A Tale of Antiques

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I have a deep love of anything vintage, antique and French. I’ll go through hell and high water to try and visit a brocante, or a vide grenier – even a house clearance sale – if I can get up early enough (that’s ‘using a flashlight to find the car’ early enough). And until recently, I’d always prided myself on my efforts, but then I met an accountant at a dinner with friends and as I was chatting about some rather special confit pots that I had just found he thought he would lean over the table and dampen my enthusiasm a little with some old-fashioned advice.

First he asked how much I had paid for my pots, and how much I was going to sell them for. This then led to some discussion about other items I’d bought, and their respective selling prices, too. Now, typically I sell things for no great profit, certainly nothing to get excited about; it’s just enough to cover my costs and buy a chicken for Sunday lunch, perhaps. As a result I feel quite proud of my little sideline that brings me so much pleasure. But then my accountant friend smiled and started to ask some further, more detailed questions – the kind of questions that only someone with a mind that works purely in figures would think of.

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Had I taken into account the time it took me to travel to each brocante, the fuel costs and the wear and tear on the car?

How about all the hours I spent once actually there, walking for miles, taking hours, just to buy one or two items?

Had I thought about the time it then took me to photograph each item?

Each time I answered with a rather shell-shocked “NON!”

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The inquisition continued; how long did it then take me to create a listing for each piece, and had I allowed for this time by the hour, and had I factored this into the price?

Once again I replied with a big fat “NON”.

And then came the piece de la resistance when he asked if I restored and repaired things. Triumphantly I said, “NON” again, but this time I was rather pleased because I thought I might have scored a ‘brownie point’., because I don’t spend hours repurposing and restoring, apron around my waist. ensconced in an antiquarian workshop – I rather tend to leave things as they are, and let the buyer do the work – simply because I do not have the knowledge half the time, and I am terrified to touch anything. However, my ‘brownie point’ was quickly cancelled the minute I decided to elaborate a little further, I merely mentioned that I sometimes clean things, when warm running water and a mild soap is often all that is needed, sometimes with a little bit more elbow grease and some good scrubbing and polishing if something is quite filthy, but never restoration.

Ahhh, this was my downfall; had I taken into account the cost of the water, the cleaning products and yet again the time, my time? “NON NON et NON”. And with that supper was ready and we moved from aperitifs to the table, laughing as we went at the crazy English;  the meal was delightfully delicious and all conversation about antiques was firmly put to one side.

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At the end of the evening, there was a customary kiss adieu on both cheeks and a gentle smile from my new-found accountant friend.

“I admire your passion for my country but you are quite mad,” were his parting words.

I know we will meet them again, I know there will be no hard feelings and I know we will be friends. It is just a different way of seeing things; his mind cannot fathom why I would spend so much time doing something for so little financial gain. But then he will never understand the thrill of a lost treasure calling out of the shadows of some dusty brocante shop miles from civilisation, nor will he probably ever have the satisfaction of passing that pleasure on to someone else. I know, however, that my house will always have beautiful things in it, and they will be things I will treasure for the stories that radiate about them.

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I was reminded of my accountant friend’s words quite recently, when we found an old brass candlestick at a regular market brocante. Roddy went ahead of me by an hour in one car, and when I arrived with the other I had no idea where he was and started off alone down the stalls. At the end, on a table groaning with old brass, I found this simplest of candlesticks, and the moment I picked it up and help it in my hands I knew it was special, it stood out amongst all the others, a rose amongst thorns.

As I stood gazing at it, there was a movement beside me, and Roddy was there, saying,”Ah!  You found it, too, how funny. I picked that up 40 mins ago and was going to bring you here to look at it.” And a frisson of magic ran through me, it was obviously meant to be.

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“How old is it?” I whispered, trying hard not to arouse the interest of the stall-holder.

“Old,” Roddy replied out of the corner of his mouth. “I’m thinking 17th century at least. Look at the patina on it! It has a stitch-hole too, which will help date it.” And I looked at the hole in the socket where ancient fingers had pried loose the stubs of candles with a nail over many centuries. The brass glowed under my fingers, its sharp corners melted into soft curves by hundreds of hours of polishing….

We bought it a minute later, knowing it was rather special. An evening of research followed, and my accountant friend’s face popped into my mind as I counted the hours Roddy spent on-line researching this one candlestick, thinking of the zeros clicking over on his mental financial time-calculator. But it turns out we were right – our candlestick might just have become the oldest thing in our home. Conservatively, it dates from the mid to the late 16th Century, but it’s possibly older. It might be from the Low Countries, and it might have been made by Huguenot craftsmen – so age-wise, that’s the 1500’s, possibly even the 1400’s. As one of our daughters pointed out, maybe this was being made at the same time Christopher Columbus was discovering America, and at that point even our children are in awe; they’ve learnt a fair amount along the way, but this was something special, even if it is just another part of their education.

