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  • Debra Palmen

No Shortage of Interesting Stuff (yay!)


We’re actually in France at the seaside at the moment, which is terrific. But in the tradition of reality overtaking my ability to write about it, I’m a bit behind with the Newsletters. So this time you’re going to hear about Elsecar (in Yorkshire) and Peterborough (in Cambridgeshire). I’ll catch up to the France bit soon. Oooh, it’s been good.

But it was slim pickings at Elsecar antiques centre this time. The chap I’ve been visiting for years to buy nice old things excavated from his Yorkshire landfill is clearly reaching the bottom of his dig. So that’s a pity. And yet I still scored some nice 100+ year old small stoneware jars that will look lovely with large-blossomed flowers (one bloom per jar, I think). I also found an extraordinarily nice Shelley bowl featuring green flying cranes over an orange background, just fitting into the Chinoiserie category. With those colours it sounds a bit garish, doesn’t it? But it’s a lovely, striking piece.

One of the most interesting buys at Elsecar was some ammonite fossils, retrieved from a palaeontological dig at Whitby, on the east coast of England. Whitby was the home of Captain Cook and it’s the only place in the world where genuine Jet is found. Jet is fossilized monkey puzzle tree, turned into a beautiful black stone by enormous underground pressure over millennia.

In the Victorian times jet was used to make beautiful jewellery – particularly useful when Queen Victoria wore nothing but black and everyone wanted to emulate at least her jewellery. And it’s found only at Whitby.

The Whitby ammonite fossils have a tactile, sculptural texture. I think a few might have to stay at my house. They each cover the palm of your hand and I think some together will make a striking display. Ammonites died out at the same time as the dinosaurs, so they are no younger than 69 million years old. The earliest have been dated to 419 million years old. That’s an enormous date range but suffice to say they are seriously old. It’s amazing what you can find, in the most unexpected places, when you start hunting for nice things.

Elsecar also delivered on the best pork pies in all of England. It’s a tradition that we always first visit the café at this centre to ensure that a good lunch is sorted, before we start shopping. It’s always worth getting to the cafe before the crowds who beat a path to its door. And it’s only once a year, so it’s okay to indulge.

Then it was on to Dealer’s Day at the Peterborough Fair. If you can make friends with dealers who take a stand at this fair, and they agree to sell you their spare ‘early entry’ tickets, it’s totally worth it. Our friends from Brittany, from whom we buy so much fabulous antique French copper, again offered us their spare tickets, and we didn’t hesitate to accept.

This is one of our favourite fairs, and we always do well here. This time I found beautiful copper jelly molds that were actually affordable, French flower, shopping and potato baskets – the French had a basket for everything, and all of them beautiful – interesting French and Czech enamelware including lots of great utensils, a couple of Danish Raadvad slicers (which we’ve recently discovered are excellent for slicing up freshly baked biscotti), the most enormous Victorian-era blue and white cup and saucer, glass washboards, and more. It was all interesting stuff, and we staggered away well pleased with ourselves.

Then there was a lot of packing. A lot of packing. But we needed an empty van before we headed over to France, so on went 12 hours straight of Judge Judy, Kung Fu Panda and Star Trek on the TV (except for a charming little documentary on a hedgehog hospital). I photographed a range of nice things as we packed, some of which you can see here. I’ll put more on FB soon, with measurements and prices. Yes I know the lighting sucks. But no, I’m not going to bring special photographic lighting with me on these trips. You get hotel lighting and that’s the best I’m offering.

Meanwhile Anticia, the illustrator of Calypso’s books, has sprained her wrist so things are progressing slowly on that front. But they are progressing and I’m thrilled with what she’s produced so far. She can exactly follow my briefs, plus she has plenty of great ideas of her own, and I’m really happy with what we’re coming up with. It’s a great deal of work, but it’s also a fun collaboration. Hopefully there will be more on that soon.

My own work in process – as opposed to the cat’s books - (Volume 1 of Little Beasts & How To Collect Them) has languished while I’ve been focusing on other things. But I’m now working on the final chapter and will soon engage a watercolour artist to create the illustrations for the head of each chapter.

Volume 1 features the fascinating and sometimes bizarre social history and the collectability of interesting real and mythical animals, including dragons, chickens, mermaids, bees, unicorns, cats, dogs and peacocks. I want striking, original art for each chapter illustration and I think it’s going to be fun selecting the right illustrator for the job.

Okay that brings us to France. France has been seriously terrific this time on so many levels (except for money, which I don’t have nearly enough of – the story of my life). But more on that in the next Newsletter, coming soon.


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