TheFrench Connection

France,when you think of France you naturally think of Paris, with itsEiffel Tower, Louvre Museum and Arc de Triumph. If you're an oldrock and roller from the late 1960s, you might think of the leadsinger for the Doors, the late Jim Morrison, buried there in thePere Lachaise cemetery. Senior citizens may remember anothercemetery, near Omaha Beach, where on D-Day many Americans,possibly old friends or relatives, perished. Ten thousandAmerican service men are interned in this cemetery, many dying onthat fateful beach. For some, great wines and cheeses come tomind while others recall the names of former movie stars, likeBrigitte Bardot, Maurice Chevalier and Catherine Deneuve. Whatmost don't think about is hunting for antique bottles!

The Gere de Lyon station in central Paris. The Mercure Hotel next to the Gere de Lyon

station was very convenient but a bit pricey.

One nice thing about collecting antique bottles, or antiquesin general, is that if you like to travel there is no part of theworld you can travel to that you will not find these things. Takebottles: Every country used them, with the more industrializedhaving their own glasshouses. Smaller countries relied on theseindustrialized nations for their bottle supply. All used bottlesin one form or another, including France.

In past old traveler columns I've told you that with a certainamount of knowledge and some luck, you can enjoy a wonderfulvacation and sometimes finding something to add to yourcollection. You might even buy enough good things that when soldupon your return could pay for part or your entire trip.

How is this possible? It starts with a bit of advancedplanning. Antiques, including old bottle do indeed exist inFrance, but like any place else you have to know where to go tofind them. Unlike England, France has no bottle clubs or bottleshows to attend.

In England a number of trade papers for the antique collectinghobby exist. Of those available two are of significance, theAntique Trade Gazette, a weekly tabloid, and Antiques Diary, thatcomes out every two months. Besides giving you all the dates forthe antique and collectors fairs in England, of which there aremany, each has a page or two listing the dates and locations ofthe French fairs.

Like England, most of the French fairs are large combinationindoor / outdoor events, ranging in size from several hundred upto several thousand dealers, (the Braderie in Lille, France, heldthe first weekend of every September boasts 6,000, thoughtwo-thirds sell general merchandise such as clothing etc.)

This article will not include the Braderie, which was reportedon previously, but focuses on the Paris markets, and moreimportantly two major markets in the south, near the FrenchRiviera in the cities of Avignon and Montpellier. The entire tripwill last one week, offering over 3,000 dealers' wares to lookat, and an unexpected experience!

Thursday, September 5th. We board British Airways flight BA-68in Philadelphia for our over night flight to Paris. The six andone-half hour flight was smooth, and surprisingly full,considering how close to the anniversary of 9/11 we are flying.

Enterance to the Port de Clingencourt market. Off site shippers employ `haulers' who, with a two-wheel handcart form an almost continuous

flow between the dealers' tables and the shippers trucks.

Friday, September 6th. We arrive early morning at the Charlesde Gaulle Airport, outside the city. Paris offers a wonderfulsubway system, (they call it the Metro). One Metro line travelsdirectly from the airport to the center of Paris and costs only7.50 Euro one way (about $7.00). Not renting a car, we would betraveling exclusively by Metro while in Paris, using the FrenchNational Railroad TGV service traveling to the south of Franceand back. Two months earlier, mostly using the internet, I hadmade reservations for the trains and hotels we would be stayingat.

For our first two nights in Paris I choose the Mercure HotelGere de Lyon. A three star hotel that was chosen more for itsconvenience them ambience. Connected to the Gere de LyonMetro/Rail station, one of Paris's busiest, it was perfectlysituated for our time in the city.

Saturday, September 7th. Several good antique markets runevery Saturday and Sunday mornings. Of these the 400-dealer Portde Vanves Street fair is my favorite. To get there you travel byMetro to the Port de Vanves station, (two line changes arerequired). Depart the station through the de Vanves Avenue exit,the market is about one block away, (Look for a silverinformation trailer, it marks the beginning of the market).Arrive about 8:00 am, when the dealers begin to set up, but don'tarrive too late, many dealers are packed up and gone by noon. Ifind an unusual barber bottle, that at 35 Euro ($33.33) is asteal. Further down the row of stands I spy a French bon bon jarin the form of a standing pig. These are fairly common and at 15Euro ($14.25) is a giveaway. It's in perfect condition, butmissing the tin closure; this didn't bother me, since I have oneat home. I buy several more things including several pieces ofGerman blue decorated stoneware. The Port de Vanves is more apavement fair then a street fair. One row of dealers back theirvehicles up to the sidewalk curb, while another row sets up onthe other side of the payment, leaving about a 10-foot space forthe shoppers to travels along.

