My life in France has been more than a geographical move; it’s been a dive into a collector’s paradise. France is the ultimate haven for those passionate about estate sales, antiques, and French brocantes. With its history and culture, it’s no surprise remnants of the past were left behind.
Let me take you on a tour of nearby places I’ve grown to love for their atmosphere and the French items I crave.
But first, here’s some background on my personal experience as a collector — which I am confident will sound familiar to many of you.
The Start of a Collector’s Passion
My collecting journey began in childhood with Ginny Dolls. Each doll was eight inches tall with delicate facial features, painted eyes, rosy cheeks, and a small, closed mouth. Each was priced at a mere two dollars. This childhood fascination blossomed into a lifelong passion for items that echoed the essence of dolls— doll-like salt and pepper shakers, for example. These shakers were not just ordinary kitchen items; they were pre-WWII, “Made in Japan” treasures. Each set represented a man and woman from a “foreign” country. Their uniqueness lay in their size– never exceeding two inches tall.
But my collection didn’t stop there. It extended to vintage Bakelite bangles and earrings, dozens of Longaberger baskets, and Buffalo Pottery blue willow china. My mantra was, “If there is more than one of these, I want them all.”
A New Chapter in France
Moving to France felt like stepping into a dream for this collector. Here, a “French brocante” is similar to a giant yard sale — a game of hunting and gathering. Brocante stores are a familiar sight in the south of France. In Uzès, there are weekends devoted to brocantes. Items are displayed on sidewalks and in parking lots, transforming the town into a tapestry of china, glassware, pottery, and castaway household treasures. These market days are not just shopping venues; they are cultural experiences.
Brocante, Vide-Grenier …
Collecting in France
There are various names associated with French vintage and outdoor sales, including:
- Brocante: Typically secondhand goods, antiques, and vintage items. It’s similar to a flea market or a bric-a-brac sale.
- Salon des Antiquaires: Antique fair or antique show where antique dealers and collectors gather to buy and sell antique items.
- Vide-grenier: Garage or yard sale, where people often sell a mix of secondhand items, including antiques and collectibles.
- Marché aux Puces: A “flea market” where you can find various secondhand items, including antiques and vintage goods.
- Foire aux Antiquités: An “antique fair” or “antique market” where antique dealers showcase their collections.
- Salon du Vintage: Vintage fair or show where vintage items, clothing, and collectibles are the main focus.
- Marché de Collectionneurs: A “collectors’ market” where people buy and sell collectible items.
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue: The Crown Jewel of Brocantes
The queen of this brocante experience in the south of France is L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. This quaint French village transforms into a bustling crowd of rabid collectors and tourists every Sunday. Dealers line the streets, offering items that range from bull horns to regal chandeliers. Tented stalls and permanent antique stores cater to the discerning eye, offering everything from vintage cheese knives to exquisite Louis XIV armoires. The town’s market day coincides with this, adding to the charm with local food vendors and Provinçal souvenir items.
French Vintage Treasures
Twice a year, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue hosts international fairs for collectors and exhibitors. Staged at Easter and in August, these events have elevated the town to a status comparable to Paris and London in international antique events.
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue: Views of the Past
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue derives its name from the Sorgue, a river upstream that divides the town into several islands, giving it the nickname “Venice Comtadine.” (“Comtat” was the original Papal state, which included the town.) Canals crisscross the city and are adorned with water wheels that harken back to the town’s industrial past.
Once enclosed by ramparts, the charm of the old town of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue today is dotted with Gothic and Renaissance-style buildings. The market is one of the oldest in Provence, dating back to the 12th century.
The town’s character was shaped by a large, thriving Jewish community, which, in the 15th century, was restricted to the residence around a single street known as the “career” (carreria in Provençal). Jews were forced to live on the street, which was closed at night. During the French Revolution, a counter-revolutionary uprising in July 1793 resulted in the town being pillaged and destroyed, including damage to the Jewish synagogue.
From the Industrial Revolution to Prosperity
The industrial revolution of the 19th century breathed new life into L’Isle-la-Sorgue. The wool industry, which had been part of the town’s heritage since the 12th century, saw significant growth. The city’s wool factories created a type of woven rug, “Tapins de l’Isle,” in 1840, representing an innovation in textile floor coverings. Later, they became the “Tapins d’Avignon.” Looms emerged at the end of the 19th century, further boosting the wool industry.
Wheels of Fortune
L’Isle employed between 300 and 400 workers during this period, particularly around the Arquet canal, where 17 wheels harnessed the energy of the Sorgue. One factory, The Brun de Vian-Tiran house, is open today and has operated since 1808.
Hydraulic energy wasn’t limited to the wool industry; it also powered other factories and craft workshops, such as flour mills, paper mills, carpentry, and metallurgy. There are around fifteen waterwheels scattered along the canals and waterways today — a testament to the town’s heritage.
Memories We Keep
For fellow collectors, visiting France, particularly L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, allows you to expand your collection and immerse yourself in the world behind the story. Every item is its time capsule — a tribute to those who cherish and preserve the past — a memory that we get to keep alive.
Where To Next?
Let’s check out more French brocantes and vide greniers!