Monday, April 12, 2010

Glossary for Going Antique Hunting in Europe

I apologize for not updating this blog in a timely manner.  I got extremely depressed over this continuing Swiss cold weather and Mr. Big and I departed on a road trip to the Provence region in the south of France to look for some sunshine.  Alas, it rained for the better part of our mini-Easter vaca, but the scenery was spectacular and we stumbled upon some great little villages.  More later.

Anyway, I was going to give you the skinny on flea markets here in my neck of the woods.  I must begin by providing a glossary, semi-organized by country and language, that will enable those of you who like to “go antiquing” to have a better understanding of the quality of merchandise that you might find should you venture across the Atlantic for some goodies.  I’ll start with the American definitions and use those as a baseline.


Antique Show:  High end gathering of professional dealers.  Beautiful things, but no bargains to be found.  Famous Antique Shows:  Miami Beach, NYC Pier, NYC Armory.  Here’s a hint.  If the title of the show includes the words “and Fine Art”, get out your checkbook.  If you usually go around antiquing in a pickup, your RV or towing a trailer, skip to the next definition, cuz you got no bi-ness steppin’ foot round these heah parts.

Antique Fair:  Fun, fabulous and fairly certain to find something in your price range.  Look for the big ones like Brimfield’s in Massachusetts with hundreds, if not thousands, of vendors.  Something there for everyone, from high-end dealers to Mrs. Jane Suburbia shopping for a chest for her foyer to Ellie Mae Clampett lookin’ to replace her rug beater.

Anything that ends with “And Collectables”:  Mostly down-market but this is where you might find a “hidden gem” for next to nothing.  My favorite kind, but labor intensive.

Flea Market:  Gross.  Knock off pocketbooks, sneakers and blue jeans.  Stay away.

Garage Sale, Neighborhood Garage Sale, Yard Sale:  On rare occasions, a person with an eagle eye can find a treasure at a garage sale.  These are held out in front of the residents’ homes and the customers start showing up even before the paperboy/girl.  Me, I don’t have the patience or the gas to do the “Garage Sale Circuit”.  (In America, I drive a Hummer.  I know.  I know.  I am the Anti-Christ.)


THE UK:  Every time I have been to the UK on an antique junket, it has been for my store, so keep that in mind.  In other words, I was only looking for things for resale, that I could buy for less than half of the price that I could sell it for back in the US after adding on the charges for container shipping.  So, having said that:

Antique Fairs and Antique Markets:  Have the same meaning.  Usually, flippin’ huge compared to the US antique fairs.  Filled to the brim with awesome stuff.  My friends and I who are dealers spend three or four DAYS at one of these fairs.  Go to Newmarket, Ardingly, or the website

 Car Boot Sale:  This is the equivalent of the US yard sale, except people gather their stuff together in one spot, (usually a random field!), spread it out on a blanket and sell it.  However, you have a good chance of finding some really great things.  Copper pots, wicker baskets, even some furniture.  Mr. Big once pounced on a golden swan faucet by Jado that he scooped up for 2 pounds sterling which we later sold for 200 American dollars.  Go, Mr. Big!


Here is where terminology starts to get tricky.  I’m going to start from the bottom because that is where I have run into the most pitfalls.

Vide Grenier:  Literally, this means attic sale.  It is pronounced “veed grah-nyeeaa”.  Just trying to say it is scary.  Well, the merchandise is scary as well.  If you like really down-market garage sales in the US, you will love these.  95% of the stuff is collectables, kids’ toys, clothes and plastic storage containers with no lids.  Ugh.

Brocante:  A step above.  I have found some great bargains at Brocante Faires.  There is a lot of junk, but you can find things.  For instance, piles of framed prints with the random original piece of art in the same pile.  Tons of stuff that the French think are routine but that Americans think are cool like wire egg baskets, vintage Le Crueset cookware, Provencal pottery bowls and urns,  old school kids’ maps and posters, etc.

