Vintage – What Does it Really Mean?

Johnson Brothers Florida Flow Blue jug with Hybrid tea roses
Antique Flow blue jug with Roses

Vintage. It’s all the rage right now.  You see it in magazines about home decor and on celebrities at Hollywood events. The word is used to describe everything from cars to textiles to glassware. Recently I was asked to define the term, and I realized I’d never given it much thought! Have you ever wondered what the word vintage really means?

Strictly speaking, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, the word vintage applies to the year a quality wine was produced.  It can also be used to describe something of quality from the past, such as a vintage Thunderbird.

Yet this word has come to be accepted and understood as a way to describe many things, including antiques and collectibles. Without a strict definition of what the term means in this context, the use of the word vintage can be very subjective. Whether you collect, or just enjoy a few select pieces, it can be helpful to consider what is meant by the word “vintage” the next time you shop! The following are my guidelines for the term vintage, and I hope these tips may be of help to you, too!

When I describe something as vintage in my shop, I know that the item is not old enough to be classified as an antique, which is generally 100 years or older. The Flow Blue jug from my collection, above, was produced by Johnson Brothers around the turn of the 20th Century, so it is an antique. I would not describe it as vintage in this use of the word.

For me, the term vintage also indicates that the item is from the era in which it was originally produced.  In other words, I describe this Royal Albert Old Country Roses plate as “vintage” to distinguish it from the pieces in current production, particularly since Royal Albert is no longer produced in England.

Vintage Royal Albert Old Country Roses plate
Vintage Old Country Roses Plate

(Royal Albert China has become part of WWRD (Wedgwood,Waterford, Royal Doulton, and Royal Albert) which in turn has just recently been acquired by Fiskars. You can read more about that here. )

The backstamp is often an excellent indicator of the year(s) of production in dinnerware.  Since many patterns spanned several years or even decades, it is important to do the research to determine the date of production as accurately as possible.  The backstamp on this Old Country Roses plate was used from the time that this pattern was introduced in 1962 until a new mark was used in 1973.

Original backstamp used on Royal Albert Old Country Roses pieces from 1962 to 1973
Original Old Country Roses Backstamp

This Buying Guide is an excellent source of information on dating Old Country Roses backstamps.

Ok, so marks and backstamps make it easier to determine age. How do I define vintage for other types of items? I would still expect the first two rules to apply:

  1. Less than 100 years old
  2. Made during the original era that it was produced.

There are at least three other requirements that I look for to classify an item as vintage.

  1. The item should be of a quality to have some value.
  2. It should have some age, usually older than 20 years, so that it is old enough for an adult to remember from childhood!
  3. It must not be a newer model or reproduction of an item. When there was more than one era of production, the year should definitely accompany the word “Vintage.”

So, would I use the term “vintage” for a newer Royal Albert Old Country Roses plate? If it is over twenty years old, it would be acceptable to say it is a “Vintage 1980s” plate, for example. It is important in this case to couple the date with the word because it is not of the original vintage.

Vintage can be an overused word, especially in descriptions on the internet, but used with thought, it can be a useful term for describing worthwhile items that are not yet antiques. And, let’s complicate the issue just a little! If you like “vintage decor,” the exact age doesn’t really matter! Antiques blend perfectly with your vintage items!

What are your favorite vintage items, and how do you define the word?

Vintage wine shimmers in the evening sunset overlooking the harbor photo by Kristen Dyson
What does the word Vintage mean?

2 thoughts on “Vintage – What Does it Really Mean?

  1. Yiayia

    Great article! I agree the term is used and overused without much thought.I appreciate your guidelines. I LOVE vintage textiles, especially those from the 30’s 40’s and 50’s! I look forward to more of your posts!


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