Elana Safronsky, Managing Editor
Sunday, May 8, 2011 12:27 PM EDT
Hey! I was in France a little while ago... Did you guys even notice I was gone? Don't answer that. I'm not good with rejection...
I don't feel too bad for myself however, as instead of blogging my heart out I was antiquing in Provence. Before you brim with "who-cares-about-your-good-times" (understandably), I want to assure you that I am never free of the blogger's guilt -- no trip can come to pass without my worrying over what nuggets of practical wisdom I'll be bringing back, to help you dear readers make the most of your lifestyle choices. It's true.
The town of Isles-sur-la-Sorgue, on the river Sorgue.
Dreaming the picker's dream that the great fair is somewhere out there, on another continent, I popped my antiquing abroad cherry in the South of France. Well, sorta. I bought stuff and lugged it home in my suitcase, which is not as prodigious as shipping back a crate full of patio furniture, an armoire, or an antique bed frame, which is what I was hoping for in order to relay the whole experience here on the blog.
The truth is, I didn't find anything that amazing. I came wholly prepared to play the rich (not) b***h who points, wraps and ships (everyone must experience this once in a lifetime), but nothing was truly worth the dramz. This in itself was a seminal discovery. You see, outside the jaw-dropping flea markets of Paris, the most famous -- and the world's largest -- being at the Porte de Clignancourt in the peripheries of the city, the South of France is known for offering some of the best antiquing in Europe. I pined for the centuries' old towns connected by meandering roads, teeming with permanent antique stores and seasonal fairs. I made it a pilgrim's mission, and this past Easter weekend arrived at the biannual fair in a town called L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, just outside of Avignon.
The Bastide Rose in Le Thor, a neighbouring village and where I lodged.
The four-day fair drew both buyers and dealers -- over 500 -- from all over Western Europe, including Italy, England and Switzerland. The little town on the river Sorgue was formidably swollen with visitors, unfurling sackcloth and Kilims filled with vestiges from the past 20 decades. I am obsessed with antiquing, and my girlfriend with whom I traveled is a prop stylist with her own prop rental shop, so no one was going to rush anyone. For three days we scoured, and all the while I felt my grand expectations to be bowled over, give way to a bitter-sweet realization that the grass is not always greener on the other side...
Baskets in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
Don't get me wrong, the fair was robust. Plenty of things caught my eye, and if you can't enjoy yourself antiquing in the South of France, you're a corpse. BUT, what became painfully clear is how essentially similar the whole experience was to that in Canada: how standardized the lifestyle industry has become, how few stones are left unturned in this world. The same industrial salvage feigned chic, the same shabby, quasi-vintage paraded in freshly applied 'antique white' and 'robin's egg blue', the same old-timey beer bottles dug up by the dozens displayed themselves with newly acquired reverence and the same random relics of agriculture served as towel racks, coffee tables and objets d'art.
1920s desk lamp with pink glass shade
There was, of course, an abundance of amazing wrought iron patio furniture, set upon set of cane and cross-back French country chairs, the original folding, wooden slat cafe chairs and those prolific grain sacks, but guess what? Everything was twice the price of the same in Canada! Of course this stuff is scarce here, but you would think that availability would bring down the price? I guess when something's hot -- it's hot all over the world, not to mention that the Euro is murder ($1.4 CAN -- € 1.00 at the time).
1920s Tea set
Side Note: We overheard an Italian couple lamenting the plague of American buyers who sweep through the stalls on 'dealers day' -- the day before the fair opens to the public -- buy up everything in sight, and don't bargain. According to this couple, whom I brazenly confronted and dared to question further in my broken Italian, it's the fault of these Americans that prices have sky-rocketed in recent years...
As the pendulum of great expectations swung way the other way and finally stabilized, I was able to focus. As happy as I was to dispel for myself the myth that antiquing is better abroad, I realized there were specific things that were indeed worth nabbing. Here's my list of practical wisdom nuggets...
- Table linens. Though grain sacks were minimum €65 a pieces (cheaper on eBay) table linens such as hand-embroidered table cloths and monogrammed napkins are quite affordable and abundant. Many dealers have taken to dyeing them in gorgeous pastel and sun-bleached hues making them even more au courant and irresistible. I myself bought a large linen table cloth and 12 napkins for €25!
- Wall-mount coat racks. I don't know why, but these were everywhere. From as far back as 1920 -- enamel, metal and wrought iron -- to the MidMod retro colourful ball racks, every booth had some on offer, and I picked up a few '30s enamel racks for €30 total.
- Art! I bought a painting! I don't know about you, but in North America paintings seem to be out of my weekend-spending price range... I can't drop over $500 on a whim. Well, there was plenty under €500 at L'Isles-sur-la-Sorgue, from charming floral water colours, gouaches and etchings, to formidable oil portraits and pastorals. I bought a very illustrative nude by European artist Robert Collot, for €145. It's a bit flat (no pun intended) but it's a real oil painting, and I love it.
