26 April 2014

Why it's dumb to try training hyenas

This is Suki, who we visit every Newark Fair,
and from whom we always buy great glass.
She's at the start of the row - behind her the
Fair extends for about half a kilometer.
The weather for the last buying day of the trip was still grey and gloomy, with everyone still breathing in cold concrete.  But we were not deterred.  We thought some people might be put off by the unpleasant conditions but no, far from it.  There were thousands of people at the Newark International Antiques Fair.

And, even worse, the Fair organisers now offer a super early shopping opportunity, where you can get in 2.5 hours earlier than the hoi-polloi.  But it costs £55 per person (that’s about $110 per person) to walk through the gates early.  I don’t think so.

I wanted good maritime
items, but can you imagine
trying to cart this about?
Unfortunately, lots of people thought so, so even though we were through the gates within two minutes of (normal) opening, and even though I went straight to the guy I knew was most likely to have nice wooden printers’ trays, he only had a few left.  I still scored nine, but wanted quite a lot more.  At least I have some.  This is the cost of being one of the hoi-polloi, but I refuse to pay such an extortionate amount to get in early to an Antiques Fair.

It was amazing to watch some of the American dealers dashing around to get the colourful French enamelware.  Talk about a herd of hyenas!  They were seriously mixing it, with elbows, cussing, squawking and leaping about to get the best bits. 

You too could have a terribly tasteful
front entrance.  But not with these
But too late, people!  I had seen the very same dealers selling the enamelware earlier in the week, and the hyenas were squabbling over my leftovers.  The best bits had already been scooped up by me during my record-breaking, award-winning shopping extravaganza and you will be seeing them soon. 
When the herd calmed down I chatted with one of them about how good enamelware is (Americans call it graniteware).  He told me they had to buy all they could because this was the only Fair they had come to England to attend.
Wow, attending only one Fair - albeit the largest in the world - is a big risk.  I told him it was a risk I would never take, because sometimes the stuff you want just isn't there, even at such a large venue.  He said that was exactly his problem - he wanted a large amount of enamelware and wasn't finding it.  I went very quiet and didn't mention the huge amount of fabulous enamelware sitting with my shippers at that very moment.
These are a couple of the giant Jamie
Oliver wooden boards from last trip.
We have more round boards and even
bigger rectangular boards on the way.
Last time our supply sold out in
3 weeks.  We accept advance orders,
if you want to be sure of securing one.
But immediately after telling me he was in trouble on this trip because he couldn't find the stock he wanted, he said he and his associates would never dream of doing what Doug and I do, and spend a few weeks hunting things down.

So suffer in yer jocks, herd of hyenas!  You can’t rely on attending only one Fair, you’ve got to commit to attending multiple events if you want a high volume of quality pieces.  And you need to know what events to attend to achieve maximum yield.  But now I shall stop giving the hyenas free How To Do It Better advice.  Telling your rivals how to do something more effectively that has taken you years of experimentation and research to learn is dumb, right? 
Maybe I'll write an eBook on it, and they can purchase a copy.  Lots of people have encouraged me to write an instructional book on how to do what I do, and maybe I will.  In the meantime, keep doing what you’re doing, herd of hyenas.  It works for me.
As I had already secured all the best bits of the enamelware (ha!), this time we concentrated on nice wooden items, glass and French wire baskets.  I hope everyone likes interesting vintage French egg baskets, because I’ve got plenty.  And a lovely school of Italian end-of-day glass fish, more wooden chopping boards and a couple of very cute wooden stools with attractive, distressed paintwork. 

Yes, Quarantine is going to have its usual hissy fit when it sees this consignment.  Something to look forward to.

Drying racks are often used by interior
decorators to hang on walls.  Sometimes they
put lights behind them, sometimes they hang
things from them.
The particular packing challenge this time were three large, wooden, triangular-shaped, slatted drying racks.  They are French and were used on provincial farms to sun-dry tomatoes, fruit and flowers, and they look great.  They are triangular so when the pieces were dry they were easily tipped into sacks, so it was good industrial design in the backblocks of France back in the day.

