Is it really vintage? This is how to tell.
If you've gone this far down the rabbit hole of Industriale, you probably love a vintage industrial find. But as vintage becomes more and more fashionable, the market for new-old style is becoming larger and larger. So is the market for sellers who are using 'vintage' as a description of style or colour rather than as a reference to the item's actual age. Don't be fooled! Here's how to tell whether you're getting the real vintage deal.
Look for brands, materials, and techniques that are right for the era
The market for replica vintage items often results in the use of technologies that are inappropriate for, or just didn't exist in the period the item is supposed to be from. This gives us the feeling that there's something wrong or off about the item, but it can be very difficult to put a finger on!
Looking at an 1850s farm gate? Check for welding, which didn't come in to use until the early 20th century.
Records should be made from shellac if they're pre-1930s, and vinyl thereafter.
Items like canisters or other smalls from the early 20th century should be bakelite, not plastic. This can be tricky to tell, so try looking for other branding. Often a quick google of a company logo will give you an idea of the era, as similar items are often listed on ebay.
It's also useful to check branding on the bottom of items. Many a 'vintage' biscuit tin is actually from the 2000s pastel revival. This is another example where branding can help. Jason manufactured anodised canisters back in the 50s and 60s. Maxwell and Williams did not!
Powder coating is a sign that the item is either post-1940s or has been re-coated from its original finish. (This isn't necessarily a bad thing - more on refinishing below).
Enameling can be trickier to judge, as it's still used in vintage repros. In this instance, the layering (or absence thereof) can be a dead giveaway - see below.
Check for signs of refinishing
Reputable vintage and sellers will happily tell you if they have restored an item, for example by cleaning and repainting, or sanding and recoating timber. This is often done on items like kitchenettes and on cast-iron pieces. Restoration is important for preservation, and the market for these items is legit. If your tastes skew toward the less rustic, restored vintage is ideal.
More creative refinishing can sometimes come with more creative storytelling about an item's history. In particular, I'm thinking of the use of chalk paint to give a vintage feel to much newer furniture. Again, reputable sellers will happily tell you that it's a '90s coffee table painted in '50s colours, with new legs in a retro style. But if a painted item is being presented to you as an antique or as having a particular provenance that would make it more desirable (e.g. it's French provincial), make sure to carefully verify that claim. Look for materials that are commensurate with the age (is the backing chipboard, or real timber?), check that decals are 'real' and not MDF, and look on the back and underneath drawers for makers stamps that might tell a different story.
Look for layers
One point of confusion for a lot of people is vintage signage. There are a huge number of reproductions on the market, and they don't always identify themselves readily.
The signs below are all real vintage - click to enlarge each one to see the details. In particular, note that the enamelled paint finishes are layered on the base metals. On the Bourneville Cocoa sign, we can see rusted steel, a white undercoat, and then the black, red, yellow, white enamel paint. If you were to touch this sign, you'd feel depressions and rusted texture where the paint is missing.
In contrast, a reproduction sign won't have a rusted underlayer, since it's newly manufactured. Rather, the brown will be just another colour in a laser-printed top layer of paint. (This is often done with new enamelled items like cups and plates. From far away they seem chipped, but look closer and it's just a brown paint job).
Ask yourself: Would they have written that on it back in the day?
Like so many a decorative tray with 'Love Paris' stencilled on it, actual vintage (and actual French items) doesn't call itself vintage (or Love Paris - unless it's a souvenir, I suppose). Remember, everything old was once brand new. So that dress with the '50s style' label, the locker with 'sports' written on it in Ye Olde typeface, that Rolling Stones tee with the 70s album cover but the word 'vintage' on the tag ... they're not the real deal.
Have more questions about telling fake vintage from real? Drop me a line!
Still think it's all too hard? We can help. Maybe we could even go shopping together?