Antique Warehouse News

Who is Paul Sormani?

Paul Sormani…probably one of the most celebrated cabinet makers in France who wasn’t even French. In fact, Paul Sormani was Italian.

Paul Sormani (1817 – 1877) was a preeminent 19th Century Italian cabinetmaker (ébéniste) of the Lombard-Venetian origin.

Sormani moved to Paris and established his workshop there in 1847 and soon began producing high quality items of standard and ‘fantasy’ furniture, which he described as meubles de luxe (‘luxury furniture’). He specialised in reproducing Louis XV and XVI style pieces, which proved immensely popular with discerning European aristocracy. The Empress Eugenie, for example, who was wife of Emperor Napoleon III, chose to decorate her palaces with Sormani’s beautiful furniture.


Empress Eugenie, Wife of Napoleon III

Sormani frequently exhibited his impressive creations and was awarded prizes at all the major international exhibitions of the 1860s and 1870s. Notably, at the Parisian Exposition Universelle in 1867, judges described Sormani’s work as revealing “a quality of execution of the first order”.

On the Champs des Mars, stood the 1867 Exposition featuring all the latest technology of the era. Even the new ‘elevator’ was on display


A superior Paul Sormani Commode with Rouge de Rance marble and a coromandel Japanned front.

A superior writing desk by Paul Sormani, early 20th Century.

Once in a while, I discover hidden gems by dealers in France who don’t go the extra mile to find out exactly what they have. In the case of the small lady’s writing desk, (which I bought outside of Paris) the dealer had no desire to unlock the desk. He simply stated there’s no key and sold it to me accordingly.

Our Paul Sormani ladies writing desk C.1880’s.

Our little desk may not have all the gilt and glamor of some of Sormani’s pieces, but it isn’t priced accordingly either. If you’d like to have this lovely piece of cabinetmaking history, please contact the store.




The ‘Feasts’ of Christmas Past

While waiting to board between flights for Europe, I decided that instead of being glued to my computer and iphone like everyone else in the lounge I would revert to an earlier period in my life where reading a newspaper or magazine was all there was to pass the time. What a refreshing change that was.

I selected an English publication I had not heard of before ( by English I mean published in England ) that had written a fascinating article about a man named ‘Ivan Day’, an art historian by trade whose passion it was to examine cooking throughout the centuries. As I love to cook I read this article from beginning to end.

The article conjured images of roasting suckling pigs, fabulous meat pies, quince and pheasant pies, dinners by candlelight and roaring fireplaces. What could be more festive. Fascinating insights into how people celebrated the Holidays over the centuries.


 English Antique Furniture

Ivan Day photographed in front of his amazing creations.

The article written by Polly Russell ( Russell herself is a curator at the British Library), states that Ivan Day is a noted authoritarian on food making throughout the ages and runs food courses, advises museums and archives their collections and exhibitions. Day also has a website and has appeared on the BBC.

Day’s home is a charming authentic low beamed Medieval farmhouse in Cumbria that dates back to the 1600’s, replete with his collection of all the equipment needed to produce recipes as far back as the 1500’s. Day has a Medieval fireplace with a spit from the 1700.s that can roast a mutton, he also has antique copper moulds, both pie and jelly, fascinating implements for pie and pastry making that date back to the 1600’s.

Day’s passion began at the age of 13 when, after ducking into an antique store to escape the rain, he discovered a tattered old book published in 1723 by John Nott titled ‘The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary’. He took one look, purchased the book as was hooked!


 English Antique Furniture

Ivan Day preparing a dish in his home surrounded by antique copper molds.

Since we’re well into the Holiday period, Ivan discusses the Christmas Feast and how it was enjoyed throughout the ages. In fact, I learned that Medieval people dined more lavishly than we do now. Feasts of 2 courses of 20 dishes each were prepared days in advance to insure a memorable experience at Christmas. It’s little wonder gout was such a problem back then.


 English Antique Furniture

Typical Tudor dress of the era.

Ivan Day explains that roast mutton was a staple at Christmas along with turkey, pheasant, swan, and other wild fowl (all served during the same seating). By the time Christmas came about these birds and animals were at their fattest and ready for butchering. As early at the 1500’s farmers were encouraged to grow Turkeys because they produced the most meat of any bird.

The Christmas pie was the centerpiece of the table. A chef named ‘Francatelli’ produced a pie in 1848 that consisted of truffles, turkey, pheasant and a small york ham that took two days to produce and 6 hours to cook. To produce a pie like this today, Ivan claims, would cost over $600!


 English Antique Furniture

A partridge pie created by Ivan himself. In the medieval period the chef would take the head and feathers of the actual bird so that people knew what they were eating.

Ivan also discusses the preparation that went into making desserts and sweets over the ages.


 English Antique Furniture

A ‘motto’ shortbread from the Victorian Era.

