I am writing this blog today from the fabulous city of Paris. I have been in France for just about 10 days filling up the last of a container. ( It’s finally done! )
This weekend is a statuatory and religious holiday for the French. November 1 is known as ‘All Souls Day’ and this year falls on a Tuesday. So what do the French do, they take the entire four days off!
So as doing business was out of the question, I decided to head back to Paris and spend the weekend enjoying the sights and sounds of this magnificent city. I could be a tourist for a change!
At the same time I just happened to stumble across a couple of Brocantes or Flea Markets. My tour of this Brocante prompted me to write this week’s blog!
The photo to the left is the Flea Market I was at today. It was held between the Madeleine Church and the Paris Opera House. Approximately 8 blocks long.
I did manage to buy a couple of things but the selection was limited ( in real antiques that is ) and not all that great either.
While these Street Fairs or Flea Markets can be fun, it’s buyer beware more often than not. At this particular Flea Market the booths were flooded with cheap reproductions from Asia and the Middle East. In fact I’ve been to two street markets in Paris since my arrival and both times, the same reproductions appeared.
I decided to test the honesty of some of these small dealers just for the fun of it. I had no problem posing as an American tourist as most of the dealers spoke some English. I saw everything from elaborate gold gilt Mirrors from Asia to highly polished ‘Art Deco’ from Egypt. Most of the dealers ( not all ) were honest when I asked the key question ” Is it old?”
This photo illustrates a typical booth put together by a French Dealer. It looks appealing and is displayed very nicely. Priced and labelled.
This particular booth wasn’t too bad and had a lot of older pieces.
The next photo below was an entirely different story.
The desk that the dealer was sitting at is a reproduction design of an Art Deco piece. It looked stunning and in fact would fool most anyone. In fact every piece of furniture and decorative accessory in this dealer’s booth was new!
I was interested to see just how old this desk was.
I examined the piece and immediately discovered it was fake. How?
By pulling out and examining the drawer for starters. No dovetail joints, plywood bottoms on the drawers, stained wood to look old. This piece had a life span of maybe two years at best. My examination ended there.
The minute I examined the drawer, the dealer knew I was another dealer. Most tourists would never do that. The dealer gave me a dirty look so I knew I didn’t even have to ask whether it was old or not. I moved on from this booth too.
Now in this next photo I came across a real Art Deco piece. While this ‘desk’ probably started out as a vanity, at least the piece had some age.
I asked the dealer if it was old and he assured me that it was. I asked if the hardware was original and he again assured me that it was. So what I did is pulled out a drawer and in fact it was old. Beautifully done dovetailed joinery along with solid wood ( not plywood ) bottoms of drawers. And the hardware had not been replaced. The leather top had been glued on to the top of the peice rather than being inset. This indicated that the piece did not start out as a desk but was most likely a vanity. The dealer had polished it up to a high gloss so the piece looked gorgeous. His price, however, was way out of line. I would have had to ask over $6500 for this ‘former vanity’ piece if I decided to buy it and ship it home. So I passed on this piece too.
This dealer photographed here with his lovely young daughter, had a small very pretty Louis Philippe Commode which interested me at first glance. He also had a gold gilt mirror that also interested me at first. Immediately he started talking price ( I told him I was a dealer ) and telling me what a deal I was getting. ( The proverbial ‘car salesman’ type )
This gregarious guy kept on side tracking me from examining each piece by inviting me to date his daughter etc. etc. ( Also his price was coming down minute by minute )
Unfortunately the commode, while nice, did not have its original marble top ( which I pointed out and he agreed ) But I’m quite sure if I hadn’t spotted the marriage of marble to antique, he would have never volunteered the information. And the mirror was of very poor quality, although old.
So I thanked him and told him I’d think about it while he kept dropping the price if I bought the two together. ( They were now 40% of his original asking! ) Again I moved on.
Chinese Antiques? I think not.