- Lighting. Lots of great plafons, torchiere and sconces, at great prices, only thing is rewiring will cost you some nerves and patience. Many are wired for outdated European sockets and bulbs so you better really love it.
- '20 and '30s Bakelite Handle Cutlery. There were bins and bins of mismatched cutlery -- way more than what I've seen on offer in Canada -- and if you pick, you will be rewarded. My girlfriend found a full set of knives and forks with Bakelite (one of the first plastics; highly collected) handles, for a total of €45.
My purchase: Nude by Robert Collot
Moral of the story? We're really not that badly off here in Canada when it comes to antiques, vintage and collectables. Our market is smaller of course, but that means we can't really handle the inflated prices, and I'm proud to say, albeit in small quantities, our dealers do indeed represent with the goods and know what's going on!
My purchases: French linen table cloth; 12 matching linen napkins; 2 1930s wall-mount coat hook racks; a set of outdoor candle holders; 4 silver plated appetizer picks; and a 'princess spoon'.
As I said, there wasn't much I found that I was burning to ship home, but that's not to say you won't. You can imagine my house is bursting with furnishings so I was shopping on a full stomach, so to speak. But had I gone with a new home in mind, I wouldn't have been hard pressed to fill a crate.
I did a little digging while in France to see what shipping options are available to over-sea shoppers, and one of the more effortless options seems to be Hedley's Humpers fine arts and antiques shipping. They have offices all over Europe, including one in L'Isles-sur-la-Sorgue.
- While the most cost-effective way to ship smaller pieces around the world is arguably via FedEx, anything from a pair of candlesticks to a four door armoire and up, can be shipped via a shared container (known as LCL -- less than container load) by sea, offered on a bi-weekly basis between Europe and North America. Shipping costs are calculated by volume -- cubic feet (cu. ft.) -- not value, so it's important to remember that a €100 commode will cost just as much as a €5,000 one if they're the same size.
- Most dealers who participate in antique fairs across Europe are familiar with Hedley's Humpers. When buying, all you have to do is fill out a buying order at the dealer's stand, taking down the stand number and hall number and a brief description of the item, and someone from Hedley's will collect your item for you. If you are a first timer, Hedley's can send someone to guide you in this process. High rollers can have an account with Hedley's whereby they would be authorized to make the transaction on your behalf, so all you really have to do is point.
- If you are buying in several different cities, the collection process can take anything up to two weeks and packing and shipping will take a further six weeks minimum before arrival, if shipped by sea.
- Keep in mind that at the larger antique fairs that may last only a day, all the buying is done in the first two hours, and most sellers are looking to leave by midday -- you have to be decisive!
Sample Rates for Grouping Container (Shared) to Major Canadian Cities
COLLECTIONS LONDON 1.50 € per cu.ft / minimum 112.50 €
COLLECTION BRUSSELS 1.50 € per cu.ft / minimum 112.50 €
COLLECTIONS PARIS FLEA MARKET 1.00 € per cu.ft / minimum 18.00 € per supplier
COLLECTIONS PARIS CITY 1.50 € per cu.ft / minimum 70.00 € per supplier
COLLECTIONS PARIS FAIRS 1.50 € per cu.ft / minimum 75.00 € per fair
COLLECTIONS ROUEN 2.00 € per cu.ft / minimum 70.00 € per cu.ft
COLLECTIONS ISLE SUR LA SORGUE 3.43€ per cu.ft / minimum 15.00€ per supplier
minimum shipment to Paris 180.00 €
COLLECTIONS STH OF France FAIRS 3.75€ per cu.ft / minimum 375.00 € per Fair
COLLECTIONS STH OF France 4.14€ per cu.ft / minimum 225.00 € per area
ADMINISTRATION 115.00 €
EXPORT DOCUMENTS 230.00 €
OCEAN FREIGHT 4.36€ per cu.ft / Minimum 152.45 €
PACKING/LOADING 3.50 € per cu.ft / Minimum 122.50 €
WOODEN CASING SURCHARGE 5.25€ per cu.ft
if required minimum 52.50€ per case
TOTAL LOSS ONLY INSURANCE 0,50% of value
COMPREHENSIVE INSURANCE 1,75% of value
USE OF CLIENTS TRUST ACCOUNT 80.00 €
CHEQUES WRITTEN 8.00 per cheque
CUSTOMS/DELIVER TORONTO 50 km $3.50 per cu ft / $450 min
CUSTOMS/DELIVER OTTAWA 50 km $3.50 per cu ft / $450 min
CUSTOMS/DELIVER MONTREAL 50 km $3.50 per cu ft / $450 min