Leaving the Port de Vanves I take the Metro north to Porte deClingencourt. Sometimes referred to as the St. Ouen, Port deClingencourt is the largest, most established and best known ofthe Paris markets. To reach it from the Gere de Lyon take theMetro north to the Porte de Clingencourt station. This can bereached in about one-half hour requiring one Metro change.

A TVG train at the Gare de Lyon station. TVG's are high-speed trains reaching speeds up to 160 mph,

cutting travel time between Paris and the French Riviera to under three hours

A truck load of mannequins were unloaded at the Montpellier fair.

Unlike Port de Vanves, which is a transient market, The Portde Clingencourt market is made up of permanent dealers, eachhaving his or her own enclosed stand. These stands meander backand forth in rows that require a bit of remembering where you areand what your seen. I remember looking at several black glasswide mouth jars, all priced the same, until I realized it WAS thesame jar I'd seen twice before.

Being more established and well known, Port de Clingencourt isalso pricier by about 50%, but even at that, bargains can stillbe had.

I'm back at the hotel by 2 pm, in time for a late lunch at oneof the many local brasseries by the hotel, before doing a littleParis sightseeing. The old part of Paris is much like that ofLondon, very compact and by using the Metro everything ofimportance can be seen in a day. We enjoy the evening in Parisvisiting the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral. A leisurelywalk along the River Seine was topped off by a nice dinner in oneof the many riverboat restaurants. The weather was perfect;little did we know how quickly it would change.

Sunday, September, 8th. The day is overcast with thepossibility of rain. I tell my wife it's of no concern sincetoday we leave Paris, traveling 450 miles to the south where I'msure the weather is fine. We board a TVG train at the Gare deLyon station and head for the City of Avignon. TVG's arehigh-speed trains reaching speeds up to 160 mph, cutting traveltime down between Paris and the French Riviera to under threehours. As we head quickly south the rain does not decline as Ipredicted, instead it begins to increase. Fifteen minutes beforearriving at Avignon it increases dramatically. I tell my wifeit's probably a quick shower and all should be fine by tomorrowmorning, when the 700-dealer Avignon antique and collectors fairopens. We exit the TGV station in heavy rain, luckily a taxistand is close by, and with umbrellas in hand, (my wife nevertravels anywhere without them), we don't get too wet.

Few French taxi drivers speak English, knowing this in advanceI have an internet printout of my hotel confirmation with itsname on it. I show it to our driver, who nods recognition. Ourhotel in Avignon is the Mercure Palais des Papes, located in theold part of the city, just inside the old city walls.

The City of Avignon, situated on the Rhone River is steeped inhistory dating back to the second century BC. Its name comes from`Avenio' which means `town of the river,' and was a major Romantown until the 5th century. Compact in size, you could wander thenarrow streets inside the fortified walls for days without tiringof them. We will not be seeing them on this trip.

The rain, sometimes hard, continues the rest of the day. Onour room television I watch CNN World News, the only channel inEnglish. Watching the world weather report I see impending gloom.A wave of large storms are moving through the southern part ofFrance, bringing on-and-off heavy rains for the next two days.

Like most European fairs Avignon is an indoor/outdoor event,with half the dealers being indoors the other half outdoors. Whatwould happen if the rains came?

Monday, September 9th, 7:30 am. It is slightly overcast butnot raining. I leave the hotel by taxi for the 20-minute ride tothe Parc des Expositions Center, site of the Avignon collectorsfair. Wisely my better half elects to sleep in so I arrange a 1p.m. late checkout for her, which will later prove to be a wisedecision.

Apothecary jars and related memorabilia abounded, several dealers offered what might have come from a recently cleaned out old drugstore.

No admission fee is charged at Avignon, dealers and buyers allenter at the same time. I move quickly through the outdoorsection, knowing that I will have to visit it again later wheneverything is set out. I look for a number of things that I amfamiliar with, not all being bottles. Remembering that all I buywill have to be packed and carried on the return flight I try toconcentrate on smaller things. I buy several French figuralbottles, which are fairly available at these markets, althoughall are not in the best condition. I buy several more smallcobalt decorated stoneware pieces that are of German origin butsell well in the States. I look for small size wide mouth jars.Most are a dark olive green color and are of Dutch or Frenchorigin. I find a number of these, but all are of the larger size,which I leave. I stop and buy a figural lighthouse bottle that Ihaven't seen before. The dealer, a woman, speaks very goodEnglish, a rarity among French antique dealers. I ask her aboutthe weather forecast, as I eye an ever-darkening sky. "Theysay the rains are to hold off until the afternoon", shesays, "after that heavy rain is expected." I move alongheading for the indoor part of the market.

