Getting Clear on Antique and Vintage Eras and Terms


It’s vitally important when buying and selling vintage and antique items that the exact eras are understood and accurately described. I know it’s something that I, as a vintage and antique seller, have made mistakes on in the past.  I am working all the time on being more precise in my descriptions and understanding.

I have written this post as a reference for myself and for other buyers and sellers.  For the purposes of this post, I am sticking primarily to Anglo-centric definitions, although it is also useful to have an understanding of German and French definitions of era, for example, if you are buying or selling items from those countries. I will cover terms for those nationalities, as well as for North America specifically, in future posts.


Style versus Era.

It is vitally important to be clear on whether something is actually of the era or just of the style (for example, if something is described as ‘Art Deco’, is the meaning that it was produced between the years of 1920 – 1940 or does it mean simply that it is Art Deco in style? If it is the latter, then it could feasibly have been produced in contemporary times.  How often have you seen something described as ‘Victorian’ only to realise the seller meant ‘Victorian in style’ (which, by the way, is not a very accurate term as the Victorians had a vast array of styles).  I will write some separate posts in the future about recognizing the difference between the different styles (for example the characteristics of Art Deco style versus Art Nouveau style, but for now this post is concerned with defining eras and terms).


This refers to an item which is definitely 100 years old or older. (If in doubt, it is better to stick with the word ‘vintage’). ‘Antique style’ is a meaningless term that is used too often.


This is any item that is less than 100 years old but older than 20 years old (there is some debate about this and some people say that ‘true vintage’ is over 50 years old.)


* PRE-GEORGIAN ERA – This refers to anything from before 1714

* GEORGIAN ERA – This refers to the era between 1714 – 1837

* VICTORIAN ERA – This refers to the era between 1837 – 1901

The Victorian era can further be divided into:

* Early Victorian – 1837 – 1860 (Romantic Period)

* Mid-Victorian – 1861 – 1880 (Grand Period)

* Late-Victorian – 1880 – 1901 (Aesthetic Period)

* ARTS & CRAFTS MOVEMENT ERA – 1894 – 1923

* ART NOUVEAU ERA – 1890 -1910

* EDWARDIAN ERA – 1901 – 1915

* ART DECO ERA – 1920 – 1940

* RETRO  – 1940 – 1959

* POST-1959 is usually defined by decade.


Here are some other, less technical terms you will see to describe antiques and vintage eras. I will update these as I think of more (If you can think of any others please let me know 0r if you think I’ve got anything wrong, please tell me).

* GRAND TOUR ERA (This usually refers to the years between 1800 – 1830, although the Grand Tour began in 1611)

* TITANIC ERA (This refers to the years 1910 – 1912)

* FLAPPER ERA (This usually refers to the 1920s, although flapper fashion continued throughout the 1930s and there have been many revivals.)

* DOWNTON ABBEY (This usually refers to the years after 1912 and into the 1920s.)

* SWING ERA or BIG BAND ERA  (This usually refers to the years between 1935 and 1946)

* MOD ERA (This usually refers to the early to mid sixties)

* BEATNIK ERA (Usually refers to 1950s to mid-1960s prior to the hippy era)

* HIPPY ERA (Usually refers to 1960s and 1970s, but usually means the late 1960s and early 1970s)

Sources / Further reading:

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