The Language of Antiques with Guest Karen Rought

Karen Rought, Fiction Writer & Antique Expert

Today I am doing something entirely fresh. Please welcome a real-life guest to Amaze-ing Words Wednesday: Karen Rought. Karen writes novels and horror short stories and blogs at The Midnight Novelist. Her day job, for the time being, is selling treasures on eBay.

Most industries and occupations have their own way of talking–a unique vocabulary, acronyms only understood by the initiated, and a manner of stringing together ideas into language that connotes you know what the heck you’re talking about. Karen is going to help us peer into the labyrinth of language associated with antiques and collectibles.

Let’s start with the most basic vocabulary question for your business: What’s the difference between “antiques” and “collectibles”?

Ah, so much for easing you into the industry! This is actually a gray-area in terms of definitions, and if you talk to different people you’ll probably get different answers. “Collectibles” is fairly basic – it’s anything that would be considered desirable by collectors. There are the obvious ones likes coins, stamps, and knick-knacks, and the less obvious ones like toasters or even the hair of celebrities (I know, weird, right?). At work, we define an “antique” as anything that is 100 years or older. In association with that, you’ll often see the word “vintage,” which is anything that’s 20 years or older.

You have a feature on the blog you maintain for the antique business called Word of the Week. It informs readers about vocabulary associated with antiques and collectibles. How do you come up with what word to feature each week?

I have a list of words that I work from. Sometimes I’ll choose a word that I’ve been dealing with a lot lately, or maybe one that generally gives people a lot of trouble. Other times I might choose a word that I’m struggling with – there’s nothing like trying to explain the definition to somebody else to get yourself to learn it as well! And we’re always open to suggestions, too. If someone has something that they’re struggling with, I’ll do some research and feature it on the blog!

What has been your favorite (or one of favorites) Word of the Week?

I really enjoyed writing about Vaseline glass because I actually didn’t know much about how it was made prior to writing that article. I love teaching people in general, but I especially love it when I can learn something in the process, too.

Did you know the language of antiquing before you entered the job, or did you learn it since? Do you have a strong command of the vocabulary, or do you still learn words as you go?

I’ve always been interested in antiques, so I had a small command of the “language” for a while. Once I began working at ItsAllOurVault, my knowledge increased exponentially. Before, I would walk into an antique store and appreciate what I saw – even if I didn’t know what it was. Now, I can’t go in there without saying, “Oh! Look at that depression glass,” or “This is a really nice Hull vase!” My best friend rolls her eyes at me a lot – she just can’t understand how I remember it all. But it’s like anything else: if you take a serious interest in something, your brain is like a sponge. There’s no limit to what you can learn.
And that’s true for me too. I’m always learning new words, new phrases, new pattern names. The world of antiques and collectibles is vast; there’s no way that one person could know everything. My boss has been in the business for about 12 years now, and sometimes I teach her new things. As long as you’re open to it, there’s always going to be more to learn.

I’ve noticed that the description of an antique item can get rather long when it includes brand, material, time period, etc. What type of words do you look for when shopping for an item?

When shopping for an item to resell, you want to look at everything – because everything matters. Brand can be the most important factor sometimes. Some people collect certain things just for that brand – like Sarah Coventry jewelry. It’s always better if something is stamped with the name of the maker than not stamped at all. The same goes for material. Whenever we look at flatware, we try to find pieces stamped with silverplate or .925 (which denotes sterling silver). Any kind of silver is better than stainless, and if it’s stamped with the material, it’s proof of what it’s made out of. You don’t often find a pieces stamped with the time period (especially if it’s old), but if an expert can say something is Victorian versus Mid-century, it’s always better than not knowing for sure which time period something came from.

Plenty of business fields use acronyms as short-cuts in conversation. Does the antiques and collectibles business have any regularly-used acronyms?

Absolutely, and more than anything this is true on eBay where your titles have a limited word count. We use acronyms that serious buyers would know, to save ourselves some room for other keywords. Here’s a short list: EPNS – Electroplated Nickle Silver (This is often stamped on the bottom of silverplated items. It’s not quite as nice as “regular” silverplate, but it’s close).  SP – Silverplate. NIB – New in Box. NWT – New with Tags. NWOT – New without Tags. NOS – New Old Stock (This denotes vintage items that were overstocked and that have never been used before).

I have to ask: Have you used any of your antique/collectible vocabulary or knowledge in any of your fiction?

