Learn About Antiques
by Kerry Cordy
Want to learn about antiques? Working on your Antiques Badge? Here are a variety of resources to help you get started.
What is the Difference Between Antique, Vintage, and Retro?
If you want to learn about antiques, it is important to understand exactly what the term means. Just because something is old, does not make it an antique. To be considered an antique, an item must be over 100 years old. The word “vintage” comes from the wine industry and not only implies the age of an item, but the quality as well. Cheap, poorly made items are rarely considered “vintage”. Vintage items imply the best of that particular time period. If you see clothing that is “vintage 1950’s” it means that the style was some of the best or most popular that the 50’s produced. Usually items that are older than 20 years, but younger than 100 are referred to as vintage. If an item is between 20 to 40 years old it may also be considered “retro” which simply means a style, fashion, or design from the recent past.
Does you family own any antiques? Maybe a piece of jewelry that has been handed down, or a piece of furniture in your home? Talk you your extended family and see what antiques are owned by your family. Find out the story behind them. Do they have special meaning? Have they been in your family for generations? Or did your family member purchase the piece simply because they liked it?
Learn About Antiques Through Famous Artisans
To truly learn about antiques, you must learn about the artists who created them. Throughout history certain artisans works have held their value and become highly collectable. One example is the pottery and tableware created by Josiah Wedgewood. More than just a potter, Josiah was an inventor and was the first to create a method of mass producing high quality pottery. In his early 20’s Josiah began experimenting with a variety of pottery techniques and kept an experiment book on various clay mixes he tested. He held his production to very high quality standards and would smash any piece that did not meet his expectations. Today, antique Wedgewood pieces can sell anywhere from $100 – $10,000. Visit the Invaluable website for an extensive price guide to Wedgewood collectibles.
The most highly prized antiques were made by artisans of great skill and inventiveness. The list below is just a few of the people you may wish to study:
- James Bowie – knives
- Antonio Stradivari – violins and stringed instruments
- Andre Charles Boulle – furniture maker
- George Adams – silversmith
- Antoni Patek – watch maker
- Horace Smith and Daniel Baird Wesson – guns smiths
Create a Virtual Antique Collection
Find a type of antique that interests you and spend some time researching it. How much would it cost to start collecting these items? Does the item you want to collect hold monetary value, or is it just sentimental? If this antique is extremely fragile or rare, how would you store or display it? Create a virtual collection of pieces by saving photographs and information on pieces that interest you. If this was a real collection, how much would it be worth? If you are the crafty type, print out your pictures and create a small scrapbook of your antique collection.
Choose a category of antiques, such as watches, and create a timeline of famous artisans, inventions, and businesses that pertain to that particular category. Squarehead Teachers offers free printable timeline forms you can download, or you can get creative and make one of your own. If you are working with kids, have a little fun by turning your timeline into a scavenger hunt. Print out a minimum of 10 different items for your timeline, preferably with pictures. Then hide them around the room. Stretch a string between two points such as tied to two chairs and attach a paperclip or clothes pin for each item you printed out. On “Go!” have the kids try to find all the items and pin them in the correct order on the timeline as quickly as they can.
Virtual Antique Tour
If possible, wander through local antique shops in your area or in a nearby city. What types of things do you notice most? How does the price differ for antique items than for similar new items today? If there is a museum nearby with antique items visit that as well. If you can’t visit shops or museums in person, take a virtual antique tour through some of the following sites. As you wander the sites, keep an eye out for those items that are clearly antique vs those that are simply “vintage.”
- Gruene Antique Company
- The Brass Armadillo Antique Mall
- Mount Vernon Estate – home of George Washington
- The Frick Collection – antique art collection
- Folly Antiques
TV Shows About Antiques
Antiques give a peek into pieces of history many people have never contemplated. One of the most well know series about antiques is the Antique Roadshow which is describes as, “Part adventure, part history lesson, and part treasure hunt! Watch as specialists from the country’s leading auction houses and independent dealers offer free appraisals of antiques and collectibles, revealing fascinating truths about family treasures and flea market finds.” Shows like Pawn Stars lets you delve into the world of buying and selling vintage and antique items. American Pickers follows Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, who travel around the United States to buy or “pick” various items for resale, for clients, or for their personal collections. Watch several episodes of different antique shows and peer into parts of history that will expand your curiosity.
Careers in Antiques
The antique industry is comprised of a variety of careers from appraisers, to auction houses, to local antique shops. Choose a career that interests you and find out more about it. What kind of training/education is required? What are working hours typically like and what hourly pay-rate/salary can you expect? If possible, shadow someone for a day who works in the antiques business or find someone to interview. If you run a Frontier Girls troop or Quest Club invite someone from the antiques industry to come speak at your meeting. Here is a few careers to consider: