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  • Debra Palmen

Don't under-estimate a poncy Frenchman


We approached the Newark International Antiques Fair with a relaxed attitude. Don’t worry, I said to Doug. I won’t be spending much here. We’ve got heaps of good stock and I’m not looking for anything except kettering trays.

And that’s how easy it was to lull him into a false sense of security.

Because boy oh boy, I spent a lot at the Newark Fair. “Somewhat over-budget” is the polite translation of what Doug was quietly chanting as he followed me about. But in my defence, when you see terrific things, at terrific prices, and you know they’re going to sell terrifically well, what else can you do?

You can see a good overview of the Fair from the top picture. On the extreme right is an old runway and surrounding land, where all the punters park their cars and vans. You get there early so you can get a good park, because can you imagine trying to haul your goodies all the way to the far end of the runway?

The gate we always enter by is the Yellow Gate, at the bottom on the right. Then I immediately make my way up to the top left of the screen, and start working back towards the Yellow Gate from there. All the best buys for me are in the top left corner, although I usually manage to immediately spend a whole lot within a few metres of walking through the Yellow Gate as well.

But despite my dash to the top left of the Fair, it was zero on the kettering tray front. The seller seems to have run out of these trays, which was inevitable I suppose, seeing how dealers like me would descend upon him every time he offered them and buy him out in minutes. But my initial disappointment at no kettering trays was soon replaced with lots of Oooh look at this! and Oooh look at that! as we strolled around.

How many times have I said that if you see a great brass-topped Byzantine Revival table at a good price – and I mean one of the proper old ones with a top that fits snuggly over the legs, not perched precariously like a glorified tray – then you need to snap it up? It’s specifically mentioned in my book, it’s that important.

That's not the one I bought in the picture, but mine is just like it. See how the brass top fits properly over the legs? That's what you're looking for in a good Byzantine Revival table. You'll see many more where the brass top just sits on top of the legs like a tray, but you don't want those ones. Resist the lesser quality pieces, wait for the best, and you'll be glad you did. So will your customers.

And I’ve been searching for another fabulous French aluminium 1930s Moulux coffee grinder literally for years, and finally there was one just waiting for me.

Again this picture isn't the one I bought - my camera has just taken the opportunity to cark it so this is an indicative image. My Moulux needs a good clean-up, and has a red knob on its handle, but it will look just like this one by the time I've finished with it. Except for the red knob on the handle, which looks better.

These things aren’t cheap, but they are seriously fabulous and I’ll be offering them at excellent prices because I found terrific things and terrific prices at the Newark Fair.

I visited one of my glass contacts, Suki, who complained long and loud about how the Fair looked too much like a French market, with too many Frenchmen in attendance with far too much French stuff. But that suited me just fine. You know how I always look for lovely French kitchenware in particular, and Newark offered more opportunities than I could afford to take up.

And one of those Frenchmen turned out to be our Next Great Contact. Doug took an immediate dislike to Stephane on account of his big, poncy, floppy beret. And yes, I have to admit it was a touch affectatious. But Doug got over his prejudice quick smart when he saw Stephane’s prices. It was also helpful that Stephane speaks perfect English, but in a verra sexy French accent, so buying heaps from him was easy.

So I walked away with said Moulux, 11 lovely lidded glass storage jars from the Alsace-Lorraine region (near the border with Germany) which are going to look spectacular in people’s kitchens, even if they do nothing more than hold flowers, some very nice glazed ceramic confit pots and even some Madeleine moulds, which Doug plans to keep and use himself. Yum, I do like a nice Madeleine with a hot chocolate. Brings back happy memories of cruising down the Seine.

Best of all, Stephane invited me to visit not only his shop near Bruges but also his enormous warehouse somewhere between Dunkirk and Lille. It’s a By-Invitation-Only warehouse, so I was pretty happy to receive an invite. Somewhere between Dunkirk and Lille is a big “somewhere”, but at least I know to factor in the far north of France to our next buying trip. And if you’ve read my book you know how much I like Bruges, so I’ll be happy to return.

Stephane said he’ll also put together a shopping itinerary for me of dealers close to him in Belgium who sell lovely French things and will offer me good prices. Sounds fabulous to me! So it looks like we’re definitely heading up to Belgium on our next buying trip, before travelling down into France to visit Stephane’s warehouse and then touring Brittany, Normandy and Perche to visit the usual suspects.

I’ve been thinking about ditching my white plastic market tables and replacing them with wooden ones for some time, because I think much of our stock would present even better on a nice, patinated wooden surface. But finding such tables at a good price has proven to be a challenge.

So wasn’t it good that Stephane had three? They’re lovely old trestle tables, originally painted and now considerably distressed, and our stock is going to look great displayed on them. He also had six trestle benches, which I was also obliged to buy. I’ll keep three or four of the benches to display our wares, but offer the others for sale. The tables and benches were made for a beer retailer near Strasbourg, again near the German border, so I have no doubt they’ve witnessed many a happy Oktober Fest.

It was this last purchase that put us a little, a touch, a smidge over-budget. Okay yes horribly over-budget. But they’re so nice and I’ve never seen any I could remotely afford before, so I had to splurge on these ones. If you have a chance to visit our market stand at Peregian Beach, or our antiques stand at Collectorama Fair, you too will ooh and aah and declare what a lucky gel I was to find these beauties.

Then it was back to London to return the van and catch a late-night flight to Tel Aviv, via a 7 hour stop-over in Istanbul.

London was overcast and cold and we were tired from a full-on buying trip, so instead of getting all touristy as planned we instead lolled about the hotel. I took the opportunity to work on the Bees chapter of my coming book – yes it is coming! – in fact it’s nearly finished. And now I know more about varroa virus and neonicotinoid nerve agent than I ever expected to. And soon you will, too. Trust me, it’s interesting. Horrifying, but interesting.

Istanbul Airport for 7 hours has nothing to recommend it, I have to tell you. Fortunately we had booked into a good transit lounge, and even more fortunately Douglas secured one of only five comfy couches in the whole place. So I was able to get a few hours sleep while Doug watched over me, which was good of him because I get awful jetlag and need as much sleep as I can cram in.

All food and drinks are free in these lounges, and in terms of alcohol you can order anything you like, as much as you like. But can you think of anything more stoopid before you get on a long flight than to get yourself stonkingly drunk? And yet that’s what we watched a succession of stoopid people do.

One young man had something like 14 beers over three hours, before staggering off for his flight. How pleased would you be to sit next to him? And how drunk do you need to be before they’ll refuse to board you? While I was snoozing Doug saw one young woman drink a third of a bottle of scotch – before 6am! – before teetering off in her high heels. Water and a few cups of tea sufficed for me, and I can guarantee who arrived at their destination in better shape.

There was a long security screening process just to get into the departure lounge for the flight to Israel. We were subject to pretty comprehensive body pat-downs – downright intimate and certainly more thorough than we’d ever gone through before. But other people were getting every bit as touched up as us and also swabbed all over with explosive-residue-detecting wipes.

I (quietly) complained to Doug that we obviously don’t look enough like outlaws any more to warrant the extra attention, which personally I found quite insulting. Doug agreed that if there’s anything worse than being singled out for additional security screening, it’s being deemed ‘harmless’ and ignored. But finally we headed off to Israel, where on arrival there was hardly any security at all.

But that’s a whole other Newsletter, coming soon.


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