In a Christmas Day bill of fare by Robert May dated 1660 you can see below all the dishes that were prepared and served!

by Robert May, 1660

1. A collar of brawn [pork that is rolled, tied, and boiled in wine and seasonings].
2. Stewed Broth of Mutton marrow bones.
3. A grand Sallet [salad].
4. A pottage [thick stew] of caponets [young castrated roosters].
5. A breast of veal in stoffado [stuffed veal].
6. A boil’d partridge.
7. A chine (a cut of meat containing backbone) of beef, or surloin roast. Here’s May’s recipe:

To roast a Chine, Rib, Loin, Brisket, or Fillet of Beef
Draw them with parsley, rosemary, tyme, sweet marjoram, sage, winter savory, or lemon, or plain without any of them, fresh or salt, as you please; broach it, or spit it, roast it and baste it with butter; a good chine of beef will ask six hours roasting.

For the sauce take strait tops of rosemary, sage-leaves, picked parsley, tyme, and sweet marjoram; and strew them in wine vinegar, and the beef gravy; or otherways with gravy and juice of oranges and lemons. Sometimes for change in saucers of vinegar and pepper.

8. Minced pies.
9. A Jegote [sausage] of mutton with anchove sauce.
10. A made dish of sweet-bread (Here’s a recipe from A New Booke of Cookerie by John Murrell, published in 1615: Boyle, or roast your Sweet-bread, and put into it a fewe Parboyld Currens, a minst Date, the yolkes of two new laid Egs, a piece of a Manchet grated fine. Season it with a little Pepper, Salt, Nutmeg, and Sugar, wring in the iuyce of an Orenge, or Lemon, and put it betweene two sheetes of puft-paste, or any other good Paste: and eyther bake it, or frye it, whether you please.)
11. A swan roast.
12. A pasty of venison.
13. A kid with a pudding in his belly.
14. A steak pie.
15. A hanch of venison roasted.
16. A turkey roast and stuck with cloves.
17. A made dish of chickens in puff paste.
18. Two bran geese roasted, one larded [larding is inserting or weaving strips of fat in the meat, sometimes with a needle].
19. Two large capons, one larded.
20. A Custard.


Oranges and Lemons
1. A young lamb or kid.
2. Two couple of rabbits, two larded.
3. A pig souc’t [sauced] with tongues.
4. Three ducks, one larded.
5. Three pheasants, 1 larded.
6. A Swan Pye [the showpiece: a pie with the dead swan’s head, neck, and wings sticking up from it].
7. Three brace of partridge, three larded.
8. Made dish in puff paste.
9. Bolonia sausages, and anchoves, mushrooms, and Cavieate, and pickled oysters in a dish.
10. Six teels, three larded.
11. A Gammon of Westphalia Bacon.
12. Ten plovers, five larded.
13. A quince pye, or warden pie [pears or quinces peeled and poached in syrup, then baked whole in a pie].
14. Six woodcocks, 3 larded.
15. A standing Tart in puff-paste, preserved fruits, Pippins, &c.
16. A dish of Larks.
17. Six dried neats [calf] tongues
18. Sturgeon.
19. Powdered [salted] Geese.

And you know, nothing says Christmas like powdered geese and jellies.

No where does it mention how many people were served at this feast. But we can assume it was more than 4!


 English Antique Furniture

Quince Tart or ‘Pastello de poma cotogne’ – or quince tart made from a recipe in Maestro Martino, Libro de arte coquinaria, perhaps the most important cookery text of the early renaissance. The hollowed out quinces are stuffed with bone marrow, sugar and cinnamon and baked on a puff paste base.

If your ambitious and think you’d like to try a Quince Tart or Pie, there are several modern day versions on the internet. You could try the original recipe dated in the 1660’s posted below: (if you can understand it…also the creation of the pastry is just assumed )

Quince Pye Recipe C.1660

Boil your Quinces in Water, sweetened with Sugar, till they be soft, then skin them and take out the Cores; after that boil the Water with a little more Sugar, Cloves, Cinnamon and Lemon peel till it becomes of the thickness of a Syrup; when cold lay your Quinces in Halves or Quarters, scattering Sugar between each Layer; put a pint of the Syrup, or more according to the Biggness of your Pye or Tart, make the Coffin round with close or cut Covers, and bake it pretty well. And thus you may do with Pippins and Pearmains, or with Winter-Fruit, and also with green Codlings.

If this article has you hungry for more, you can always fly to Cumbria and take one of Ivan’s 2 day courses at a cost of $600. Here’s an example of his course on Pie and Pastry Making


 English Antique Furniture

Pies created in the Pastry making course.

Pie Making and Pastry Course:


10 am – Welcome and Introduction to the Course. This course is for those who want to improve the quality of their pastry and to learn to raise pies to a very high standard of workmanship. We will learn how to re-create English historical recipes from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. Our sources will included recipes from Murrell, May, Kidder, Nott, Francatelli, Mrs Marshall and Gouffé.