These pieces are all sold, but give you an
idea of the type of enamelware we have
on the way.
I’ve occasionally seen these drying racks in extremely expensive shops in London so I know they look beautiful when they’re all waxed and glowing, but until now I’ve never been able to afford any.  Interior decorators in London snap them up, so the shops know they can keep the prices high – too high for the likes of me.  So hurrah that I stumbled across these three at affordable prices at the Fair.  I’ll be amazed if they’re not sold the first day I present them on our stand at a wholesale price.

Good enamelware and nice vintage tins are
always things I look for, and fortunately for
me lots of other people like them, too.
We specifically came on this trip to source enamelware, wood, metalware and good semi-industrial design in general, but things like the drying racks you can’t plan on getting.  It’s the challenge and the fun of each buying trip – you never know what you’re going to find.  But if you hunt long enough and thoroughly enough, eventually you’ll find great things at great prices.  I love that bit.

The final packing is now done, so one last visit to the shippers and then it’s down to London to relax and play.
** Finally, here is an We're really back in Australia aside: it's been mostly warm and sunny since we've been back, and here are a couple of the girls, enjoying the sunshine.  Calypso is teasing Mischka by flicking her tail and batting her paws, but Mischka won in the end by dragging Calypso off the top shelf by her leg.
Also, don't forget the Caloundra Street Fair on Sunday, 27 April.  We'll be in our normal spot, with the first of the newly arrived vintage French pictures out, and some nice glass that hasn't yet been shown at the Markets.


21 April 2014

Have you tried picking strawberries from a ladder?

Look at that concrete sky.  The small Fair is a
pretty casual affair, set out in rows on the field of
a local rugby club.  But it yields good results.
The small Antiques Fair squeezed between the two major Fairs of the week was even smaller than advertised. And it started early – real early, so yet again I was obliged to climb out of a snug bed and into extreme cold.

But added to the cold, because really, really cold wasn’t enough, there were very high air pollution levels and a sand storm that had blown in from the Sahara. Yes, northern England being impacted by an African desert sand storm – who would have thunk? And it was really thick sand which, when mingled with fog and pollution, meant we were breathing in concrete. Lovely. 

After that great carousel in Dieppe I would
have loved to bring this fair ground horse
home.  But it was too expensive and is more
of a shop than a market piece.
There were constant warnings on TV that old people, young people, sickly people and people who might become sickly if they breathed in concrete, should stay inside for a few days. Basically, they were telling the entire population of England to stay inside. It will be good to get back to the fresh air of the mountain stronghold.

Meanwhile, the small Fair was surprisingly good and we walked away with a nice selection of vintage French wire egg baskets in interesting shapes.  We also found a couple of cool Danish bread slicers that work perfectly well as bread slicers but interiors magazines tend to feature them as recipe book holders.  There was more fabulous vintage French enamelware waiting for us, and a couple of really nice French wire flower baskets. It’s amazing how such utilitarian objects can look so good, which is why everyone is hopping on the semi-industrial bandwagon, I suppose. 

This was not the most glamorous
French woman I've ever met, but
she had great vintage wire egg
baskets.  I also carried off those
wire flower baskets on the ground
in front of her.
We also picked up a thickly-plaited rope barge fender, which was used on the canals in France to protect the sides of barges when they were docking. I know it might sound sacrilegious because it’s a lovely semi-industrial piece, but I can’t resist the idea of it being a gift for the moggies. It will be the best ever scratching toy, and Mischka in particular will go nuts over it and derive a great deal of pleasure from it. She destroys her regular scratching pole on a frequent basis because she scratches like a fiend, but this barge fender should slow her down for a while. Hopefully.

Then came more packing. This week we need to be conscientious because there is little time to get a whole lot of things done, so it’s been shop-pack, shop-pack. This equates to fun-yawn, fun-yawn. We save a motza by not incurring the considerable expense of having someone else do the packing, and that helps keep our prices low. But low prices comes at the cost of Extreme Boredom, people, so I hope you appreciate it.