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My passion for brocantes and their glittering treasures has taught me so much about this country I call home. I remember the time I came across a beautiful old stoneware jar. I picked it up and asked the price and put it back down even faster. It was incredibly expensive. The lady then went on to explain it was from Le Chapelle des Pots, and looked at me as if I should understand how important this was, I nodded and made a mental note to do some research when I got home. Since then I have learnt that this village is famous for its pottery and it is an expensive purchase. I have since visited and bought a couple of old pots from a farmhouse there. It was the first time they had ever left the village they were made in.

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It is this sort of history that makes me so excited with my little hobby as my accountant friend called it. But hobby or not, I love it, not just the purchasing but also the selling and the happiness it brings someone else. I love the special messages I receive when something has travelled around the world, wrapped and boxed in recycled packaging and it arrives safely at its destination. Will it ever make me rich, NON! But does it feel right, does it make me happy and many others too? and the answer to that is a very big “OUI, OUI, OUI!”

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54 thoughts on “A Tale of Antiques

  • I can’t help feeling that your accountant friend has missed a lot in life. I don’t have any expensive “things” but I do have a few old items which have been handed down through the family. Sadly, I’m not sure my children or grandchildren are keen to own them but they are my treasures and I love them.

  • I suggest, (my dear partner in loving France beyond measure), that you never share anything, let alone a meal, with that person whose mind revolves solely around numbers. I bear these slings and arrows where I work. You show me in a handful of words the reason that ‘my number-obsessed colleague) did not resonate to the human, to the heart, to the soul impacts of a particular art exhibition I had installed. To me, those factors are all that matter in any situation. I salute you for your heartful and yes, wise, interactions with the world in general, and France in particular!

  • I agree with the above comments. The monetary value may be true, but that is not the true. value of the items as you say. To hold something made in the past and enjoy the work out into making it, as well as imagining the stories they could tell, are things you can’t put a monetary value on! I really enjoy your posts.

  • Bless you, bless you, bless you! Your love of all things old, and your willingness to bring happiness to others — not for monetary gain, but simply for the joy of giving — touches my heart. You are, indeed, a very special person!

  • Love your photos. My husband and I have had a small antiques business for several years, but, alas, nothing is selling well now. We deal mostly with American primitives. But I’m always drawn to French linens and crockery, in any form. Thanks for posting.

  • It is a hobby, one that is good for the planet and good for the soul. Plus you have the sense to sell things. I keep everything I buy, so I am awash in old linens, old furniture, I don’t even know what all. Even as I type, I’m watching Affaire Conclue. It’s a lot of fun, isn’t it?

  • Susan, perhaps that is why you & I struck up an immediate friendship—I am as old as dirt & my patina has a patina! 🙂

    • Oh Sandi, you too? She does like ‘old as dirt & patina’ sporting friends 😉 🙂 – I just sent a witty card to a really old, very old, friend I thought had died (and whom I finally got on the phone, very lively and alive indeed!); said card saying ‘We’ll be friends until we are old and senile… and then we’ll be new friends!

  • People who see only the resale value of an item may never understand your passion for treasure hunting. Treasure in the history of the item; the craftsmanship, the love and care that went into creating it, and your delight in finding it still intact and beautiful. You know, however, what joy it brings you, and if you pass it on to another treasure lover, they too will cherish it. Life goes on!

  • So wonderful Susan. I want to be able to touch everything. There a a few pieces that just might have my name on them. Hopefully this fall, I will be able to do that. If it’s too large, or too many pieces, I might have a problem.
    Ali xx

  • I nearly got sick reading your accountant’s friend comments. Hero Husband would have a bit the same tendency, it’s a question of upbringing too…. but goodness me, what a miserable person he must be, to just measure everything you so enjoy in monetary numbers. My husband had at least the decency to admit that I did ‘wonders’ with my finds by integrating them cleverly in my decoration or rendering friends more than happy with gifting special treasures to them. It’s an attitude thing; a bit like ‘only liking orchids because they are precious’ when my Happiness is binding a bouquet with flowers I have gathered myself. It’s also quite the reason not to like orchids….
    I’m heartbroken now because we now have to leave ‘tons’ of wonderful fleamarket and brocante items back because we simply won’t have the space in our new rental….

  • I am a cost accountant and I get his point, BUT your right too. If you costed it out to include everything you did to achieve that sale then you might not have a market due to your prices. Maybe review your prices but at the end of the day, it’s what feels right for you. I love Brocantes too!

