A Visit to my Aunt

How I love discovering something new, and today’s discovery particularly gratifies me because it fits so well into our current themes of the seventeenth century and the Marais. While doing a small, self-guided tour of historic buildings in the Marais -which is pretty much every building – I stood shivering and reading from the guidebook about hotels particuliers on rue Francs-Bourgeois. I spied a building flying the tri-color and took a closer look.

Unknown Hmm. Looks like a bank or insurance company. I went to see what was posted up outside. What’s this? “Visite”? “Encheres”? An auction house of some kind? I’m in.


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Entering a lovely courtyard with fountain, I had a number of doors to chose from. The one marked “ventes” made sense, so I plunged right in.

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photo 2 Once inside, I found a bustling auction in progress. “Madame, vous etes en retard,” the auctioneer joked. I smiled and waved.

Wow. Was this ever better than the auction house, Drouot. COMFORTABLE SEATS.


It was a jewellery auction and the auctioneers were flying through the lots. Many of the lots were gold items, sold in bulk.Unknown-1

Let’s back up for a minute, history buffs. What was going on here and what exactly is the  Credit Municipal de Paris? Known locally as “Ma Tante”, and originally as the Mont de Pitie, it is where you can go for a loan when you are particularly hard up. A money-lender. A massive pawn shop. You hand over your valuables, a value is assigned, and you can borrow up to 50% of the value.

Ma Tante will take just about anything of value. It turns out that she even has a wine cellar.

louis-xiii-1 _var_www_creditmunicipal_upload_1_105x152_f_722  Louis and Richelieu

Established  by Louis XIII,  and, later, supported  by Cardinal Richelieu,  the idea was to offer a fair deal to those in need.   With a few time-outs for Revolution and such, the Credit has been in business  from its seventeenth century origins to this day.  In fact we saw a number of people going in the other door off the courtyard and thinking about it later, I realized that these people were going to drop stuff off and get their “pret sur gage”.  They didn’t seem so pitiable. No Cossettes,  nor little match girls. No wailing or shifting about shamefacedly.

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A poster outside the auction hall. Victor Hugo doesn’t think we should be ashamed to go to ma tante, either. Apparently 91% of those who take a loan pay it off. If, after a year, they fail to do so, their goods are sold at auction and the money is used to fill the cash coffers for more loans.

Back to the auction.  Jewellery was flying out the door and the prices were fou. Examples.

70369 Platinum ring with a half carat diamond. Went for 200 euros. Seriously.

Another one, also .50 carats  :70316   Went for 500 Euros. Still an amazing price. Here’s another objet d’interet:

70438 Cartier Tank watch (les Must de Cartier) went for 210 Euros.

I didn’t bid but wish I had on this last item. Never fear, there is one auction left in January, and guess who will be there?

Hunting and Gathering

It has been a good week for hunting and gathering. At Drouot, the auction house, there were 15  auctions taking place throughout Wednesday afternoon.  I was commissioned by a young friend to bid on a (Hermes) Kelly bag as two were on offer at the fashion auction. I don’t quite approve of the brand obsession attached to the Kelly,  but I was happy to go, catch the scene, and drop by another auction, this one devoted to antique textiles. Imagine. A roomful of people interested in dropping a thousand or more euros on a piece of Renaissance embroidery. Talk about specialized.  I love fabric and had to see these lovely pieces of textile art as they came out. This is close to the  way they looked: 8a4454c80b75d78c628d974e3276e1c977219ddbd6b9b552c6228fb150986cee Beautiful, no?

I also had a second motive. Remember that Kuba fabric from Zaire that I hankered for at the flea market? Here is a reminder:01bb5960f265b02868cb8fbce9b04e8e96231491fc  I had learned on-line that  there was a lot on offer containing three pieces. I sat expectantly and in due course the lot came up, described somewhat sniffily as “Du raffia”. What luck. In this crowd of high rollers no one was interested in “du raffia”, and so it was mine for 25 euros. How much did that flea market guy ask for one piece of the same? I think it was 75 euros. Here  are my trophies.

019aea9edbf14ae711240bf02d1f903f7428cb7afd  Here is what they will look like if I make them into pillows. What do you think? Should I frame them instead?

411fc990a6a17742c813846d1dbd8ab0  I have been reading about how the artisans weave these, husbands and wives sharing the tasks of collecting palm leaves, stripping and tufting the fibres. Quite interesting. But I could not rest on my laurels. There was fashion to be had.

