieces which recently sold at auction. However, for more specific advice, the experts at your local auction house can be a fount of information – and many host free valuation days. You can also take a look at our guide on how to get an antique valued.

Where to buy antiques


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There are plenty of brilliant places to buy antiques at a range of price points, though the antiques shops on your local high street are always a good place to start. To make a day of antiques-hunting, antiques fairs and flea markets or local auctions and car boot sales can be great spots to pick up bargains. Or, if you prefer to shop online, there are an array of online antiques shops and antiques dealers on Instagram.