Tips on Buying Vintage & Antiques in France
How To Shop For Vintage & Antiques at French Flea Markets
Marché aux Puces and Brocantes
In France, flea markets are known as marché aux puces or simply, les puce, (the fleas). But googling “brocante” will take you off the beaten path to traveling flea markets that are only held a few weekends a year. They can be held anywhere from 1 day to a full 2 weeks. Bigger traveling flea markets in France will have billboards all over town advertising them – so when you see a sign stuck to a lamp post or a giant poster in the metro with the word brocante highlighted, get ready to shop! Brocantes attract vendors from all over France, selling everything from high-end antiques to vintage pieces and simply second-hand junk. Prices here are usually better and take you into neighborhoods you might never have reason to visit on your own. A great website for finding brocantes is www.brocabrac.fr. While the Paris Flea Market is a personal favorite and must-do (and The Antiques Diva & Co are the only official tour guides of Paul Bert Serpette at the Paris Flea Market), visiting other French flea markets in Paris and across France is ideal to shop for antiques and vintage pieces. Here are my top 3 brocantes in Paris – and my all-time favorite French flea market starts next week!!
tip: Check out our Antiques and Design Markets and Fairs 2017 Calendar for flea markets in France and across Europe!
While there is nothing more fabulous than getting lost in France and discovering some place (or something) magical, shoppers in the know research where to go before traveling overseas. We suggest you book an Antiques Diva tour so you can shop on the arm of a local who knows the area like the back of their hands – plus more importantly – has relationships with the vendors which allows you to get the best prices possible when negotiating. But if you decide to give it a go on your own, be prepared and do your research. Google the cities where you’re planning to antique, using keywords for the antiques and vintage pieces you want to buy.
On brocabrac.fr you will also find vide-greniers – essentially attic sales – set up in the center of town with anywhere from 50 to of 1000s of people participating. These aren’t professional vendors, but instead they private people wanting to sell their goods – think of it as a town-wide garage sale where anything and everything is for sale. While you’ll have to dig through second-hand clothes and used toys you can also find gorgeous antiques going for a song!
Salon des Antiquaires
If you’re looking for high-end antiques you want to go to a salon des antiquaires – a step up from a flea market or brocante – which can have second-hand and decorative objects. This will be more high brow and have higher quality pieces – but don’t let that phrase scare you – there are still bargains to be had. Remember French antiques are often 3 to 5 times less expensive in France than they are in America or Australia. Something selling for 2,000 Euro in the North of France might go for $6-10K in the USA. You have to spend money to save $$$!
Key French Shopping Phrases
Now that you know where to go whether it’s a puce, brocante, vide-grenier or salon des antiquaires you should know a few key phrases in French to get the ball rolling! Even if you don’t speak French, learning some basic vocabulary is worth it’s weight in golden Louis 15th antiques.
- Always start the conversation with a simple, Bonjour Madame or to catch the vendors attention try S’il vous plaît (SVP) Monsieur.
- Point then to the item you are interested in and ask how much it costs: C’est combien, SVP? or try Vous voulez combien?
- Ask how old it is? Quel âge a cette chaise? Ça date de quand? What wood it is? C’est quel type de bois? And where it comes from: Quelle est sa provenance?
- Don’t be shy – negotiation is expected. Ask for a good deal. Vous pouvez faire un meilleur prix? Will you make a better price? or C’est votre meilleur prix? or Vous pour faire mieux? Is that your best price? It’s best to ask the Vendor to tell you their best price BEFORE you offer a number – because sometimes they offer you more of a discount than you would have expected. If the piece is 100E and you ask for a best price, the vendor might come back and say 80E. You can then continue the negotiation – Will you take $70? Prenez Vous 70E? If said this way, the vendor might compromise on 75E. 25% is a reasonable amount to expect for a discount.
Be willing to walk away in order to get a discount. Leaving then returning to the piece helps with negotiation… but beware… you might just return and find your item SOLD to someone else!
- Verify they are giving you the export price – C’est le prix pour exportation? Is it too expensive? C’est trop cher! (said while batting your eyes!) A good deal? C’est bon marché – C’est un bon prix – C’est raisonnable. I’ll take it! Je le prends!
- And don’t forget to say Merci! Au Revoir!
Toma Clark Haines, The Antiques Diva