Upstairs in the fashion auction, a roomful of women resembling Lee Radziwill were packed like proverbial sardines. It was easily as interesting watching them as the Chanels, St. Laurents and Givenchy’s coming off the racks.There were hundreds of items sold and the auctioneer handled the bidding from the crowded room as well as from a crowded table full of Drouot staff working the phones and computers. She was very amusing, full of patter, “Mais c’est ravissante!” , “C’est du Sonia” (Rykiel), “Jamais vous ne le regretterez”. There were many bargains, especially if you long for a little black dress, an impossibly chic black suit or two, or a fur. Personally, while I admire these items, they do not actually fit into my lifestyle. Perhaps I should change my lifestyle. The furs were going for A SONG – by which I mean 200-250 euros. For mink. In my view you shouldn’t have to feel guilty about the mink because you got it second-hand. Someone else was responsible for its death, there is no point throwing it in the garbage now.  Unfortunately for Sophie, the Kelly bags were not going for a song, unless that song is “Money, Money”. They brought 500 and 1000 euros respectively. I think that’s ridiculous but no doubt there are a couple of people out there convinced they got a bargain.

You might think that I would have had quite enough by now, but auction-going is not for the weak. The last hour is the crazy hour and I had spotted just the right kind of junky/garage-sale-esque auction going on in the basement. It was me and a bunch of guys named Salim as things got down to the wire. Amidst the pseudo-antiques there were some quite nice things and they were going for nothing. I mean it this time. A piano in good working condition went for 20 euros. I had spotted a stack of rugs and I was thinking that a couple of small ones would probably fit in my luggage. The rugs came on last. They brought out the small ones and slapped them down on the table. A cloud of dust rose up. They were selling all of the small ones (10? 12?) in one lot! What to do? How could I take all of them? I didn’t want all of them! But the auctioneer couldn’t even get 20 euros for them. The price came down to 15 euros. My mind was racing. And as it did so the lot sold. Rats!  No matter, Salim assured me. “You will find many things here.” No doubt. Tomorrow, Hunting and Gathering II.

The Mother of all Auctions

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Hotel Drouot is the largest auction house in the world. On a quiet day, there will be five or  more auctions taking place simultaneously and it is possible to wander from one to the other to take in the drama of this special and intense world. On their website, you can find out which auctions are taking place and even access the catalogues to see in advance if anything interests you and learn  the estimates. Today, the auctions included  Eastern Art and Antiquities, Fashion, Nineteenth Century Art, Furniture and Objets d’Art and Jewellery. Thousands of Euro’s change hands by the minute and there are many surprises as the hammer comes down. I love to see big bargains, even if I am not the one taking them home.


Uncharacteristically for me, I was going to see jewellery today. I don’t have a lot of jewellery; what I do have is good and classic, although I also have a weakness for vintage brooches. More on that another time. Let’s say that you are in Paris, and you are celebrating what the French would call an Important anniversary, and your dear Parisian friend, Genevieve, more on her another time, said that you had to go to the jewellery auctions because the bargains were just, well, ….. (she shrugs). My indefatigable husband and I boarded the bus 67 and a mere ten minutes later, voila!photo 1

You can tell you’re there because the neighbourhood has so many antique stores of many kinds.

photo 1 photo 2 photo 3Store windows with lovely prints, stamps (still big, who knew?) and antique books. I have never been in these stores. Seem a bit scary….

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Inside, the auctions are hotting up. Standing room only.

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Look closely at the fashion auction. The Louis Vuittons are stacked up on the runway.

Now let me explain a little something. I am a prudent shopper who does not give in to impulse. I like to check out all my options and when I see something I want to buy, I wait til the next day and see if I still want it. This shopping style does not work at the auction, so I have had to change. However, I did my online research and knew what i might bid on and had an idea of how high I would go. Still, in the thick of the auction/action, it’s a heart-pounding, high adrenaline moment. SOMEONE IS BIDDING AGAINST ME, HELP!

Fear not. I won the day, my husband next to me,  clutching my hand and beaming. Here is my trophy, an extraordinary bargain, bought well under the Drouot estimate. As we strolled away, I found myself humming the Marseillese. photo

Lot number 14, an eternity band, diamonds set in a platinum cross setting. C’est magnifique, more than I could hope for. Thank you, Alan, for so many great years.