For someone with a big house to furnish, that could mean weekend sales. The true franconut soon learns the verb “chiner,” to go antiquing. Garage sales are illegal in France; no, I have no idea why. Instead they have vide greniers and brocantes, which are more convenient for shoppers, anyway. These are flea markets. The vide greniers are all about fleas. The brocantes range from not much better than that to fairly nice, midrange antique fairs. There is a big middle and upper range, all the usual varieties of dealers with more or less permanent locations.
When it comes to antiquing, sorry to say, the Vendee is all about fleas. I have started to meet the local guys who do “relooking.” Bless them, they buy the better bits of stuff, then fix it up. I’ll have to show you a few of the things I have gotten from them. Then there is my buddy Roger, who makes the most amazing photographs. Nothing gives me that “I’m not worthy” feeling like looking at Roger’s work. But those things are essentially new. If I want nice old pieces in their original condition, so far I have had to leave the area.
Auctions are my favorite source and Drouot is my favorite auction house. In recent years they have cleaned it up. Literally, they renovated and reorganized, so it looks and works better. Perhaps as a result, you no longer see Granny’s broken dining chairs, that kind of thing. The auctioneers bring decent to high quality, whatever didn’t make the Sotheby’s/Christie’s cut.
I like the auction ethos. Negotiating with a dealer always leaves me feeling like I may have paid too much. Maybe I didn’t but I always feel that way. Auctions, on the other hand, are clean. Whatever the owner paid is irrelevant. There is always a catalogue and it always includes an estimated value. I’m not a collector, so I don’t know fair values; for me the estimates are hugely important. Then the only question is, what’s it worth to me?
Fortunately for my bank balance, I’m usually outbid. Today, though, I won and paid below the low estimate. My post-purchase research — I’m such a slacker! — tells me the price was at the low end of fair. Sweet.
This is a dowry box, made in Kerala during the 19th century. I love the shape, the color and those heavy brass fittings. Wherever it winds up, it’s going to look great.