Where Yesterday Meets Tomorrow
In judging the age of an item, you need to listen to the item. Rarely will an item simply announce its age with a printed copyright or patent date, but even more rarely will it be able to successfully conceal its age from anyone who seriously looks.
Look at the materials it is made from. Is it made from wood, stamped metal, cast metal, plastic? What kind of metal? What kind of plastic? Know when materials were commonly used. If it has modern plastic parts, it is not a vintage toy. If it's made of 3/4 inch thick wood, its mid 20th century. Plywood dates from the 1920s; Masonite from 1930s;"particle board" from the 1950s.
Look at the construction methods. If it's a cast iron toy, it should not have die-stamped parts. It should not have phillips head screws. Wooden items should not be put together with staples or a power nailer or hot glue.
Look at the style and design. It can't be older than the most recent design element. Art Nouveau featured sensuous curving flowing design with beautiful long haired women, wonderful intertwined flowers and vines, and intricately interlaced borders and decorations. Arts & Crafts featured the floral designs of art nouveau but vastly simplified. Art Deco used the same motifs as Art Nouveau, but the lines swept in broad curves and long straight lines; not in the sinuous waves of art nouveau. 50s Modern carried the geometric shapes to such extremes that many of the pieces are barely functional. Study these design eras. You'll soon be able to place a piece in the right era - whether it's a vase, a dresser set, or a piece of furniture.
Look at the colors. Learn the vogue colors of each era. If its an avocado colored frying pan, it can't be earlier than the 1970s. If it's chartreuse, it can't be earlier than the 1950s. If it's made of blonde stained oak, it has to be 1950s or early 1960s. If it's orange and yellow, it's probably late 1960s or early 70s.
Look at the graphics. Study the advertising of each era. Study old magazines. You can usually date an item by the graphics on.
There are subtle differences in typography as well. Over the decades, typography itself has evolved. We recently bought a very old looking bottle with a very old looking label. The script was a very elaborate type with lots of twists and curlicues and so on. It looks very 1890s. But there was one problem. The script used to print the name of the company that had produced the product was a very simple sans serif typeface that just screamed 1970s. Further examination revealed the clincher - a zip code under the company name.
Read the words. Language evolves. In recent years, the favored word to indicate a product made as it was made in the past is "Classic." Starting with the introduction of "Coke Classic", the word has supplanted "old Fashion" and other phrases. If it's a "classic" anything, you know it's probably 1980s or later. Other recent additions to the advertisers lexicon are "vintage" and "lite." Today, we have vintage clothing, vintage cameras, vintage computers, etc and . We have "lite" salad dressing or "classic" salad dressing. We have Lite beer and lite mayonnaise.
A final clue is purpose. What is the item intended to do? Is the purpose consistent with the age you are trying to attribute to the item?
Most of this is common sense and open eyes. If you interrogate the piece carefully it will divulge its secret.
© 1997-2002 Coxsackie Antique Center