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Antique: what does this term actually mean and why you should take a closer look

A little guide (not only) for Ebay customers

Again and again there are misunderstandings about what is meant by an "antique" article - and what is not. And that, although there are certainly already a lot of advice on this. Therefore we would like to show again what one should understand by "antique" articles and "antiques".

First of all, the term "antique": This is a term that is not protected in any way and there is no legally binding definition or even a law. On the contrary: "antique" simply means "old" (except for historical monuments or finds from so-called antiquity). The Duden states under "antique":

(Beginning of quote) classical antiquity, relating to antiquity; from classical antiquity originating from a bygone era or made in its style (of things, especially of furnishings)

Synonyms for antique

old, Greco-Roman, classically old, ancient, from
of ancient times; (upscale) venerable (end of quote)

Specifically for furniture, there is a definition of terms in DIN 68871 "Furniture designations":

3.10 antique furniture

Furniture that is at least 100 years old and has not been significantly changed afterwards through restoration, so that the art-historical value is largely preserved.

However, this definition only relates to the use of this term within the standard itself.

“Antique” is initially just an expression of normal linguistic usage and means “old” or “made old”. Until the German market was flooded with antique-style products from the Far East (e.g. chairs, chests of drawers, showcases, accessories), it was common practice to label all products that were genuinely antiquarian or newer copies of historical styles that were no longer manufactured as " antique ”. Regardless of whether the article was 20 or 5000 years old. In the case of high-quality articles, this was often associated with a quality statement: antique furniture, glasses and porcelain goods from all eras up to the second half of the 20th century are generally of good quality, at least those made in Western Europe, and anyway from renowned manufacturers. But you can no longer rely on that today! There are enough suppliers of new goods on Ebay (mainly from the Far East) that are offered as "Antique Article XYZ", but actually an article XYZ "in antique style" are. In addition, in the flea market scene, flea markets are increasingly turning into antique flea markets - but only in name. And so that increasingly worthless junk is labeled as antique and offered as antique, be it deliberately or simply following the current trend.

A distinction is expressly made between the term “antique” and the term “Antique". Even this is not legally defined or protected *, but in current linguistic usage it usually refers to the actual age of an item and not to a (copied) style that can be misinterpreted as an era of origin. There is a modus vivendi among us commercial antique and antique dealers, which is not legally binding, according to which only items that are actually 100 years old or older are designated as antiques. For certain style epochs such as Art Déco, 80 years are enough. However, there are always cases, especially among private sellers, in which items are offered as antiques that are not even 20 years old and are described as "[exact] age unknown" or where the age is completely missing.

Especially at Period furniture (e.g. secretaries or chests of drawers in the baroque style) we and especially disappointed bidders notice this again and again. And the "antique furniture" from Far Eastern series production have the same characteristic: there is usually no specific age or information on the origin. Sure, because it could show that it is of inferior mass quality, at least in comparison with European furniture that is "really" antique, regardless of whether it is originals or style copies. (Incidentally, this is a trend that is also coming from other industries and
This is why many customers think they are getting a supposed bargain when they bid for an “antique” item or even an “antique - rare antique - rarity - rare Rarity "etc.

Therefore, please note the following tips:

  • Differentiate between "antique" and "antique".
  • Differentiate between "antique" and "in antique style" or "in XYZ style". The latter should tell you that the article is not a real original, but a (style) copy. Which can of course also be of high quality and valuable, such as with Italian period furniture
    “In the Chippendale style”, just not 250 years old.
  • Read the item description carefully to see whether a credible, concrete age statement is made!
  • If no age is given, assume that the item is neither antique nor antiquarian. (A search on Ebay for "Baroque dresser" results in thousands of hits - how many of them actually come from the Baroque era?)
  • “Age unknown” for an “antique” offered can mean, especially for private sellers: “I do not guarantee any properties, especially if I know that it would be a lie. And if the customer notices it anyway: no return, no guarantee. "
  • And if, in this case, no information is given about the quality or if you read extremely gossiped marketing phrases: Count on a Made-in-China product. This is not inherently negative as long as you are aware of it. But it's usually something completely different
    as a "real" antique item or even a real antique.
  • The terms “rarity” and “rare” should also ring the alarm bells for you. Ask: reputable providers with the appropriate specialist knowledge can plausibly explain the background to you and give you a legally binding assurance. Otherwise: better avoid a potential bad buy!

Due to the development described for our own offer titles and item descriptions, we have now begun to explicitly describe antiques as "original antiques". To distinguish them from the many fake antiques. And at
We also indicate style copies for antique items as “... in XYZ style” so that no one would think of actually expecting an - let's say original baroque chair from 1690, although it is from 1960 and in colloquial language in general is referred to as a "baroque chair" **. Of course, always with honest information about your actual age.

(tk) © Antik mit Stil GmbH 2013


*) PS: There is a definition of antiques in the customs tariff, which, however, only refers to the tax treatment when importing works of art. The 100 years are also mentioned here.

**) PS:
Here, too, it says in DIN 68871: 12.1 Antique furniture If a certain style epoch is used in the name, such as B. Biedermeier, called, the furniture must come from this era. That means: a “Biedermeier sofa” must date from 1815 to 1848. Not a “sofa in the Biedermeier style”.

Last update: 11/11/2017


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