These are supposed to be lion heads.  Might be
Chinese or Indonesian, I guess.  Not my
thing, so they stayed behind.
We have noted with interest at the various Fairs the number of Japanese dealers buying large agricultural items. Who are they selling this stuff to? Japanese interiors obviously look very different to what I had been imagining.

We met a man who told us a story about a friend of his, a major antiques dealer in Norfolk, who buys extra-long wooden fruit picking ladders which he cuts down and sells to Japanese dealers. Four-run ladders he sells as raspberry picking ladders, two-runs as strawberry picking ladders and one-run as skirting board ladders. Come again? 
What unusual things we sometimes find.  The
wooden hands are moulds for making rubber
gloves, back in the day when these things were
individually hand-made.  On the wall is
a rubber balloon making mould.  All are
Our Place things - there's got to be some
reward for all this hard work in the cold.
Apparently he can’t keep up with demand, which makes you wonder if the Japanese dealers he’s selling to are in on the con, or if they really don’t know how big a strawberry plant is. Can you imagine tottering on a two-run ladder to pick your ground-grown strawberries? I might pay to see that. And what the heck is a skirting board ladder?

So anyway shopping done, we skedaddled back to the hotel to get out of the concrete air and get more packing done. The last Fair of the trip, the biggest in the world, is coming up. But we are sitting pretty, having already bought a huge amount of really interesting stock. I can’t wait to get it home and start presenting it.

19 April 2014

Can you shop in the freezing cold?

A French cast iron angel
on foliage, salvaged from
a demolished church in
Normandy, c1880
So everyone knows that we are really home and will therefore be at the Peregian Beach Market tomorrow, right?  It's a gloriously sunny Easter weekend and we anticipate a lovely day at the beach tomorrow, so it will be nice to have visitors.

Meanwhile, the story of our buying trip continues, and we're fast approaching the business end of the trip ....

The final week of this buying trip is crunch time, the week when we see if I can buy sufficient to make the trip worth doing – pay for itself and turn a profit. 
So, no pressure.

There has only been one day so far when I haven’t bought something, and that’s because I was stuck on a ferry to France. The van has been filled to capacity on several occasions, but it still hasn’t been enough. It’s at the big antiques fairs in the north of England where I can buy real volume, if there are enough decent things at decent prices for me to find.

This angel fits into the palm
of your hand.  Very worn
after spending over 130 years
outside, but still very
distinctive & beautiful.
Dealers’ Day at the Lincoln International Antiques & Collectors' Fair dawned bone-chillingly cold with a deep, grey fog. Visibility was incredibly low, and as we travelled to the Fair surprisingly large trucks would suddenly loom out of the gloom. It was going to be shopping by touch.

But was I deterred by the thick, wet fog? Well, yes I was a bit. I live in Queensland, in the warm, where the fog is never deep and grey, trucks don’t loom and there isn’t any gloom. Who wants to shop under pressure in conditions like that?

But I am not a professional shopper for nothing, you know. I’ve earned my Retail stripes over many years. I am made of stern(ish) stuff, you know. 
So was I deterred by a bit of bone-chilling cold? Well, yes I was a bit. Come on, bone-chilling cold sucks, we all know that. And I had to get out of bed and get into it, calculate exchange rates and concentrate sufficiently to make good commercial decisions. All with a frozen brain.

I wanted the porthole, but it was a ludicrous
price.  I did carry off the little wooden tea
box at the very top of the stack.  It has a
Welsh dragon on the lid, which I really like.
But guess what? I bought tonnes of good stuff! I set a new Me record for An Extremely Large Amount of Spending in a Really Short Time. I can show you my award certificate. 
So now we have an enormous selection of fabulous French enamelware, a large number of giant Jamie Oliver wooden boards – rectangular and round, five large wooden dough troughs, and some seriously good kitchen glass. Exactly what we were looking for, because this is exactly what sells best for us at our market stand. Yay, yay, yay!

Poor Calypso has had her neck shaved yet
again so she could provide a blood sample.
But we think we're on the way to getting
her better.
Then we had to pack it. Less yay.
But it has to be done, because everything has to be safely wrapped and boxed for the journey to Australia. It’s the tedious part of every trip, but we factor in special Pack Days, where we ensconce in the hotel room with take away food, bad movies on TV in the background, and get the job done.

