When it comes to antiques, some people want only the best. They have money to burn and they pursue objects of their desire with an astonishing single-mindedness. They build and broaden their collections every chance they get, and they are relentless. Other people are elated by some serendipitous discovery of a little tchotchke – a little bauble – that they never before knew they couldn’t live without but that they now simply must have and that will satisfy them for a lifetime. Whether you fall into the former category or the latter, or somewhere in between, Paris is a cornucopia of antiques. But with such a plethora of options, how to make sense of it all? Here are four venues – the Carré Rive Gauche, Village Suisse, the Marché aux Puces, and the Drouot Auction House – that should offer something for everyone.
The Carré Rive Gauche, located in the 7th arrondissement, comprises 100 shops throughout an area that covers roughly rue des Saints-Pères on the east to rue du Bac on the west, and rue de Lille on the north to rue de Verneuil on the south. Most of the shops specialize in extremely high-quality antiques. Some of the shop owners are bona fide experts in their specialty. Others simply have a passion for their collections and want to share them with the buying public. The Carré Rive Gauche website lists the names, contact information and specialties of the boutiques in the Carré, but suffice it to say that just about all areas are represented, from primitive to 20th century items, including furniture, art, glass, sculpture, religious icons, and clothing.
The Village Suisse, which covers an area bordered by avenue de la Motte-Picquet and avenue Suffren in the fifteenth arrondissement (entrances are located at 78, avenue de Suffren; and 54, avenue de la Motte-Picquet), derives its name from the miniature Swiss village, complete with cows, that was built on the site for the 1900 Universal Exposition. Over the years, the location evolved into a center for antiques shops, gallery owners, and decorators, of which there are currently nearly 150. Some of the shops are large, some tiny, but here you will find a vast selection of items, both antique and more contemporary. The Village Suisse website, which is still under construction, includes a site map and will include information on vendors and their specialties.
Covering fifteen acres, the Marché aux Puces de Paris Saint-Ouen is the best known of the Paris flea markets and perhaps the largest in the world. An estimated 150,000 people visit the market every weekend. Located at the Porte de Clignancourt, just north of the eighteenth arrondissement, it comprises fourteen separate markets that include antiques dealers, retailers, designers, craftsmen, and artists. The place it crammed with just about every item you can think of, from huge sculptures to the most delicate of jewelry, and from virtually every historical period. Some of it is fine art, some of it is tchotchkes. But if you have the patience, there must be many a treasure to be discovered there. If you’re looking for something in particular, check the website for a description of what each market sells. It’ll save you a lot of time and trouble.
In addition, this is a market where those who would not be comfortable visiting the high-end shops can feel perfectly comfortable casually browsing. Most shop or stall owners will be happy to talk to you about their inventory, which includes everything from the most treasured to the most quirky. Two things you need to know before you go: the market is open only on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays (see website for hours); and when you exit the metro from Line 4 and head northwest toward the Marché aux Puces, you must keep walking past the hawkers of clothes and luggage and other inexpensive items until you get to the rue des Rosiers on the left, which is the main market street. You can then start your search from there.
Finally, there is Drouot, located at 9, rue Drouot in the ninth arrondissement, which is one of the oldest auction houses – Hôtels des Ventes – in the world. They opened their doors in 1852 and auctions they have held include the property of King Louis-Philippe 1st; the first impressionist auction, which included works by Berthe Morisot, Claude Monet, and Edouard Manet; and the furniture of Sarah Bernhardt. To stand in the lobby of Drouot is to realize you are in the Grand Central Station of auction houses. This is partially due to Drouot’s unique structure. That is, Drouot is an umbrella organization for the 75 “operators” that have bought into the organization for the right to sell their wares there. These include some of the best-known auction houses in Paris, including ArtCuriel, which has its own swank digs at the Rond-Point on the Champs Elysées, but which finds that Drouot’s services facilitate certain sales.
Drouot has 5,000 visitors a day and sells 600,000 items a year. In 2014, sales totaled 375 million euros, or about $450 million, and included purchases made by the Louvre, the Bibliotheque national de France, and the Château de Fontainebleau Museum. Yet, Drouot is the most democratic of venues, and it sells items that fit nearly everyone’s pocketbook. Anyone is welcome at any of the up to twelve auctions a day held in its sixteen auction spaces. You do not have to preregister, and if you bid and win, you simply pay on the spot and take your item with you. Online bidding is also available. As their website says, Drouot is a “Crossroads of the art market, inexhaustible reservoir of paintings, furniture and objets d’art from all periods and all values.” In other words, here you will find just about anything, and of any value. You just need to know what’s up for auction when, and for that you can check the website. You can also register to receive email notices of upcoming auctions for your areas of interest.
In addition to these venues, every arrondissement has shops selling antiques of one quality (or value) or another. The above venues could keep you busy for weeks, but if you want a little more information, check out the sidebar for additional venues.
There are two additional, lesser-known markets besides the Marché aux Puces. One is the Puces de Montreuil; Line 9, Porte de Montreuil; open Saturday, Sunday, and Monday), and the other is the Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves; Line 14, Porte de Vanves; open Saturday and Sunday). These are more like street markets, and the range of objects you can find is vast. They include second-hand clothing, garden furniture, ironwork, cameras, gramophones, books and old paper – really, the list is nearly endless. Check out their websites for more information.
One final venue worthy of a visit is Le Village Saint Paul, located between rue Saint Antoine and the Seine in the fourth arrondissement (Line 1, Saint-Paul). Most tourists have never even heard of Village Saint Paul, let alone visited, but it’s just a stone’s throw south of the eastern side of the Marais, and it’s lined with shops selling all kinds of antiques. The interior courtyard of one of the commercial areas, also called Village Saint Paul, holds flea markets (you will see signs for “brocante”) regularly, with upcoming markets scheduled for September 26–27, October 31–November 1, November 28–29, and December 19–20. Check their website for more information.
Carre Rive Gauche: Metro: Line 12, Rue du Bac or Solférino. Bus: Lines 24, 27, 39, 68, 69, 95, Pont du Carrousel-Quai Voltaire
Village Suisse: Metro: Lines 8 and 10, La Motte Picquet Grenelle. Bus: 80, Joffre Suffren; 82, General Detrie
Marché aux Puces de Paris Saint-Ouen: Metro: Line 4, Porte de Clignancourt; Line 13, Garibaldi. Bus: 56, 60, 81, 85, 95
Drouot: Metro: Line 7, Le Peletier; Lines 8 and 9, Richelieu Drouot; Line 12, Notre-Dame de Lorette. Bus: 20, 39, and 48, Richelieu Drouot; 67, Richelieu-Quatre Septembre; 74 and 85, Richelieu Drouot-Maitie du 9e