National Geographic : 1957 Mar
As I scraped my bowl with a crust of French bread, I explained to Jean my plan for acquiring the desk at a reasonable price. "We'll operate as we used to in the Thieves' Market in Shanghai," I said. "This shop keeper thinks we're interested in the horse; so we'll focus attention on that. Then we'll bring in two or three pieces of furniture, in cluding the desk, and get a price for the lot. Then we'll start eliminating one piece after the other and make a note of the price of each. Then we'll go back to the desk and start bar gaining at that price." "It's worth trying," Jean agreed, "but let's not go back right now. He might get sus picious. We'll wander around for another hour, then try our luck." Market Started by Ragpickers Wander we did. Time means little in those crowded stalls, and we surveyed the whole complex. The present market, a shopkeeper told us, was established in the latter part of the last century, near the northern walls of Paris. The ragpickers-chiffonniersin French - who even today comb the city's trash cans every morning, made their headquarters in a collection of rough shacks inside the walls. Their daily gleanings furnished the mart with its stock in trade, and their reputation as carriers of vermin gave the Flea Market its name. Thrifty French housewives got in the habit of going to the Marche aux Puces for odd items hard to find in more prosaic shopping centers-a new wheel for the baby carriage or a porcelain doorknob to match the wall paper in the guest bedroom-and shortly after the turn of the century foreign travelers dis covered the place. So amusing, they said, and told their friends. Canny Paris antique dealers, quick to rec ognize a good thing, moved in. Some came first to buy stock for their shops on the fashionable downtown streets. Soon they had established branches. Now the market con + Costly Antiques and Worthless Junk: the Flea Market Has Plenty of Both Page 320: Prosperous shopkeepers display fine china, hand-cut crystal, period furniture, and an occasional old master, or copy thereof. Some of the most ex pensive shops in downtown Paris maintain branches here. But for every dealer in art objects there is a mer chant in secondhand clothing or used hardware. Both classes share one thing in common: they love to haggle. No wise buyer pays their asking price. Justin Locke 3£1 An Old Lantern Holds Brooches, Miniatures, and a Cigarette When trade is slack in the Flea Market, dealers frequently buy and sell among themselves. Old-timers like to tell the story of a Louis XIV chair that changed hands five times in three days, finally going to an Englishman for four times the original price. + The dealer insisted this Napoleon III coat of arms once graced the Chateau de Compiegne.