Antiques, Vintage, Retro but never Collectibles – It’s all in the definition!

I recently remarked to a friend that I had missed rummaging for antiques during the lockdown. She was horror struck and dismissed the notion out of hand saying that all her neighbourhood antique shops had closed down years ago. Her face was full of disdain and the conversation was ended.

Wow, there followed a period of self-examination on several levels! I long considered myself a self-appointed interior design Guru and had enjoyed mixing modern with the old for as long as I had owned a home. One of the joys of getting me through lockdown periods is watching (daily mandatory viewing!) the last fifteen mins of Bargain Hunt, just before the BBC 1 O’ Clock news. It doesn’t end there, I really enjoy Salvage Hunters, Antiques Road Trip and recently stumbled upon Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is (which apparently has been running since 2008) and entails visiting overseas markets – delightful! Am I that passé – have I passed my sell by date and become an antique?

All in the definition and perception – one man’s meat is another man’s poison

I allayed some of my worries by addressing some definitions and realising that I, like most, use the word antique in a loose sense and have my own prejudices.

An item should be at least one hundred years old to be defined as an antique. People’s opinions of antiques range here greatly; some assuming its all about musty, smelly, old wooden furniture and old fashioned jewellery; to those who think of beautiful antique masterpieces of a particular genre be they paintings, lighting, silver items etc.

According to most of the experts, the term vintage refers to an item that is at least fifty but less than hundred years old. In any event the item is never less than twenty years old. Vintage speaks of the era when it was produced. Highly desirable mid-century Scandinavian furniture would fit the bill. Others see it as a marketing ploy to pass slightly imperfect dodgy objects off when rebranded!

A style of trends, modes, fashions, or attitudes of the recent past. It generally implies an age of at least fifteen to twenty years. Retro items don’t have to be old, they can be brand new, but made in the style of the time or item they are trying to replicate. Vintage could be retro but retro can never be vintage! To some cynics assigning a fancy retro sign is a way of promoting something that really is old fashioned and pre-loved.

An object that is collected by fanciers. This is where my own prejudice kicks in, even though I have purchased collectibles. When I hear the word collectibles, visions of rows and rows of dusty tiny ceramics, mouldy coins, military figures appear in my mind. Of course, there are highly desirable collectibles like Lalique (if only affordable!), cranberry glass which I adore; many wonderful examples of pottery makers; expensive gold watches to name just a few – but sadly, word association and prejudice come to the fore!

And whilst most tv shows have the word antique in the heading, they invariably showcase all of the above, which is why we are all confused. Fear not, it is the eagerness and excitement of the journey that counts and the endless pleasurable hours seeking out that something special which is either in your mind’s eye before you set out or a total surprise, out of the blue, when you stumble upon it.

Where it all started

Sunday night TV viewing growing up in the 70s meant watching Antiques Roadshow which was firmly squeezed between Songs of Praise and the current blockbuster serial being broadcasted at the time aka Poldark, Onedin Line, Forsyte Saga or All Creatures Great and Small! I cannot remember being overly enthusiastic about the Antiques Roadshow at the time.

My passion started when I had my first home in the 80s. Laura Ashley interiors prevailed and finding that Victoriana piece to fit in with the decor was the key. In my case it was a Victorian fireplace bought down a dodgy dark alleyway in Tottenham, North London. I travelled there with my mother and I can remember as if it were yesterday, lugging the purchased black fireplace with beautiful Victorian tiles into the car to get it safely back home. Further research ensued to find a suitable surround and mantel. You must remember there was no internet then! Another obligatory purchase of its time was the Victorian glass dressing table set – mine was in a peach colour which went perfectly with the bedroom decor. This I bought in The Stables in Camden Market, back in the day.

A move to Sydney, Australia and the monthly markets at Kirribilli and Saturday jaunts to Paddington markets are recalled to mind. We would jump into our little Suzuki Sierra on the weekends to explore many parts of Australia: trips to Kangaroo Valley, Blue Mountains or Forster and invariably would stumble across some wonderful markets. Given the connections with the UK, I used to delight at the sight of many items familiar to me from my childhood days. It was a bridge to home.

Planning the trip

With so much on line today, much can be researched and even bought without the joy of handling it which is often the case for many antique collectors. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy on-line browsing to the extent it leads me to seek out a new market, or perhaps a town known for antiques to visit, but my real enjoyment comes from visiting markets. Often when we go on holidays or weekend aways or day trips, our pre researched list includes: restaurants to visit, art exhibitions to see and a featured local antique market! That is why a weekend to Paris lends itself beautifully to engaging in my favourite things and always a challenge to see what can fit into the Eurostar seat on the return journey!

Benefits of this hobby

Where to start? It has given me so much pleasure over the years from my early twenties. My love of antiques started from an interior design angle and has remained predominantly that focus to this day. I love combining old with the new for a unique look. Often it involves doing something to the purchase: be it re-wiring or fixing new plug on lamps or indeed electrifying an oil lamp; reupholstering furniture; framing items etc; or delighting in its original perfect form. Such purchases bring back so many memories of where it was bought and the time spent in that part of the world. I like thinking about the history of it, allowing my mind to run riot as to where it belonged, what was it used for, who owned it. This can then take you on another journey and down a new interest avenue.

There is so much social interaction which I enjoy and cross fertilisation with other hobbies. It’s a great hour or so to spend as part of your day exploring foreign lands or indeed nearer to home. It tells you so much about the place. And every now and then you spot something that fits in your home, bringing a bit of that foreign land back with you. Do not be put off with labels and views of others. This ex punk rocker has had a ball enjoying this hobby and continues to do so!