So we packed like a frenzy, and are set for the next Fair – a small one in the middle of Big Fair Week – but it often presents some good things. We’ll see.

16 April 2014

The Correct Thing To Say During A French Brawl

This is a Steiff (German) pussycat,
with my usual trusty Photographer's
Assistant - Mischka - to show
relative size. 
Here’s my expert advice: don’t listen to expert advice. Experts don’t think like normal people. Experts don’t consider value for money. Experts don’t care about anything except demonstrating just how damn expert they are.

But following expert advice, we headed off to explore the Route de Broc, a stretch of road in the Perche region of France that is famous for having a large number of brocantes in a 10km stretch. Ha! What a load of old crock. The expert advice was from a magazine, but we’ve all read those You Should Totally Go There travel articles, right? When they are written up so enthusiastically and you’re in a position to have a look for yourself, why not?

My theory is that many people who write these articles don’t think anyone will check their facts. And where is the rule that says everything said must be unrelentingly positive? What’s wrong with sharing a bit of real insider knowledge about the good and the bad?

Steiff bunny, also brought
back in our luggage. 
So allow me to share some real insider knowledge: it’s true that the Route de Broc has quite a few brocantes. And some of them have really quite nice things. But here’s the rub - you can only shop there, as opposed to looking and backing away carefully, if you’re rich. Really rich. Really rich, and too stupid to care that you’re being ripped off. 

The only really memorable thing about the Route de Broc was a dealer who was drop dead gorgeous, with startlingly blue eyes, a beautiful smile, and naturally a seductive French accent. Doug was immune to his charms and didn’t even notice those blue, blue eyes, but what does Doug know? This young man is worth traversing the Route de Broc for, all by himself. But as for his stuff, and indeed all the stuff in this area – forget it unless you have an enormous wallet, enormously full.

Yes we did well sourcing Steiff toys.
This is a very cute fox.
But okay, it’s nice drive through a lovely region, I met a beautiful Frenchman, and we still made it into Paris at a good enough hour that the Peripherique ring-road around the city wasn’t the nightmare drive it can so often be.

On Saturday morning we hit the Porte de Vanves market, and that was great fun. Take my expert advice: this is the best antiques and vintage market in all of Paris. It is gradually being discovered by tourists, and that means the prices are creeping up, but it’s still possible to find great bargains and shop until you fall down dead. And that’s exactly what I did. Honestly – expert’s honour - I literally fell down dead.

Aw, inne cute?  This sleepy donkey is the last
of the Steiff toys we brought back with us.
Steiff is one of the most famous soft toy
brands in the world, very collectable for good
reason - it's great quality.
Or was I just catatonic? It is exhausting doing all that shopping. Retail is only Therapy when you don’t do it for a job. Otherwise, buying vast amounts of things in a very short period is enjoyable but tiring. Yeah, yeah, I hear your very tiny violins.

Doug is turning downright French in his attitude to many things. He assiduously hunted down every single Art Deco La Vie Parisienne booby-girl picture in the entire market (many of which I purchased). Then, when I pointed out a very stylish but uncomfortable looking bistro table and chairs he airily informed me It’s not how it feels, it’s how it looks. So French.

Not a booby-girl, but a great
cover from La Vie Parisienne,
the main magazine I look for.
So now we have the best ever French enamelware, unusual copper pots and pans, a great haul of vintage French magazine images and covers, and a wide selection of interesting kitchenware. These are among the things that have been selling best at our market stand, especially the vintage French kitchenware that you don’t normally see in Australia. We’ve sold out of a number of items, which was the whole reason for this emergency buying trip, so we felt great at being able to restock so comprehensively.

But in addition to the fabulous shopping, Porte de Vanves market laid on more drama than usual and we almost found ourselves in the middle of a public brawl.