Believe it or not, I haven’t! I just don’t really write books that have to do with these sort of things. Although, I’ve had plenty of ideas for stories that might center around antiques. I definitely want to look into creating something like that – “write what you know” and all that!

What else should we know about the language of antique and collectible treasures?

You should know that the language of antiques and collectibles is vast. The words and phrases that I know are just the tip of the iceberg. Each category has its own language. It can take years to be able to speak fluently, especially if you want to know makers and pattern names on top of the usual jargon. But don’t worry – you don’t need to know everything to still be able to understand what other people are talking about. It’s just like anything else: take the time to poke around and see what you’re interested in. You’ll start to pick up on different words here and there. And always feel free to shoot me a message if you have any questions or you need some help. The whole point of that other blog (and our soon-to-be website) is to educate and help people however we can.

Want to know more? Track Karen and It’s All Our Vault down through one or more of the following:


Thanks, Karen! Wasn’t that interesting? I didn’t know much about these different terms before this post. I also now have a promise from Karen that if I’m ever in her area, we can go antiquing! While I’m not personally interested in the monetary value of such objects, I love the history associated with antiques and collectibles.

So what did you learn from this post about the language of antiques? What other questions do you have? Does your field have a vocabulary of its own?

And be sure to check out Karen’s writing blog as well at The Midnight Novelist.

23 thoughts on “The Language of Antiques with Guest Karen Rought

  1. Fascinating…and timely! I am in the process of divesting myself of my parent’s old furniture. Now I know the difference between antique, vintage and collectible. THANKS!

  2. Wow! I’ve never read anything about vintage, collectibles, or antiques. I learned a lot and can’t imagine how much most of us “don’t” know. It was worth it just to find out that vintage means anything more than 20 years old! Thanks.

    1. You’re welcome! It’s sad to think that 1992 marks the beginning of the current “vintage” stage. Even for me that doesn’t sound that far in the past!

  3. I’ve been enjoying visiting antique stores and collecting antiques and vintage items for several years now. I’ve bought a few things from ebay and I’ve bought a few things on etsy. I like shopping in actual shops a bit more because I can get a better feel for the item. But I have also found some excellent bargains online.

    One thing I’ve learned about antique and vintage is that there is always more to learn. LOL

    I think the business/craft of writing has its own language. POV = point of view And that can be broken down into a ton of sub topics First person POV. Third person limited POV. Omniscient POV. Head hopping POV. 😀

    1. Catie, you are full of great ideas! Maybe I should have you guest with a list of writerly terms. Would you believe when I started, I had no idea what WIP meant? I had to look it up! But like any other field, you do eventually learn the lingo.

      I’m glad Karen came here to teach us the antiques lingo!

    2. Even though I spend so much time on eBay, I absolutely prefer antique stores too. It’s so fun to dig through everything and see what kind of treasures you can find. 🙂

  4. I’ve never been big into antiques until I started dating my guy. His mother is HUGE into antiques. She actually likes to go to auction houses and buy up whatever she can, for the right price. She has storage room after storage room of some great things. And actually, I like the look of antiques versus today’s “chic” style or whatever it is. Maybe I’m getting old… LOL

    Great post! Thanks for having Karen, Julie!

    1. I love the history of antiques, Tiffany. I imagine the stories of lives who touched or owned the item. I guess that’s my history degree and my love of fiction all wrapped together. Thanks for stopping by!

    2. Oh, boy! I’d love to see that place. I bet she has some great finds. I always wish we could keep everything too, because I find it all interesting, but that’s not too good for business, LOL!

  5. Very fun seeing you two together, well on this blog anyway. I find antiques very interesting. I’m with you Julie, it’s the history that I find so interesting!! Right now I’m sitting at my hubs great grandfather’s dinning room table. I love sitting at a table that has been around our family for generations. My home is full of items like this. Of course they might not be worth much, but they’re priceless to me.
    Karen, you need to write a horror story about a girl working at an antique shop!
    Thanks guys!!

    1. I bet Karen could come up with some great horror stuff with a little antique knowledge thrown on. (I’m shivering at the thought of it.) What a pleasure to have Karen guest here! Thanks, S.J.

    2. Oh, S.J., I might just have to do that! My brain is whirring already. There are some SERIOUSLY creepy things in antique stores. Thanks for the super comment. 🙂

  6. Thanks for the lessons Karen. I especially found the acronyms and the Vaseline glass interesting.

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