Appraisal 101: What Constitutes Antique vs. Vintage

Nov 8, 2021 | Uncategorized

Don’t junk everything left over in an estate property. There may be some hidden treasures.


Part of an estate executor’s responsibilities include parsing through and organizing the deceased’s belongings. Typically, the will outlines where to distribute the most financially or sentimentally valuable items. After giving out the objects listed in the will, it may be tempting to toss everything into a dumpster just to save time, but you might want to resist the urge. You may end up discarding some genuine rarities with high price tags. 

Understanding Appraisal 

As you go through the remaining items in the estate that were not listed in the will, you may come across curiosities such as the following:  


  • Old coins
  • Unique artwork, housewares, or décor (including furniture)
  • Well-kept clothing 
  • Jewelry, handbags, and other accessories
  • Autographs
  • Memorabilia
  • Musical instruments
  • Electronics (including dial phones and record players)
  • Other interesting items 


If the beneficiaries are incommunicado or themselves deceased and nobody in the family would like to keep them as mementos, sort these items into the sell pile and set aside time to get them appraised. Seek out dealers and other experts with a good reputation and professional training—membership in the International Society of Appraisers is a positive indicator. 


In order to give you an accurate quote, appraisers look at the following factors:


  • Condition of the piece
  • Number of pieces originally produced
  • Number of surviving pieces
  • Current market price of identical or similar pieces 
  • Materials involved in crafting the piece
  • Quality of craftsmanship
  • Age of the piece 


The age of the piece will usually fall under one of the following labels:


  • Artifact/antiquity 
  • Antique
  • Vintage
  • Retro


Although no official grading system for what constitutes “artifact,” “antique,” “vintage,” and “retro” exists, there are some commonly agreed-upon criteria that appraisers use. 


What is an Artifact?

Artifacts, alternately known as antiquities, are man made objects aged 300 years or more. Fossils do not fall under this category due to their organic origins, though it should be noted that they can still be quite valuable as well. Should you find an artifact or fossil among the deceased’s possessions, local universities with an archaeology or classics department as well as museums would provide a more accurate appraisal over antique dealers. 


Some families and executors opt to donate artifacts back to their nations or tribes of origin. This is a much simpler option than going through the auction process, not to mention it helps preserve valuable history.

What is an Antique?

Typically, antiques are between the ages of 100 to 299 years old. “Antique” applies to man made objects, including furniture, clothing, jewelry, figurines, kitchenware, and more. Many families opt to keep antiques as heirlooms to be passed down from generation to generation, which the deceased usually outlines in their will. 


In the event no heir to a specific antique has been named, you should work with the family to decide what to do. Typically, your two options are to pass it to an agreed-upon heir or sell it to use the money for estate expenditures. 

What is a Vintage Item? 

Vintage items are between the ages of 40 and 99 years old. Unlike antiques and artifacts, vintage pieces derive their worth more from nostalgia than monetary value. These objects are also more likely to be mass-produced rather than handmade or machine-crafted in small batches. 

Some antique stores do take the odd vintage piece, though you’ll probably have better luck selling to specialty vintage stores or resale shops.

What is Retro?

“Retro” applies to any object between the ages of 20 and 39 years old, and like their vintage counterparts, they are by and large mass-produced. Similarly, retro items probably won’t fetch much money, but many buyers seek them out for nostalgia purposes. Think of the Beanie Babies of yesteryear. While they didn’t quite turn into the million-dollar investments many people hoped for, plenty of adults these days would still pay about $10 or so for a cute, classic toy for their own children (or their inner child).


If you and the family would prefer to not go through the sorting and assessing process at a resale shop, retro objects in good repair are often very welcome donations to nonprofit secondhand shops. 

Where to Sell 

Once you have an appraisal, you have many options for selling the valuables unearthed in the sorting process. Depending on the objects you have available, you may want to consider the following avenues for selling:


  • Antique stores
  • Antique fairs
  • Antique dealers
  • Estate sales (recommended only if you happen to have a bounty of items to sell)
  • Second hand stores
  • Online


The money earned from selling these items is supposed to go toward paying off expenditures related to the estate.