Friday, August 27, 2010

A Lesson in Antique Hunting

Summer in France means one thing: Antique Markets. Throughout the last few months here in France I have come to learn that not all antique markets are created equal. There is actually a hierarchy/levels of antique markets, each with a different name and different wares for sale.

As one would think, an actual “antique” market is in fact just that – the classic antique fair is filled with professional and specialist dealers selling beautiful curiosities of the past.

A Brocante is the French cross between an antiques fair and a flea market – usually held on sundays throughout the country during the summer months. Items at a Brocante are generally not yet considered to be in a good enough state to qualify as an antique, this can be for many reasons, such as the item being damaged or not fully restored.

What can you buy at a Brocante? Pretty much everything under the sun, as long as it's second hand. You'll find things for your kitchen, furniture, old books, games and music, hardware goods, art, tableware, delicate embroderies, collections of every kind, antique posters.

Summers in France also see the proliferation of Vide-Greniers, which literally means “empty attic”. Many villages will have vide greniers, these attic markets, are where people empty their attics, cellars and barns, and put everything on a stand and sell them. Its basically what people do once a year for spring cleaning, so there is usually a lot of junky things – clothes, old kids toys, etc.

Finally there are the Foire Aux Puces markets, which are somewhat similar to a Vide-Grenier, however, they are essentially a flea market selling all types of objects and can be found anywhere.

Some General Rules of Thumb:

1. Don't be surprised if the seller/dealer is more interested in a novel, cellphone conversation, onsite lunch or coffee break than in serving you. The French abolished their monarchy a long time ago, customers included

2. Speak as much french as you can, even if its just “Bonjour”. French etiquette dictates that its your job to say hello to the proprietor, not the other way around.

3. Every social transaction in France is an act of seduction. Don't be surprised to find you're the one doing the romancing. The French consider the act of buying the merchandise a privilege, not a right.

4. Most sellers/dealers work on a cash-only basis. Stands with credit card signs may reduce the price if you offer cash. If you have a french checkbook, many antique sellers and brocanteurs will let you pay in two or three installments, and many will deliver larger items and some will even ship internationally. In addition, most antique dealers and brocanteurs will give you a statement saying that an item is more than 100 years old, and thus exempt from customs duties, should anyone ask.