  • On a shady teal table on the other side of the world on Australia sits one of those finds. A beautiful oldlantern with wavy glass. In winter it is a beacon when lit to be viewed through the French doors while cosy inside. In summer it illuminates our alfresco meal. Thank goodness for your passion I say and merci beaucoup for not being an accountant ❤️

  • If you can afford it and enjoy it, (and your husband obviously doesn’t object), more power to you! I can tell it brings you pleasure, so just enjoy it. When I was in France the last time, we stopped at a brocante and spent quite a while browsing. What was really funny was that the owner was playing songs by “Pink Martini” and other US groups in English.

    janet

  • The true cost of the candlestick and the joy it brings you….Priceless! I understand the point the accountant was making, but it seems he must have few pleasures in his life then. It is not always about the money! I am glad you bought such a wonderful old piece.

  • Oh Susan . . . So often do I walk past the few things which, beautifully packed, have arrived across the world from your home to mine and a warm shiver moves up-and-down my spine . . . as if I was there . . . ! For decades of my life I was in family businesses, pretty good at the maths bit too and naturally everything ‘the guy at dinner’ said was valid. But I am so glad that you are you and that Roddy is on the same wavelength ! Finding individual beautiful things gives you joy and satisfaction and makes what is called ‘life’ more joyful and valuable for you. You cannot keep all the beauty you find and have learnt to bargain for. So you pass it on to those of the same mind to cover the costs and buy that plump chicken for dinner , , , in my book, as long as you cover moneys spent and enrich your knowledge and fun in life . . . that is win-win all the way . . . ! And being practical – we all know how to purchase something from a shop . . . choosing a piece from the collection you are assembling makes whatever we buy more special in our eyes also . . . having second-hand visited a brocante with you and chosen something you just happened to see first. So, please do not change . . . .and let all of us enjoy your love for the beautiful wherever we live on this planet . . .

  • I have had “the fever” since I was a young teenager. I received a motorcycle for my fourteenth birthday. The first place I ventured to, on my own, was an antique shop. Over time the elderly couple who owned it became friends, then mentors. I have many fond memories of shared excitement over their latest finds and learning why they valued a particular piece. That was fifty years ago. For me the hunt and imagining the stories bring as much, if not more, pleasure that the actual owning of an item. The time invested is part of the joy. Perhaps your accountant friend gets the same tingle when the columns add correctly! Thanks for sharing this story.

    • I totally agree with you about the joy of imagining the stories behind each piece. I always ask as many questions as I can, I always want to know the details. I recently bought two beautiful tureens, Both from the same family, one was given to the grandmother as a wedding present and one to the mother as a wedding present. The lady said her children would not want them, which is why I came to buy them. But still I love the story. xx

  • Things that feed the soul are priceless. I wonder if that man counts the pennies of his “hobbies and entertainments”.

  • You’re do lucky that your hubby loves rummaging with you. It’s my favourite pastime here in France but mine does not have the patience. 8 have have some good finds butminlt for.petsonsl use. The account does not know what he’s missing and like your brass candlestick treasure you cannot.put a.price on some things . It’s all in the heart

  • This is why I rent a booth in an antique shop in Middle TN, probably earn less than $1.00 based on all my time searching etc. but wouldn’t have it any other way.

    • I totally agree with you, if we counted up every second and minute, we would all make a loss, but what we lose in this way we certainly gain in happiness and pleasure and pure satisfaction in what we do. xx

  • I enjoyed reading your blog. I like you love anything vintage, unique, different . It is so fun to find something rare. The key is always if you find it buy it.. finances permitted. Anything that brings you happiness is worth having ! Carolyn- motheringthemilestones,org

  • Your account is discounting your entertainment at the brocante. It is fun to go to sales, flea markets, etc. You could spend the same amount of time at a casino. Which would he prefer? He just doesn’t get it. Enjoy your passion! He probably plays golf which here can cost as much as $400 a round. How does he justify that?

  • Hi Susan. (sorry it’s been so long – I no longer seem to receive an email every time you post, so I forget to look!!) I can quite understand your love of the candlestick! It’s the mystery surrounding it’s great age – who made it? where? who first bought it? for whom and for where? how and why was it passed on? oh it goes on! And apart from some online research, we may never know, but just owning something that has had a life longer than ours is the exciting part isn’t it? Ok, it’s an extra bit of satisfaction if it turns out to be valuable, but that’s not why we buy in the first place, it’s our heart that buys these things first, the rest is a bonus!! x

    • Totally agree with you. Just imagining the history and the age, that is the real thing for me. It amazes me to hold something that is hundreds of years old and to think of how it was made and how it has survived. Just fabulous xx

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