I see quite a number of French canning jars, the heavy glassones with the name LaLorraine and a thistle on the front, othershave only the name L'Ideale. All are in various shades of olivegreen and can be bought for under $10.00. Even at this price Ipass, again, the problem of getting them home. Two teakettle inksshow up, one, in cobalt, has a one-inch crack in it, which thedealer never mentions. I purchase the other, a nice lime greenexample for 250 Euro, ($238.00). The southern French markets area furniture dealer's delight. Many buyers, including Americans,buy container loads of furniture to be shipped back to theStates. The demand for this service is heavy with no less then 30professional packers and shippers on site to handle everyone'sneeds. Their trucks are parked in several rows just outside themain entrance. Each shipper employs several young `haulers' who,with a large two-wheel handcart form an almost continuous flowbetween the dealers' tables and the shippers trucks. I talkbriefly with an American from San Diego, California, who tells mehe, "ships four to five containers of things from France tothe States every year." Impressive, I'll be glad to stuff asmuch as I can into our check in and carry on luggage.

Part of the 400+ dealers set-up Saturday

morning at the Port de Vanves street market.

A rack of six L'Ideale canning jars in shades of

green at the Port de Vanves street market.

It is now 11 am, three hours since the market has opened. I'mback outside making my second pass through the rows of dealers'tables. Moving quicker now as the weather continues todeteriorate.

The sky is quickly darkening, forcing me to make a decision.Even though I haven't covered everything, I head for the mainentrance. At the admission table I ask one of the show managerswhere I can get a taxi back to Avignon. I'm told to, "walkout to the entrance road and wait, they will pick you upthere.”

I walk the 200 yards to the end of the entrance road and finda spot from which I can watch in both directions. An elderlycouple near me appears to also be waiting for a taxi.

A light breeze stirs the few small trees that line the road,in a few minutes the rain arrives, light at first but quicklyincreasing. I open my umbrella; the old couple have none. Soonthey approach me and a pact is quickly formed. We will all go inthe first taxi that shows up, splitting the fare, the waitcontinues and the rain gets heavier. Another half-hour passes andstill no taxi. The older couple gives up, returning to theprotection of one of the show buildings to wait for the rain tostop, which won't happen until sometime in the middle of thenight. A young Asian girl with a show security guard approach. Hehas made arraignments for a taxi to take her to the trainstation. She is traveling to Montpellier, for tomorrow's evenbigger antique and collectors fair. She speaks no French andlittle English, could I help? "Certainly" I say,thinking, anything to get out of this rain! The taxi arrives andI somehow get the driver to understand that she wants to go tothe train station and me back to the hotel.

Held at the Parc expo Frejugues, the 1,200 dealer Montpellier fair is the largest, and last,

of the three large antique and collectors fairs in held on three consecutive days in Southern France.

The Sunday fair at Avignon was marred by heavy rains.

Here the sky is quickly darkening, forcing me to head for the exit.

Back at the hotel my wife waits. We also have to take a trainfrom Avignon to Montpellier today, but not for several hours.Thanks to that late checkout I have enough time to quickly showerand change into some dry cloths.

Arriving at the train station we are greeted by massconfusion. Lines of people are waiting to talk to ticket agents,a large marquee across the top of the entrance to the trainsexplains why. `All trains traveling between Avignon andMontpellier have been cancelled'. I get in line, choosing theonly one having a sign above the ticket agent's window saying,`English spoken here.' Before I reach the window I'm aware fromlistening to people in front of me that we aren't going toMontpellier today. "Sorry sir,” problems with thetracks, no trains traveling today, come back tomorrow,” theagent says.

Another night in Avignon, we will need a room. Almost attachedto the station is an Ibis Hotel, very convenient, considering howit was now continuously pouring down rain. "Sorry, we'refull tonight" I'm told by the hotel receptionist. How manyhundreds of people planning on taking the train to Montpelliertoday are stranded, like us, in Avignon, and needing a room. Awoman desk assistant at the hotel is nice, and calls the hotelthat we had checked out of several hours earlier. "Sorry,they are filled up tonight also”. She calls several morehotels with the same results. I start to worry. Finally, on thefifth try we get a room. It's at the Hotel Kyriad, in the oldpart of Avignon, only two blocks from where we stayed last night.

