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  • Debra Palmen

In Paris sometimes I'm good, sometimes I'm just silly


Doug told me I couldn’t buy tables in Paris. But he didn’t say anything about stools! And in my defence, they’re small, metal, semi-industrial stools in a lovely shade of pale primrose yellow. They didn’t take up a huge amount of room in the van, and certainly didn’t warrant the amount of Dougly huffing they received when I purchased them.

For the most part, though, I was a good gel with my Parisian shopping. I made some terrific purchases for customers, including some gorgeous vintage pictures, and some silly (read: expensive) purchases for myself. We said we would only buy more copper if we found something excellent and very well priced, so we ended up with one last copper preserving pan that’s very heavy quality. We also found a set of really lovely French enamel saucepans, another lidded glass butter dish, and a seriously nice set of wooden spice drawers which are a deep shade of primrose yellow. The French sure do love primrose yellow, and why not? It’s a lovely colour.

I bought yet another vase for myself, a little 1960s number made in the south of France. You really can’t have too many vases, you know. An interior decorator once told me that and I didn’t believe her at the time, but she was right. It was the cheapest thing I bought, but I love it. Things don’t have to be expensive to be beautiful.

But having said that, I paid a silly amount for a beautiful, turquoise, ceramic figure of a carp. It will sit very nicely with a turquoise ceramic Qing Dynasty vase-turned-into-lamp that also features a carp that I bought several trips ago and plan to put in the front entry once we finally get the house extension finished.

You’d think the carp seller would have looked somewhat happier after getting a ridiculous amount of money from me. But it was very early. And he hadn’t had a smoke. Or a coffee. Or an argument – although he did try with me after I haggled him down to half his initial asking price. Or a smoke. Or a baguette. Or a smoke.

So all-in-all, Paris was wonderful, the weather was wonderful, the buying was wonderful. Why do we bother?

Then back to Dieppe for a beach hamburger and a bracing stroll along the long, long breakwater at the mouth of the harbour. The weather had turned, so water was crashing across the breakwater and soaking lots of unwary people. Oh how we laughed. We watched the waves and then ducked and weaved and came away dry. Dryish. It was funnier when it happened to other people. The swell was heavy all the way back to Newhaven and I thought I might come to regret that beach hamburger, but I managed to retain my dignity. And my hamburger.

Up to Lincoln we scooted, to ensconce at the hotel on Canwick Hill where we always spend a week when the big Fairs are on. Lincoln and then Newark are the biggest antiques fairs in Europe, and two of the Big Three that you really have to attend if you want a high volume of good quality pieces.

Dealers’ Day at Lincoln is a madhouse for the first few hours. I bolted for Zoltan the Magnificent, as I always do to get first choice of the best enamelware. And just as well I did this time, because he hadn’t sourced too much this year. I bought most of it, and then moved on to Robert, long-standing contact who I always visit straight after I’ve seen Zoltan. He has nice enamelware, but mostly good old wooden pieces so now I’m right for good old chopping boards and dough troughs. Thank goodness I got to Robert straight after Zoltan, because Robert’s dough troughs were the best value in the entire Fair and after I made my selections a couple of American dealers bought all the rest.

I also found a dealer offering very nice distressed-blue painted troughs, of a type I’d never seen before, so I was obliged to buy some. And when I got them back to the hotel I liked them so much I was obliged to go back the next day to buy some more. Except by then he didn’t have many left, but I still have a nice selection to offer.

What I wanted from Lincoln was lots of good vintage kitchenware, semi-industrial and French whenever possible, although I did buy a nice Indian painted wooden platter on short legs. And Lincoln delivered in abundance. We packed well, so we had the time and the inclination to visit the Fair on the second day – punters’ day.

Just as with the Newark Fair, if you didn’t know how much is on offer on dealers’ day you wouldn’t know that more than half of the sellers pack up and leave before Day 2.

Even so, we still had a few trips back to the van with our many purchases on Day 2. And it was a far more relaxed approach to shopping, strolling from stand to stand, rather than the focused plan of attack you must have on Day 1.

The big surprise on Day 2 was a fabulous Victorian sampler, in excellent condition and at a terrific price. You never find lovely old samplers in excellent condition at terrific prices, and I know because I’ve been searching for one for some years. This one was completed by little Eliza Scott, aged 9. She lived in Leicester in 1872, and produced fine work. I was so excited to find this piece, and yes indeed it is already sold to a customer who has waited patiently all these years.

The priority this afternoon was to get a good park near Lincoln Cathedral, after navigating the labyrinth of lanes in the original part of the old city between the cathedral and the castle, to a nice little deli we know that sells the second best pork pies in all of England. So that’s dinner sorted.

So now it’s pack, pack, pack so we can clear the room and start again with the last fair of this trip, the Newark Antiques & Collectors Fair. It’s the biggest fair in Europe, and if you can’t find something nice there you’re just not looking. Having said that, the buying has been so good on this trip that I’m no longer looking for anything in particular, except kettering trays. So we’ll see what I find.


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