10.45 – 13.00 – Hot water crust, freehand pie raising and wooden pie forms – we will make and decorate a number of raised pies from historical sources, including a Cheshire Pork Pie, a Stump Pie and some Marrow Chewitts.

13.00 – 14.00 – Lunch

14.00 – 17.00 – Lining Paste, Cold Water Paste and Metal Pie Forms – Using 19th century pie forms and boards for printing sprig decorations, we will make a very ambitious raised pie based on one of Agnes Marshall’s recipes.

17.00 – 20.00 – Free

20.00 – Historic dinner (lots of pies of course) at Wreay Farm


10.00 – 13.00 A Lamb Pasty – we will make a highly decorative lamb pasty based on a design in Edward Kidder’s beautiful Book Receipts of Pastry and Cookery from the early eighteenth century.

13.00 – 14.00 – Lunch

14.00 – 17.00- Fine Pastry, Torts and Tarts – We will learn to make puff paste and paste royal and make some taffety tarts and a banniet tort.

As much as I love the sounds of all of this I am here in France. I’ve heard from friends that the very same thing exists here. I’ll see what I can find.

Until next time.
Thanks for reading.
Happy Holidays!

Mark LaFleur
The Antique Warehouse
226 SW Marine Drive
Vancouver, BC

Please visit our website at

Pourhouse Restaurant Loves Antique Warehouse

Back in 2009 the award winning interior designers of Gastown’s ‘Pourhouse’ restaurant chose Antiques from our very own Antique Warehouse.  It’s not the first time designers have chosen Antiques from our store.  They’ve been doing it for over two decades now.

But it wasn’t until this week that Larry and I happened to be in Gastown and decided to stop into Pourhouse to have lunch (and to check out our Antiques.) (We also heard from several clients including our own Manager Gareth that the place was ‘cool’ and fun)

The two Ceiling fixtures flanking the bartender were from The Antique Warehouse

The two Ceiling fixtures flanking the bartender were from The Antique Warehouse. They are Brass 19th Century Chandeliers from France.

Pourhouse opened it’s doors in 2009 and quickly grew popular for its fun and unique atmosphere.  Fashioned after the prohibition speakeasy’s of the early 1920’s  the waiters run around attired in ‘theme’ appropriate wear…from the vests and suspenders to vintage style ‘newsboy’ caps.

The menu consists of mouth watering comfort foods like ‘Braised Beef over Egg Noodles and Sour Cream’, ‘Steak and Frites’, ‘Spaghetti and Meatballs’, ‘Steelhead Trout with Braised Red Cabbage, Fennel and Orange Salad’ and much more savoury selections.

Newsboy Cap C.1920

Newsboy Cap C.1920

Our waiter ‘Mark’ was an affable chap and most helpful in suggesting some unusual drink combinations to start. Larry chose a Whiskey Sour with whipped egg white.  I stuck to a ‘Stout’ beer which I have no idea what brand it was, but it was great nonetheless.

For starters, we ordered ‘Oysters on the half shell’ with an excellent ‘mignonette’ sauce ( just like in France ).

For the main course I selected a ‘Country Sausage on Sauerkraut’  (In France that dish is called Choucroute) and Larry had the ‘braised beef on Egg Noodles and Sour Cream.’  Both were decent sized portions without being ridiculous and both were excellent savoury choices.  (Something extra was added to that Choucroute because it had an unusual lovely flavour unlike the usual run of the mill Sauerkraut dishes.)

We took a ‘creme brûlée’ for dessert trying to find some fault with this restaurant’s cuisine.  Sorry, the creme brûlée was just as good ( if not a bit better ) than anything you could find in France.

We saw many of our Antiques placed throughout the restaurant.  The most notable being that gorgeous French Hallstand C.1900 they purchased through us.  We found that rare and beautiful piece in France and it looked beautiful displayed proudly in the special alcove the designers built for the piece.

Early 20th Century French Hallstand from Paris. C.1900 at Pourhouse

Early 20th Century French Hallstand from Paris. C.1900.

We always like to support clients but this was well worth the visit to Gastown. Would we go there again? Most definitely!

If you’re looking for something with atmosphere and heritage charm ( you probably wouldn’t be reading my blogs if you weren’t ) I suggest trying Pourhouse for your next dining destination.

Check out Poorhouse at there one location on Water Street in Historic Gastown at 162 Water St.

They are open 7 days a week.

Buying Antiques at Flea Markets while on Holiday

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!

Antiquites-Brocante Flea Market in ParisThe 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?”

Capucine Flea MarketThis 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.

Fake Art Deco Desk

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.

Antique Desk

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.

Parisian Antique Dealer and DaughterThis 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.

Chinese Antique FakesThese 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.

A bientot,