Knowledge of antiques terminology is valuable

I have visited with a few readers who have asked me the meaning of a term or antique-related word that I’ve used in my column from time to time. This has inspired me to clarify the definitions of some of the more basic terms.

It’s not that I’m so educated in the lingo of our hobby, but when I need a definition, I refer to an old book that I own that is by Ralph and Terry Kovel. It’s a dictionary of antique-speak, but it might be out of print.
Antique: Legally, antique refers to an item that is 100 years old or older. So, if it was made before July 1914, it’s an antique. Most of us have our own definition, of course.

Collectible: An item that has become popular for collecting based on its value as nostalgia. It doesn’t have to be a certain age to be termed “collectible.” Some items of limited manufacture are made to be collected. This doesn’t imply higher value, however. Most “made to be collected” items will have a heightened value for a time and then lose value when the fad is over, e.g. Beanie Babies.
Reproduction: This is any item that is newly made to copy an antique but is not intended to fool a buyer into thinking it’s an original. A true reproduction is made using the same tools and techniques used to make the original. Rarely will a reproduction be as desirable or costly as an original.

Fake: Any item that’s made with the intention of fooling a buyer into believing the item is an original and spending the appropriate amount of money to own it.

Restoration: Taking great care to save as much of the original antique as possible, a restorer can save a valuable antique and retain much of its value. Restoring often entails gentle cleaning of an antique to retain its patina and replacing or remaking certain parts with an eye to authenticity. Value can be enhanced or destroyed, depending on the skill and care of the restorer.

Refinishing: If one removes the layers of finish that have accumulated on an antique and applies a new, modern surface, they’ve refinished an item. This process can lower the value of an antique, so before refinishing, check with an expert on value. In the case of furniture, the value of many pieces has already been destroyed by years of recoating their finishes with layers of paint. Refinishing can actually help the value and usability of these pieces.


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