Antique, Vintage, Retro – What’s the Difference?

An antique radio, a vintage radio and a retro radio go up for auction. What’s the difference between these three radios and which one is more valuable?

It depends, of course, on many factors, like the condition of each radio, the manufacturer, who the radio belonged to, what the radio is made of, rarity, and other key points. But age is an important factor.

I’m always fascinated with how people perceive the age of items. There are some people who automatically think that just because something is old, it’s not valuable. These folks may accidently throw out something vintage or donate an antique not realizing how valuable it is. On the other hand, there are many people who are convinced that just because their heirloom piece is old, it must be worth a lot of money.

One common question we receive relates to the difference between antique, vintage, and retro. Whether you’re buying or selling, it will help to understand the difference:

Antique: Items that are 100 years old or older are described as antiques. We often auction antique fine art, furniture, clocks, jewelry, pottery, firearms, radios, historical records and photographs, and other antiques. Lately, we’ve seen an increase in demand for European and Asian antiques. No matter what country of origin, it’s important to have an expert examine old relics. Forgers are very skilled at aging items to make them look period specific. In addition, reproductions may still hold value, but usually not as much as originals.

Vintage: Typically, vintage items describe an era, like mid-modern century furniture or vintage toys, such as Barbie Dolls from the 1960s. Items that are vintage are older than 20 years, but less than 100 years old. I’m always surprised at what vintage items people collect. For example, vintage fans are popular with Millennials who are seeking accent pieces with an industrial, chic look. Vintage costume jewelry can command hundreds of dollars. Vintage pieces can do well at auction, depending on market demand.

Retro: Style is the key to this description. Retro items were made within the past 20 years but reference a style of the past. It might be a contemporary reproduction of jewelry reviving the Art Deco style of the 1920s. Or, it might be a new furniture line with a mid-mod century look. Retro pieces can still do well at auction, especially if the manufacturer’s work is in demand.

Age truly does affect value. Even the age of bidders makes a difference. Middle-aged bidders feeling nostalgic may be attracted to collectibles from their youth. Millennials and Generation Z bidders don’t care about Grandma’s Hummel collection or fine dining china. Generational interests change, and unfortunately, many people hold on to their collections too long.

Remember: Old does not mean worthless. Also, just because an old family heirloom was appraised for a certain amount, doesn’t mean it’s still worth that. When in doubt, ask an expert.


Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Appraisal in Glendale.

Contact him at, or 623-878-2003.


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