Sunday, August 14, 2011

"What's in a name?

That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
~Romeo and Juliet(II, ii, 1-2)

Ah, so said Juliet to Romeo...and this week's topic came from a question on a business forum about what constitutes an "antique." Is it antique, vintage, retro? Or, repro or repurposed? The current economy is bringing new life though to "used" merchandise, and many consumers are realizing things like older furniture made out of real wood may be a better deal than new pressed sawdust pieces from China. Or, you can have unique vintage or retro jewelry that does not cost big money, and it is made from safe metals and materials.
Ebay was responsible for leveling the "antique" world playing field. Opening its cyber doors in 1995, it also distorted the reality of the antique world. No longer was something "rare" since there may be 1000 of the item 3 states over. As long as one was willing to pay shipping, it was all there in that new antique mail order world.

However, like the economy of the real estate madness, it drove prices into areas that showed no common sense. Ebay is an auction, and all logic be damned at an auction. Granted the true illustrious high end antique world still exists at Christie's or Sotheby's, but I am talking about the little shop down the road or the antique mall on the highway.

But, some dealers still think the market is in the stratosphere. I got this bangle in an auction lot, and, since it was signed, I looked it up.
Kirk Stieff was in Baltimore and was America's oldest silversmith, but it seems in the 1960s they made a line of pewter cuff bracelets like the one above. I saw them listed from $30+ up to the hundreds!

Here is the problem - just because something is old does not make it worth big money. Technically this Limoge pitcher is an antique, but it is not priceless in the antique world. The term antique equals the 100 year tag, but that was simply to set up for import fees. If it came in at 100 years or older, no duty had to be paid. The wealthy were importing antiques and did not want to pay taxes. (I will say nothing!) An official definition of an antique is stated in the Tariff Act of 1930. According to Paragraph 1811 of that Act, antiques are "works of art (except rugs and carpets made after the year 1700), collections in illustration of the progress of the arts, works in bronze, marble, terra cotta, parian, pottery or porcelain, artistic antiquities and objects of ornamental character or educational value which shall have been produced prior to the year 1830."

This statement is clear in its application to imports and the payment of duty on them. But the year 1830 is more than an arbitrary date in the classification of American antiques. It was about this time that mass production and factory manufacture began to displace the making of individual pieces entirely by hand. Glass began to be pressed into forms by machine instead of being hand-blown. Chairs were the first piece of furniture to which assembly line methods were applied. Although the cabinetmaker, the glassblower, the blacksmith, and other craftsmen were not put out of business immediately, each succeeding decade brought an increase in mass manufacturing. Can you say Made in China?

Vintage was coined to fit those items that are Depression era up the the 1950s where "retro" kicks in. All style can co-exist though. Here is an antique Victorian blouse, a vintage straw hat, and retro pearls.

If you are looking for unique, the antique/vintage/retro/resale shop can provide that more than TJ Maxx can, and, in the long run, that merchandise still has more intrinsic value than new made in China products. But, as in life, all things in moderation and balance make for sensible living.


The Cinnamon Stick said...

...ah let us not forget the "make-do's of the poor farmer (ie.ME) - the cupboard made from a discarded pig trough - the workbench from an old butcher's table, a coffee table from a wooden delivery box - antiques? or wanna be antiques..??Olde is Goode !!

Mr. Flannery said...

The 100 exemption from import duties was not a gift to the rich importers of antiques. The duties were a form of economic protectionism that made it difficult for foreign goods to compete with domesticly made products. An item more than 100 years old was deemed to be to old to be competition with current production and therefore no protective duty was needed.