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How to Navigate Flea Markets like a Pro

Today I packed a breakfast quiche, some sweet tea, a hat, and sunscreen and headed out before dawn for a flea market.
When I arrived, Billy, a favorite vendor  had something special tucked away for me. It was a pair of Italian D'oro Wheat Sheaf sconces from the early 1960s. Mint condition and newly rewired.
Coco Chanel and Yves St.Laurent decorated their own Paris apartments with Italian tables and sconces bearing the wheat sheaf  design, a symbol of abundance. Since 2013, manufacturers have been recreating these beautiful light sources at a retail price of  about $175.00 . But these were the real deal and authentic ones can fetch 1500 to 1800 dollars a pair on websites like 1st Dibs.

This pair were investment pieces guaranteed to remain popular for decades to come.

Billy has often saved me some special items, ranging from a mossy green crystal chandelier taken from a Chateau in WWII to sterling smalls, but I think these are my favorite. It takes years and a lot of sales to get vendors to learn your tastes and make special efforts on your behalf but you can still shop the fleas like a pro. Here are a few of my tips.

Shop alone. Vendors know you are serious if you don't have a bunch of friends in tow. Bartering is easier if the vendor doesn't feel out numbered.

Carry an expensive handbag and wear good jewelry.
Flea market vendors believe people with money don't like to part with it. In fear that they may overprice an item and have you walk away, they low ball the price up front in hopes of getting your business.
 For this reason, I carry a Prada bag to flea markets.

Always glance under the table. A friend who works at Tiffany's collects antique jewelry. He found a  platinum necklace tucked under a table for 50 dollars. It was appraised at $10,000. Some items get put under the table so that people don't walk off with it or to prevent damage and are  pulled out only if you ask.

Take cash. Most vendors these days are set up for online purchasing via their phone but cash always talks a good talk and can get you a better deal. Cash might not get reported for tax purposes, cash has no transaction fees, and cash never gets declined by the bank. As the vendors say, "cash is king".

If the vendor won't barter, ask them to throw in additional items.  Billy would not barter on the sconces so  I asked him to throw in a couple of sterling pieces..I had been eyeing a beautiful roccoco  sterling ladle and was able to get him to toss it in.

Go early. If there is a vendor whose items you consistently like at each market, go there first. Being their first sale of the day will get you a really good deal. Vendors are a superstitious lot and the days first sale is traditionally sold at a loss as they believe doing so brings good fortune for the rest of the weekend.
If  you can't decide between two items that you want and your budget says you can only buy one, buy the one that you are least likely to ever find again.
And most important,,wear comfortable shoes! No one can adequately navigate acres of flea market stalls if their feet hurt.
(photos by me)


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