PARIS — Parisians adore fine antiques almost as much as they despise old clothes. Hundreds of antiquaries in the City of Light offer all sorts of verifiable treasures and a lot of old junk that is of interest simply because it has survived the ages.
Antiques from everywhere are sold here. Shops specialize according to period or type of object. There are dealers with Renaissance, or Second Empire furniture, others with Art Deco glass or Roman terra cotta, and still others with Oriental objets d'art, Russian icons, clocks, books, scientific instruments, Etruscan vases or porcelain dolls.
The biggest selection and best buys are in collectibles of French origin. Periods go in and out of favor. Fad influences the price of items from a given period at a given time, but most French antiques are less expensive here than they would be at home. Price variations depend not only on quality but also on the location of the shop.
On the up-market side there's the expensive, elegant and exclusive Louvre des Antiquaires, a veritable treasury of antiques of all sorts, in a palatial building at 2 Place de Palais Royal (Metro: Palais Royal or Louvre) in the 1st arrondisement. Louvre des Antiquaires houses about 250 antique dealers, each with a small glass-fronted shop that is decorated to attract attention amid all the competition.
Three Floors of Shops
The shops are distributed over three floors, each of which has little streets or allees on which storefronts display all categories of collectibles, including period furniture, jewelry, paintings, archeological artifacts, Art Deco and nouveau, personal accessories, dolls, games, rare books and more.
The building is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Dealers set their own hours, so not all of the shops are open the entire time.
For browsing, the Louvre des Antiquaires rivals the Musee du Louvre across the street. An exhibition hall has rotating shows, including a private collection of magnificent miniatures with 17th-Century marquetry furniture.
The building, itself of historic interest, was constructed during the 1850s. That is admittedly not ancient by Parisian standards, but the building was formerly the Grand Hotel de Louvre, which listed Mark Twain among its celebrated guests. The exterior has been carefully preserved, with arcades at street level, iron balconies around upper stories, and dormer windows jutting out of the gray mansard roof, just as during the day of Napoleon III.
The inside is renovated with benches, escalators and a restaurant. The management sets high standards for resident dealers. Galerie Francois Antonovich has exceptional terra cotta objects from ancient civilizations, including Egyptian, Greek and Roman pieces, with beautiful statues, vases and ancient glass.
Dolls and Toys
At Volubilis, Gerard Eitenbled's splendid 19th-Century dolls are obviously cared for with great respect and love. In addition, the shop sells antique games and toys. Andree Debar has exceptional furniture from the era of Napoleon III, as well as lovely art nouveau collectibles.
Hugette Riviere also has fine Napoleon III furniture and objets d'art, very much in vogue. Nicole Kramer has a fabulous collection of small objects including ivory, mother of pearl and tortoise shell boxes, playing or visiting card holders, notebooks, frames for miniatures, all from the time of Napoleon III.
Alain Lesieutre shows art nouveau and deco bronzes, tableaux, drawings and glass. The magnificent selection includes pieces by Bugatti, Chiparus, Galle and Daum.
Lesieutre shows his private collection (fascinating, but not for sale) at his other shop at 9 Rue de Beaune, one of the narrow streets of the 7th arrondisement, across the Seine. Many Louvre des Antiquaires dealers, as well as other antiquaries, have shops in this area, known as the Carre Rive Gauche. The shops are larger than those at Louvre des Antiquaires, and sometimes less expensive. The Carre Rive Gauche, bounded by the Quai Voltaire, Rue des Saints Peres, Rue de l'Universite and Rue du Bac, has about 100 interesting antique shops.
Village Suisse, a collection of about 100 reputable antique dealers, is at 56 Ave. de la Motte-Piquet in the 7th arrondisement. Use either the Eiffel Tower or the Hilton Hotel as a landmark. Village Suisse has almost as wide a variety as Louvre des Antiquaires. Overall quality varies greatly. Displays are less dazzling and merchandise is a little less pricey than at Louvre des Antiquaires. Village Suisse is open Thursday through Monday.
If you're good at bargaining, try the antique stalls at the Marche aux Puces (flea market) at Saint Ouen, an industrial suburb on the northern border of Paris. You can get there by taking the Metro No. 4 line to Porte de Clignancourt and walking several blocks. Meandering through the crowded little alleys is fun, but watch your valuables, and know your antiques before buying.