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 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.

How old is an antique?

‘The classic interpretation of what makes something an antique is that it has to be at least 100 years old,’ says Antiques Roadshow expert, Theo Burrell. 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.

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When does something become an antique?

As a standard, an item becomes 'antique' once it is 100 years old. Before this point, it may be considered vintage, and on rare occasions there may be an exception to the rule. If you're in any doubt about the age of a potential antique that you own, take it to a specialist dealer who will be able to give you a clear history and valuation. For more information, read our guide on how to get an antique valued.

How to identify an antique

Certain antiques 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. Once you know the basics, this can be followed up with your own online research to establish more detail. For more specialist information about an antique, we recommend contacting your local auction house or antiques dealer.

How much are antiques worth?

Though we all dream of finding a priceless heirloom in the attic, the value of antiques varies a lot. 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!

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Where to buy antiques

You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to places to buy antiques, but a great place to start is at local antiques shops where you can get up-close to the items and get a feel for your own taste. Car boot sales, antiques fairs and flea markets are a must-visit to peruse antiques, while auctions offer a slightly more exciting buying experience. If you prefer to shop online, there are plenty of online antiques shops and antiques dealers on Instagram.