Antiquite:  Pronounced “ahn-teek-ee-tay”.    This is usually only used outside an antiques store on the sign, not on the advertisements or posters for a fair or market.   If the fair is advertised as a “Faire des Antiquites”, it will be very high end with lots of Louis This and Louis That furniture.

Marche Aux Puces:  Pronounced “marsh-oh-puuusz” and that “r” should sound like you are coughing up a hairball.  (I know you are all trying it out loud right now and there are people in the other room saying “What the hell is she/he doing in there?”).  Literally translates to “Market of the Fleas”, but definitely not like flea markets in America.  Lots of good stuff here.  The biggest ones are in Paris at St. Ouen and in a town called Lille at the “Braderie” but they are found in all towns, mostly in the warmer months.  Just search on Google for the town/s or departement/s  you are visiting.

Word of warning:  If you see just the word Marche on a poster or a website, it means a fruit and veg market, not an antiques market.  

GERMANY:  Just like France except brocante equals brocki, antiquite equals antik and flea market equals flohmakt.


Ah, the Swiss.  I thought they would be very similar to France.  Non, non, non.  The Swiss are the packrats of the world.  Worse than your hoarding Aunt Edna.  Nothing is ever thrown away.  You thought Happy Meal toys and Beanie Babies were bad/tacky?  The Swiss would laugh at that.  That stuff is high dollar, baby!

At a brocante faire in Switzerland, you must wade through approximately 300 of the local residents who have just come outside their homes, laid out blankets on the cobblestones, perhaps brought out a folding table to display their really “good” stuff, and proceeded to think they are going to make a million dollars selling what you and I would call “trash” on any other sane day.  I mean, it’s trash, there’s no two ways about it.  Stuff that you would be totally embarrassed to put out at a yard sale, like a BROKEN glass bud vase that once came from a Teleflorist arrangement, (you know the vases I’m talking about, uh, the FREE ones?).  Hello.  5 franc.  Children’s skis from the 1990’s that have been BROKEN in half and wired together?  20 franc.  Suitcases with broken zippers?  How many do you want?

Total Packrats.  I blame it on the strict recycling laws.  These poor, sad folks could never figure out the correct day in which to dispose of these offensive items so they sell them as “brocante”.  The Swiss should stick to Christmas Markets where they excel.

I have found two exceptions to the rule regarding crappy Swiss brocante markets.  The one held in Geneva every Wednesday and Saturday morning is OK.  Not great and certainly not worth a special trip, but OK to visit if you are already downtown shopping.  There is one vendor there who sells Swiss Army surplus and you can get good deals on used military stuff.  We bought a Swiss Army blanket that was embroidered with the boy’s name and year on it which was kind of cool for only 35 franc.

Last month, I stumbled on an oil painting leaning up against a table leg.  It was a typical mountain scene, as the vast majority of Swiss paintings are, but this one caught my eye because it looked exactly like the view out one of the windows of my house. 

Lo and behold, when I flipped it over to the back, the artist had written his entire name and address and it was an address about five houses up the street from ours in Lausanne!  The painting is really old, so I’m sure the guy is long dead and there’s no way to meet him, but it’s still cool to think about whenever I pass his house.

The best Swiss antiques market that I have found is held once a year in Le Landeron.
There seems to be much more emphasis on eating and drinking and sitting out in the sunshine than actual buying, but I was still able to find a Murano glass chandelier for only 100 franc, which is less than we spent on lunch.

Enjoy the pix and if you are coming to Europe and want to go antiquing, let me know and I can tell you the best places to “hit”.


  1. I see this entry is 2010, I used to live in Geneva in 97-2001 coming back to antique shop. Le Landron ohhh what a memory. I agree awesome fun.
    Now I am coming in a few weeks. Any markets you know about in March 26-April 1st? Annecy Is Saturday I know that. Any other advice?

  2. I am an exact going on my second year in Basel. I did live in the Lausanne area from 2006-2009n a friend has turned me onto your blog and I am loving it. I would also love more info on antique flea markets in France and Switzerland. Thank you for you help and keep the blogging up it makes my day.