These dealers are among the worst offenders. Most of these dealers ( particularly in Vancouver ) represent this stuff as ancient! When I asked this French dealer whether these pieces were old she shook her head slowly and gave me a ‘get lost’ face.
I didn’t even have to examine these pieces as they’ve been flooding the market by one particular dealer in Vancouver for years now. He still represents them as ‘Antique’. It’s amazing to me that this guy still gets away with it.
If you like the look and are not concerned whether it’s old or not than go right ahead. They can be decorative and inexpensive but bear in mind you get what you pay for. Expect problems with these pieces sooner than later and when it comes to re-sell value, don’t expect anything near to what you paid. ( Unless you trick some other non suspecting person )
Real Chinese Antiques and they look nothing like these pieces. We’ve come across one or two pieces that we’ve sold in the store, but they are rare and very costly. ( Anyone remember that gorgeous Rosewood Palace Gong we had about two years ago? ) It was beautifully carved, with intricate detailing, crisp and fine.
Bronzes and Art Deco Statues etc.
I see reproduction Bronzes and Art Deco statues at every Flea Market. In fact absolutely every one that I saw at this Brocante was a reproduction.
How do I know they’re fake? Because good Bronze will cost you many many thousands of dollars. At a Street Fair like this, no one is going to market a real antique bronze for $15,000 minimum price. There is also a simple test you can do that I will discuss later.
Most of these pieces are made in Asia and can look very good at first glance. So how do you know if it’s the real thing or not. Just scratch it with a key or another metal object. ( Not while the dealers’ looking of course )
If the scratch is copper color it’s bronze. If it’s grey it’s spelter.
Spelter is a pot like material that is softer and the poor cousin of bronze. Now, many great bronze casters used Spelter all the time. They did this because of cost. And because it was affordable to the masses. The asking price of a piece usually indicates whether it’s bronze or not.
I have a rather pathetic story about a client who is an avid collector of Art Deco. This man and his wife absolutely loved all Art Deco and had thought they had bought a rare and valuable piece out at the former Cloverdale Antique Mall which closed down last year.
Now, these people had a good eye, and had collected pieces for years so when I saw this supposed ‘Bronze Lamp’ I couldn’t believe that these collectors could be fooled like this.
I explained to them that what they had was not bronze but spelter. We did the scratch test and sure enough. But worse, the piece was not old. In fact it wasn’t less than 2 years old if that.
Also I pointed out the rather crude workmanship of the piece. The detailing wasn’t crisp, proportions were awkward etc. The wiring was also new. So many things jumped out that I was surprised that these people didn’t know.
In any event, they were extremely disappointed that their purchase wasn’t a great find. I asked them what they paid, and in fact the price they paid was right for a cheap reproduction. Albeit it was misrepresented, the old adage rears its ugly head yet again. ‘You get what you pay for’
To sum it all up, Flea Markets and Street Fairs no matter what country are always fun to wander through. But don’t expect to find ‘rare’ or ‘valuable’ pieces. These dealers may be small time, but they do know their stuff. Be very careful about spending your hard-earned cash. And always ask the key question ” Is it an Antique” or ” Is it old ” . Go ahead and pull out drawers and examine them carefully. The dealer will think twice about trying to pass off a fake!
I will be home next Friday and look forward to seeing you all then but until then, it’s La vie en Rose in Paris for the next few days.
What a wonderful and informative article! Thank you for taking the time to share your travels and experiences with us! Have a great time!
Thank you for your kind comments. Please say ‘hello’ when your in the store sometime.
Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyways, just wanted to say fantastic blog!
Great piece, love the pictures and anecdotes. Pleasure to read, thanks Mark!
Thanks for the comments. I am very glad you enjoyed the blog.
Please say hello next time you are in the store.
This was my favourite to date! Love to hear about real experiences on travel and in particular, Paris.
I am looking for galalith samples – an old plastic used for making jewelry and sewing buttons -. May be “échantillons”, patches or sheets.