Why? Because coffee tables were first conceived as a furniture piece in the 1920's and therefore by definition are at best vintage and cannot be antique (and antique has to be at least 100 years old).
But there are antiques that can be repurposed as coffee tables. The most obvious are trunks or dowry chests like this 19th century Anglo Indian Rosewood one:
Another option is to use an antique Italian wedding chest known as a CASSONE ("kuh SO nay") like this spectacular 18th c. Sicilian polychrome example:
But my favorite antique piece that works beautifully as a coffee table is the humble PETRIN, a French kneading trough for dough that's typically made of fruitwood and has a rusticated provincial look that works for many interiors.
Petrin is pronounced pay TRAN (with the N being kind of softly spoken). Another plus about repurposing a petrin as a coffee table is that the top is removable for lots of storage:
Another term for petrin is the HUCHE. I used to call this a HOOCH until I took my French correspondence course. Now I know the correct pronunciation is "oosh". So now when I see a oosh in a friend's living room, I like to ask "May I sit my toosh on your oosh?" Oddly, that never gets a laugh...
Here's a great houche/petrin that would work beautifully as a small coffee table, although perhaps a tad tall:
And here's another small one:
So if you're searching for that perfect "antique" coffee table, consider repurposing trunks, cassones, petrins and huches. They're both functional and antiques.
LATE BREAKING NEWS 8/23/10! I just learned another definition of what would be called a "toosh"--and no, it's not a bumm. A "toosh" is also a fluid used in lithography! Who knew?