Vintage, antique clock – what’s the difference?

A lot to some.

Maybe this is old hat to you and you already have a pretty good idea what you consider antique versus a vintage item, but as I poke around the Internet I find enough confusion, so perhaps it is not that clear-cut after all.

The terms vintage and antique are often used interchangeably although if one explores further there are generally agreed upon differences in terms.

Let’s take the word “antique”. According to the United States Government (don’t ask me why a government must define the word antique), the term “antique” is reserved for valuables that are over a century old. Websters dictionary defines an antique as a work of art, piece of furniture, or decorative object made at an earlier period and according to various customs laws at least 100 years ago. Even Wikipedia defines antique as applying to objects at least 100 years old. Okay, so we have nailed that one down.

Okay, now let’s look at the word “vintage”. According to Ebay, vintage is a defined period from 1930 to 1969. Let’s be realistic; on Ebay “vintage” often means anything that was purchased less than 24 hours ago, is dirty and worn, or looks like it might be old if you don’t know anything about its history. The word vintage is overused, and as misused, as “antique”. The use of the word vintage in auctions is becoming more and more like the the word “rare” Most often the seller doesn’t know anything about what they are selling and describes it as “vintage” and hopes the buyer believes it. The word collectible is also abused by marketing, just like the word vintage has been misused. It has been used and abused to the point that just about anything sold these days is marketed as a collectible if not vintage. Most serious buyers would agree that when it comes to vintage clocks younger than 100 years old but usually older than 50 is a good rule of thumb.

RS Refinished case (7)
Vintage 1937 Blackforest shelf clock

In some circles however, jewelry for instance, anything over twenty years old is considered vintage. Some expand the definition even further to include “near” vintage and “true” vintage items. What does that mean? So if something is 48 years old is it “near vintage”? If it is 50 years old is it “true vintage”? The reality of the situation is that some people think anything vintage was made before they were born. To reiterate, anything over 50 years but under 100 is, to me, a reliable measure.

RS GB April 8
Antique, circa 1902 Gustav Becker Vienna Regulator
Sessions clock_4
Vintage Sessions Raven shelf clock, circa 1920

Let’s add to the confusion. In 1970 Junghans (a company that has been around for 150 years) invented the Astor-Quartz wristwatch which entered series production in 1972. Watch collectors everywhere would consider the Junghans quartz watch to be an example of a vintage timepiece which is highly collectible even though it is quartz, so is it vintage? There are always going to be rare exceptions but generally speaking nothing that has a quartz movement is vintage.

For all practical purposes a true antique or vintage clock is one that will never see the high level of quality, style or craftsmanship used in its manufacturing again. Observe the detail, workmanship and skill that goes into the manufacture of a vintage or antique clock. It cannot be duplicated today.

The Sessions mantel clock you see pictured above was made in 1920 and in another 4 years it would be classified as an antique. Could one pass it off as an antique? Or a “near” antique?

How would you classify this bracket clock made in 1990?  It is a 36 year old Hermle 8-day Westminster chime moon-phase clock in the bracket clock style. It is a great looking little clock, well made with good detail. Bracket clocks are so popular that Hermle still makes mechanical bracket clocks to this day. But it is neither an antique or vintage. It is a collectible.

RS Hermle bracket clock (4)
Hermle bracket clock, circa 1990

Taking the time to research your prospective purchase will assist you in determining the age of your clock whether it is vintage, antique or merely collectible. I knew this Hermle bracket clock was was not very old when I made my first inquiries. Finding out how to date this clock was relatively simple. On the bottom right hand corner of the movement as you look at it from the rear there is a FHS Hermle logo stamp on the plate and above that is the letter “C”. Internet research tells me that after 1989 Hermle began to use letters to denote the year of manufacture. In this case “C” stamped on the movement means the year 1990.

Clocks can be dated with some accuracy as in the bracket clock above but often it is quite a challenge to determine the age of a clock. My Arthur Pequegnat Canadian Time clock is quite old but I do not know it’s exact age. The Pequegnat Clock company made the same clock for 26 years (1916 to 1941) and made no change to the design or to the movement, consequently there is no way of determining the exact year it was made. So, is it antique or vintage?

Arthur Pequegnat Canadian Time Clock, antique or vintage?

Whether antique, vintage or collectible, buying an antique clock does not necessarily mean you have to spend a fortune. Ogee (OG) clocks, for example, are certainly antiques and beautifully handcrafted many of which are 150 years or more old but they are still reasonably priced because thousands were made. Antique banjo clocks are highly sought after and still reasonably priced (all considering) unless you are seeking a genuine Simon Willard. A little homework certainly helps.

Whether antique, vintage or collectible, if you enjoy your clock nothing else really matters,does it?

2 thoughts on “Vintage, antique clock – what’s the difference?

  1. So very true. And very interesting presentation! I wonder if the three terms are the same for philatelic area of collect. I think there are old (antique) stamps, vintage ones, but also collectible pieces (e.g. first day covers, postcards, and so on). Best wishes! Catalin

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.