Thursday, March 27, 2008

#1 What's an antique?

I get letters. Usually it's just people wanting to know stuff, and since I'm the expert, I must have the answers.

So question #1.

What's an antique? Inquiring minds want to know. The answer is...who cares?

If you're a dedicated collector, if you're just acquiring, if you're decorating, it really doesn't matter what the definition is, you're finding this stuff because you like it,
because it's pleasing to have around.

The only people who really need a definition are bureaucrats: tax collectors,
insurance agents, customs officers and so on. They live by rules, their jobs depend on them.

So, bearing that in mind...

The most commonly accepted definition of an antique is: something at least one hundred years old.

There, feel better now? But the real question is why. Why this magic "100 years?"

The story goes like this.

In the 1930s, the US Customs and excise people were reviewing tariff rates and
needed a definition for "antique." So they polled the leading dealers of the day, museums, galleries, scholars and the like and the overwhelming response was, drumroll, please, an antique was something that was made prior to the industrial revolution.

Made sense.

And since the industrial revolution had begun making a huge impact roughly about the 1830s, a hundred years prior, that was the number that got picked.

I'm not sure just how true this story is but it could have happened, it's just as likely a story as anything else.

I don't believe that people refuse to buy something because it falls a year short of an "antiques" definition. They may refuse to buy things that are a year short of their own collecting parameters and that makes sense. It's their collection, they get get to decide how they want to collect.

Collectibles used to be things that were collected but weren't old enough to be considered antiques. That's changed too but I'll save that for the next post.

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