We're keeping it demure this week.
This is an original La Vie Parisienne
cover of an angel, entitled
Miss Victory - it's a well known fact 
that the French won WWII.
There are a number of soccer grounds that run parallel with the main street that hosts the markets, and on Saturday mornings some of the minor league Parisian teams take to the field. Someone took a shot at goal, and it was abysmal. Massively off-target. Hugely wide. So the ball sailed over the safety net designed to snag wayward balls, to land in the middle of an antiques stand full of really, really, REALLY expensive glass.

All hell broke loose. A great deal of shouting and arm waving went on, and while everything being said was being said far too quickly for me to exactly follow, sometimes passion and tone are all you need to get the gist of something.

But here’s something I didn’t expect: all the French shoppers around me literally said Oh la, la! I thought that was a French cliché, but apparently it’s just the thing to say in awkward situations. I shall remember that next time I’m in the middle of a French brawl.

This is a fiberglass tray advertising
a winter circus in Paris.  Staying
at my house, I'm afraid.
The problem wasn’t just that the dealer and all around him were outraged by the breakage of a horrendously expensive piece of glass. The problem was that he confiscated the offending soccer team’s ball, and locked it in his truck. Note to self, offending soccer team – don’t bring just one ball to the game next time! They couldn’t care less about the damage to the antique dealer’s stock, but they were apoplectic that their ball was being held for ransom.

The entire home team turned up to demand the ball’s return, and they were big boys – the goal keeper was well over 6’6”of rippling muscle (I couldn’t help but note), and his wasn’t the only imposing figure. Made a girl wonder why she doesn’t watch more soccer …. But anyway, the surrounding dealers rallied to the victim’s cause, and although they were a lot shorter they had the benefit of Extreme Outrage on their side. 

Something was lost in translation here
cause I'm pretty sure these are not roses.
You Break It, You Own It is a maxim that holds true in shops around the world, and that includes horribly expensive French glass stands in the Porte de Vanves market. Shoves were exchanged, shouting in each other’s faces seemed to be the only means of communication, and it’s amazing that even more glass didn’t hit the deck with all that arm waving going on.

The Gendarmerie turned up in about three minutes flat and separated the warring sides. Statements were taken, mostly still at high volume and mostly still incomprehensible to me. I must take some French lessons when we get home, because I’m sure there were some handy words I could have picked up if only I could have understood the rest of the sentences. But agitated Frenchmen talk very, very fast, it turns out.

Didn't like the chair, couldn't
afford the mirror.
So how did it end? The team got its ball back, that’s all I can reliably report. The dealer and the team captain each provided Statements to the Police, and the fairest result would have been that the team paid for the damage. Don’t you think? If I had accidentally bumped the dealer’s stand and broken something I would have been responsible for paying for it, so why not accidental damage from a hurtling soccer ball?

So drama over, the enormous crowd that had gathered to watch (and join in) dissipated and we continued shopping. We were so weighed down with goodies we could barely stagger back to the van, which was then filled to the brim. On our way back into the UK both French and English Customs wanted to search the vehicle to make sure we weren’t people smugglers, but they only got as far as opening the bulging door of the van before giving up on that idea.

Trying a trick but coming a cropper at the
scooter park in Dieppe.  Hardly anyone wears
protection, despite some spectacular crashes.
So after a big morning in Paris, we made our way back to Dieppe for the ferry crossing to the UK. We spent a lovely afternoon, including another taste of delicious Moules a la Crème, an extremely long promenade along the beachfront, sorbet, watching the scooter boys, and unexpectedly finding a good brocante with unexpectedly good prices, so we managed some last minute French shopping.
Saying goodbye to Dieppe on the ferry at dusk, at the end of some successful buying in France.

14 April 2014

Good Food & Great Shopping in France

The Old Port at Dieppe
We’re now home from our buying trip, ladened with goodies and a whole heap is on its way. Unfortunately technology let us down badly, and the computer crashed pretty soon into the trip. But I did keep writing the blog – I just wasn’t able to publish it or any photos. So I shall resume our journey just as we left England for France, and shall publish the rest of the updates every few days until we’re done.