One final problem remains. All day it seems that the Avignontaxi drivers are staying indoors, as it's impossible to get one.As we walk from the station I see no less the 20 people waitingat the taxi stand with none in sight.

From the station I quesstimate we are about one-half mile tothe hotel, once inside the city walls, about 100 yards away, someof that distance will be under trees. After another 15 minutesand no taxis I tell my wife “let's go”. We head out ina heavy rain, trailing luggage behind us. I don't recall how longit took to walk (jog) to the hotel, but we arrived soaking wet,my second time for the day. Most of the rest of the evening willbe spent drying out clothes using our room's pants press and hairdryer. (One hour per shoe with the hair dryer stuck inside dryednicely.) Watching a local TV station we see why we could not getto Montpellier. Heavy rains pushed the Rhone River out of itsbank into nearby low-lying towns. North of the City of Nimes asizable earthen dam gave way flooding the town, and over thirtypeople are missing.

Tuesday, September 10th. Sometime during the night the rainstops, in the morning we walk back to the train station. Weexpect no surprises, before leaving the hotel we are told by thedesk clerk that no trains will travel from Avignon to Montpellierfor several days due to track damage. At the station we are toldthat busses will be transporting those going to Montpellier. Weare pointed to the appropriate bus, and after a short wait are onour way. In route we see damage from the flooding, and, whenpassing through Nimes, of the broken dam.

Arriving late at Montpellier,

I was still able to buy things for resale back in the States

The bus arrives in Montpellier about 11 am, two hours afterthe opening of the antique and collectors fair. We check into ourhotel, the Sofitel Montpellier and in a half-hour I'm walkinginto the fair, held at the Parc expo Frejugues. At 1,200 dealersit is the largest, and last, of three large antique andcollectors fairs that one could attend in Southern France onthree consecutive days. (We missed the 800 dealers fair in thetown of Beziers, held on Saturday).

Like Avignon, Montpellier has an equal mix of outdoor andindoor dealers. Unlike Avignon the weather turns out to beperfect, a bright sunny warm day with low humidity and no chanceof rain. Being late I don't expect to fully cover all the dealersand may not have to. I recognize a number of the dealers fromAvignon by the merchandise they are offering, some of which hasnow been reduced in price. It's the last day for the weekendfairs and the dealers want to sell. I talk to a veteran Americanbuyer of these fairs. "Beziers is first and in some ways themost interesting as everything is fresh", he tells me."Avignon is the smallest but gets many new dealers who werenot at Beziers. Montpellier gets most of the Beziers dealers, agood number of the Avignon and new dealers who only do thisshow." By the time the Beziers and Avignon dealers arrivethey are ready to cut prices. It's a gamble, pay the going rateat Beziers or hope they still have what you are interested in, ata cheaper price at Montpellier."

For me personally it didn't matter, as almost everything Ipriced at the two fairs, I bought, or could have bought, if Icould have gotten it home. Early Dutch, French and German blackglass, particularly the wide mouth jars were 25% of what theysell for in the States. Good early German stoneware is alsocheap. I bought all the figural bottles I could carry, passing onmany of the more common ones, not because of price but sizelimitations. Then there was all those French canning jars, allpassed on. Small items like teakettle and other inks were allbought, though only several of these were found. Apothecary jarsand related memorabilia abounded, several dealers offered whatmight have come from a recently cleaned out old drugstore, mostlyall too large to bring back. I learn an important thing on thistrip, at the French collectors' fairs, size does matter.

Wednesday, September 11. Our TGV is speeding north, back toParis where we will spend a final night. The week went quickly,and for the most part enjoyable. Paris was fun, as the `City ofLights' always is. The heavy rains in the south keep us mostlyindoors at Avignon so the magnitude of this historic city was notfully enjoyed. The antique buying in Paris and the two southernfairs was good, and a lot about antiqueing in France was learned.

But, did I learn enough to earn enough on a return trip? If wereturn will the end result be getting a free trip to France andpossibly finding something for my collection? Wait and see, whenthe Old Traveler returns from round two of antiqueing inFrance.....

Did you enjoy thisarticle? Every month Antique Bottle and Glass Collector magazinegives you neat stories like this one. Why not subscribe today,

it's easy just clickhere.SUBSCRIPTIONINFORMATION