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  • Debra Palmen

I do Antiques, I don't do Techno-babble


Here’s a question: what do you do when you want to update your website so it looks New! Improved! but you have exactly zero technical knowledge? You do it yourself, naturally.

I mean, come on, how hard can it be?

Yeah, yeah, I know I’m a techno-numpty. But that didn’t stop me from proving it. The result was techno-chaos, with my website a mess and getting worse by the minute.

So then I faced Adventures in Outsourcing. And wasn’t that a barrel of laughs. The first so-called ‘expert’ knew even less than me about how to fix my site. The second was able to make the fixes needed but required very specific instructions, even to keep alphabetical menu lists in – you know – alphabetical order. He was great as long as I very closely supervised, because there was no way he was going to check his own work and pick up the ‘attention to detail’ necessary for a seamless website experience.

But it’s all fixed now, and I do hereby solemnly promise that I shall never again pretend I’m remotely able to do techno-babble stuff. It helps me to keep this promise by having zero interest in techno-babble, and despite its frustrations I am now a fan of outsourcing the boring (and hard) stuff.

And as an aside, if you have a look at the rest of website, you will see the myriad vintage and reproduction pictures we offer are now nicely sorted into categories, so you don’t have to wade through several hundred at one go. Good, huh? We’re the only shop in the country that sells these pictures, and they go like hotcakes so it was worth re-cataloguing them for your viewing pleasure. It just shut down my website for weeks to get it that way.

I've featured a number of our more recent acquisitions here, and some of the originals will make it on to the website in due course.

Meanwhile, planning is continuing apace for our next buying trip in September/October. But so much for my planning skills – I shall be spending my entire birthday on a plane somewhere between Bangkok and London. In economy class. On the upside, I take the opportunity to enjoy movie marathons on long haul flights, so I’ll catch up with all those flicks I missed when they were first released.

We always buy rather a lot of lovely old vintage kitchenware – it’s beautiful, functional and you just can’t kill it. As soon as we get to France we’ll head deep into Normandy (after our favourite dinner in our favourite restaurant in Dieppe) to visit one of our best contacts, Serge.

After years of dealing with Serge we now enjoy Privileged Customer status, which means he’s shown us where he hides the key to his salvage yard. And that means we can rat through the yard even when he’s not home, or has dropped everything – including dealing with customers – because it’s time for his two hour lunch break. The French sure do love their lunch breaks.

Because Serge salvages beautiful ecclesiastical metalware from ancient, demolished churches, it’s hot, heavy, dirty work to retrieve pieces from his yard. And downright dangerous at times. But we always emerge from the yard and his overflowing storage barns filthy but victorious. And the pieces we buy from Serge always, always sell well.

Then it will be down to Brittany to have lunch with our latest contact, Vincent. He doesn’t normally sell from his home, but we bought a heap from him at various antiques fairs during our last buying trip and we got along really well, so he invited us to come for lunch and have a private shopping session in his barns. We’re really looking forward to that.

And then on to Paris for some playing and some shopping. We like to visit the Louvre for two hours each visit – that way you’re not overwhelmed and develop ‘museum fatigue’, and you can really focus on the collection you’ve decided to view. Last time we concentrated on the fabulous Egyptian collection, although we were distracted on the way by the gobsmacking Babylonian and Mesopotamian collections.

We might look at some paintings this time. I do like the Impressionists and Pre-Raphaelites. Manchester Art Gallery has the best Pre-Raphaelite collection in the world, as well as some truly beautiful Pilkington ceramics that I deeply covet. But we’ll see what the Louvre can offer.

If you've read my book you know that early, early on Saturday morning is the best time to visit the Porte de Vanves Market, our favourite market in Paris. We do a heap of shopping there – it’s worth bringing a van over from England just for the haul of treasure we’ll get at this market. It will be a dark and probably chilly autumn morning, but armed with gloves, beanie and torch – and immediately fortified with an excellent French-version of hot chocolate when we arrive – we’ll be buying within minutes.

Apart from the usual kitchenware, gorgeous lighting and lovely Art Deco pieces we hunt for, this time we’ll be searching high and low for the 100 year old French glass confit pots that all our customers love so much – we really can’t buy enough of them and always sell out. And what’s not to love? We’ve kept six for ourselves. A magazine food stylist we sold quite a few to told me to try layering desserts in them, which she was going to do for some magazine shoot. And wow, they looked great.

Also hugely popular have been the large English pale grey pottery marmalade pots that we occasionally find, and which always sell instantly. We shall scoop up every single one we can find during this trip. We’ve kept a few of these pots as well, and following another stylist’s advice we now use them to store our bone-handled knives. She’s paid the big bucks for a good reason – the look is interesting and fabulous. Again these always sell out of very quickly because everyone loves them. Last time one customer alone bought 15 pots!

Plus we’ll look for any nice vintage French cockerel available. It’s the symbol of France so you’d think there’d be plenty available, but no. Every time we have one it’s leapt upon, though, so old cockerels, no matter how battered, are always on the wish list.

This time, on the way home from the buying trip we’re stopping in Israel and Jordan for a look around. We’ve always wanted to visit Petra, there’s an interesting looking flea market at Jaffa to investigate as a possible buying source, and while we’re in the vicinity we really should see Jerusalem, don’t you think? It will be a complete change of pace after Paris, and a bit of fun.

On the writing front, my new book Little Beasties & How to Collect Them is about three-quarters done. The magazine I write for has been publishing excerpts from various chapters, so I really have to get it finished so we can offer the entire book rather than release it piece-meal.

But after researching and translating into plain English several academic papers on The Unicorn as Religious Allegory, I decided to have a little break from writing for grown-ups. Who knew that people wrote serious academic papers on unicorns? I was looking for something sweet and whimsical to include in my Unicorns chapter, but there’s some major art history dissertations on these critters. And they needed thinking about before I could condense them into something interesting and comprehendible for the couple of paragraphs I want to include on this topic in my Unicorns chapter.

So to distract and amuse myself I’ve been working on two children’s series. One will be a series that reworks classic legends or actual historical events. The first of that series is George & The Dragon, where medieval meets 21st century. That one is written and now I’m auditioning a variety of illustrators to get the look I want.

The second is a series provisionally called Miss Malin’s Amazing Moments. Miss Malin is a young French woman in 1930s Paris, who has big and small adventures around the world with her little cat Calypso. And yes, the real-life Calypso (as pictured here) will be featured. So these short little books are giving me the ‘sweet and whimsical’ hit I needed. Now I have to find another illustrator who can follow very specific briefs so the books look just how I want them.

See that picture of a Renault? Apart from being one of the genuine vintage pictures we’re currently offering (it dates from 1925), it’s also the car Miss Malin learns to drive in. As you do when you’re a fabulously wealthy young lady about Paris in the 1930s. I’ve got plenty of Art Deco era pictures that I want incorporated into my illustrations, and it turns out that professional illustrators like getting very specific briefs from their clients. So as soon as I settle on an illustrator with the style I want, I can get that show on the road as well. So that’s been fun.

But for now it’s back to Little Beasties & How To Collect Them. Now I have my head around the sometimes just plain weirdness surrounding unicorns, I can finish that chapter and move on to the next little beastie. I’m thinking Bees. Or Hares. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, we’re still taking our stand at the Peregian Beach Market, and the next Collectorama Antiques Fair is coming up in September. I’m working on tarting up some nice smaller pieces of furniture for Collectorama (and maybe I’ll show some at Peregian).

More soon.


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