In the meantime, if you see us walking down the street for the next week or two, look away and pretend we’re still in France. Unless you want to visit us at the Peregian Beach Market next Sunday, 20 April, in which case you will see our happy smiling faces and see what’s left of the things we brought back in our luggage (heaps have already sold, but there are still a few pieces I’ve held back especially for Peregian).

So, to continue …

The pebble beach at Dieppe
Dieppe, on the west coast of France, is a charming, medieval port town. It is our port of choice when coming and going from France, and we always make sure to take a hotel right on the seafront. The beach isn’t anything special, being entirely pebbles, but it’s still nice to look out over the ocean and feel the wind in your face. At night you can open your windows to hear the quiet shush of the waves on the pebbles and the cries of the seabirds, and it’s very relaxing.

Carousel at Dieppe harbor-front
It’s especially relaxing if you’ve just filled up on a delicious dinner, and Dieppe is rightly famous for its seafood. We had the best ever mussels in cream sauce (Moules a la Crème – doesn’t it sound better in French?). How easily pleased we are because this is the most simple recipe, but I assure you that no chatting went on at our table while we were tucking in – can’t talk, eating.

Then it was a quick promenade around town, and right on the waterfront at the old port we found a very old children’s carousel. It was so French, with slightly menacing horses and an abundance of naked women, and we loved it.

French angel, very
Norman in design
Next day we headed off to visit Serge, a dealer who often has great things if you’re prepared to scramble about to find them. I don’t usually agree to clamber over teetering piles of wood, glass and metal, where one wrong move will lead to the lot collapsing and you dying a horrible, squishy death. But I make an exception for Serge. My burrowing through piles of stuff at his place always results in great finds, and I’m not dead yet.

This time we carried off some great vintage French copper, including a couple of large copper preserves pans, nice enamel buckets with lids, yet more glass pate pots (now I have 52!), various vintage fishing accoutrements, and best of all was a large haul of salvaged ecclesiastical metal ware.

French angels are very beautiful, and this time we have 19 pieces church metal ware to offer, including angels and decorative items. They range from as tall as my knee to tiny enough to hide in my hand and were sourced from a demolished old church in the Mayenne region. I think they will appeal to a lot of people – if I get to offer them on the open market, that is. Most pieces already have dibs on them, but if I have any left they’ll appear on our market stand as soon as they arrive in Australia.

Brass Man-in-the-Moon,
We have been good customers of Serge’s over the years, to the point that we are now always shown his secret stash. This time from his secret stash I carried off three deep blue French ticking mattress covers. You can’t beat the mellowed look of very old textiles that are still in good condition. Two of them still have the remnants of their original feather stuffing, which Quarantine will no doubt go nuts over, but it’s nothing a good fumigation won’t fix. We also took four large beautiful linen sheets, with ladder-worked top edges and hand-embroidered monograms. 

Even better than getting access to the secret stash was the ultimate sign of Elite Customer Status – I finally got to meet Serge’s cat. He loves his cat and doesn’t introduce him to everyone, though I must say introductions were a little difficult seeing how the cat doesn’t have a name. He’s a lovely big ginger Tom with a wonky tail, but he doesn’t come to you unless he can see you’ve got food bribes. I had no food but did get a few cuddles through sheer trickery. I have world class ratbags at my house, so I have some experience outwitting moggies. 

Glass carpet bowls 'jacks' - the balls
you aim for.  A bit over 100 years
old.  $15 for the 3, to be offered
at Peregian Beach Market.
Then we found lunch in a tiny, out-of-the-way truckers’ brasserie, which Doug really wanted to try. He wanted to try it, but have me do all the talking to get us in, seated and served something that sounded nice. This is a tall order when I don’t speak a whole lot of French and in tiny out-of-the-way truckers’ brasseries there isn’t a whole lot of English going on. I made him promise that we will attend Alliance Francaise when we get home – both of us, so it’s not just me who has to muddle through. But anyway, I did muddle through and we had a surprisingly good lunch. You’ve got to make the most of the excellent food while you’re in France.

Next, we shall explore a new region on the way to Paris, and then on to the Porte de Vanves markets for our main French shopping.