Lessons from an expert: how to buy French antiques at Flea markets
It can be daunting when you approach your first brocante. There will be piles of stuff with lots of junk but if you dig you'll find "shabby chic" furniture and decorative pieces, vintage decor and homeware as well as antiquities!Having spent a few years following an expert around brocantes and flea-markets across France I've begun to get a feel for the secrets that differentiate the pro from the amateur antique hunter. I'm still learning about the antiques trade but here is my non-exhaustive and unordered list of observations of how to buy French Antiques at flea-markets:
1.Location, location location. Our best finds have sometimes been in fields 20km from the nearest meaningful town. We can wander around large and famous marche aux puces in a big town for hours and be unable to find anything. The 'trick' (or skill perhaps) is choosing locations where there will be a healthy mix of professional sellers with 'normal' people clearing out the attic in a location where prices will be reasonable. It's tricky, but we sometimes get it right. To us they are antiques, but for many people its just Grandma's old rubbish.
2.Wake up! Be early. Bargain hunters and other professional traders will arrive early hoping to get the pick of the stock. I can't remember the last time we had a weekend where I got to wake up later than 6am. Happily we tend to avoid vinyl records, coins and militaria which seem to attract what's best described as particularly voracious collectors.
3. Look. Now look again. Never dismiss a pile of knackered clothes for rubbish. There could be an old couture dress underneath. Its worth looking through that pile of rusted metal- there may be church candlestick at the bottom. The single most exhausting aspect of market-hunting for antiques is the sustained concentration in looking through absolutely everything. But at the same time...
4. Focus. It's very easy to get distracted by things which you think ought to sell or that might look good in the front room. We try to focus on antiques we like and we hope that our customers share our taste! We try not to second guess- if we're not sure we like it we don't buy. Many traders do the exact opposite- they will only buy what they thinks makes money and ignore what they like. We could do this but it would be boring.
5. Language. Ultimately you'll need to negotiate price. My French has improved over the past year or so, but I still lack the confidence to get into a full-blooded negotiation. Additionally, in many places if the seller thinks he's facing a tourist the price may rise (apparently foreigners are loaded). The best strategy for me quite often is to shut up.
6. Luck. Despite everything above luck still has a huge part to play! Sometimes all the auspices may seem bad but it'll end up being a good day. And sometimes it won't.
Which of these 6 is most important? To my mind its #4- knowing what you like. This may sound incredibly obvious; who doesn't know what they like? However it's quite hard to sort through the mass of preferences in your head and then formulate that into a plan. The categories on our own website give an idea of the kinds of thing we like.