Antique or Classic? What makes the difference?

Delores E. Topliff

The word antique, from the Latin antiquus meaning old or ancient, describes collectible items usually at least 100 years old. They are desirable because of age, beauty, rarity, condition, personal or emotional connection, and/or other unique features. Representing earlier times, they show high-quality craftsmanship or skilled attention to design, and are usually found in antique shops, estate sales, online auctions, barns, old buildings, or may be inherited.

Classics earn their label when over time they are judged to be outstanding and of the highest quality, whether describing a classic novel, other literature, music, or classic cars, etc. To me classic also means something so well done, it can’t be improved on, à la Dickens, Shakespeare, Rembrandt, the King James Bible, etc.

I had fun last week attending a public library event featuring Mark Moran, an antique appraiser often on the American T.V. program, Antiques Roadshow, described as “part adventure, part history, and part treasure hunt”. Appraisers like Moran are experts at finding the current value of objects and often, the fascinating stories behind them.

I took a chair that was already an antique when given to me at my wedding many years ago. It is a well-made “Continental Hall Chair” with an ornate inlaid wood design in the seat, still showing original color. Moran says it was made in Germany or Austria in the 1880s, and displays nicely turned “Barley Twist” legs.

Its value? The price of many antiques has dropped to about half of what they were even ten years ago because of changing popular tastes. Values are also affected by the availability of many well-made modern reproductions, which lower interest in authentic antiques. My chair, worth $400 a few years ago, would do well to bring $200 now. No, thank you—I’ll keep it and enjoy it myself. (Pictures of Moran and my chair are provided). 

I learned there are both classic and antique cars, though the latter are not yet quite 100 years old. See this photo of a darling 1925 antique Ford Model T pickup owned in Minnesota by the same family for 71 years. Asking price? $10,950.

It seems that in writing, art, music, and life, labels and values may change according to popular tastes and opinions. Even styles revered for centuries may fall and be replaced. I believe that objects or projects created and executed with excellence deserve to achieve and retain classic status. It seems the best guarantee for that is for artists, writers, musicians, and craftsmen, to create to conceive and achieve our very best so that its unique beauty is recognized and long remembered in the eyes of its beholders.

Your turn. What antique or classic possession do you own or love? What work of art or literature do you believe deserves a lasting permanent place high on the list of acclaimed and valued classics?

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