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Buying Antiques AbroadAuthor: Valerie Van Tassel
(Article orginally published December 1960)
ALMOST every tourist is actually a collector. He may collect facts and impressions, gifts or souvenirs, maps or postcards, friends or acquaintances, movies or snapshots of the places and people he sees. He may be even a collector of antiques. The person who sets out to buy antiques abroad must have a different approach from the other tourists. It takes some knowledge of what is available and where to look for it. There is also the language barrier and money problem in foreign countries-even in England one has to learn something about their words and their coinage. However, one can locate antiques anywhere in western Europe. You may not find much, especially if you are a tourist-collector.
With modern travelers, the question of time is one of the major problems. Most tourists in this air age have a limited number of days or weeks in which they are trying to see as many places as possible. That is usually the object of their trips, but the result is too often a day-by-day rush from place to place. Last year, I found very little to buy in eastern Europe. This year, I found very little in South and East Africa. However, it is a great satisfaction to bring back a few treasures-even if they are not of great value. Who knows you may discover something very choice.
Tourists in America, England and west European countries, where there are a great many English-speaking peoples, do not find shopping difficult. Also, there are many antiques in these places. London and Paris are well known centers for collectors. There you will find articles of the periods that are most likely to be of interest to you. Possibly you'll discover what you have been searching for. In other cities, such as Munich and Vienna there are many shops where antiquers can buy or browse. In the former city, I found some lovely Meissen figurines for my collection.
The situation is different as you travel eastward. In the Middle East you will find little open-front shops or large open markets. In these fascinating bazaars, bargaining is a recreation as well as a business. It is really too bad to be in a hurry-you pay too much and you spoil the shopkeeper's fun. There is also a difference in the type of articles you will find. The Middle and Far East have a long history, and there are objects of great age there, but the casual tourist is not apt to discover much that is very old. Perhaps, he won't find anything that can be called a true antique. Nevertheless, there are some items available, especially nineteenth century brasses which are worth taking for either a collection or a decoration in your home.
This past spring my trip to South America and Africa covered about thirty thousand miles, but we were unable to spend any length of time in any one city. Primarily, I was the usual sight seeing tourist taking a cruise with my husband. However, I did try here and there to do some antiquing and talk to people about the availableness of antiques in their region. In the cities along the coast of South America, I looked for Spanish and Portuguese articles. In central South Africa, I found mostly English and French pieces with some old Dutch items. Along Africa's eastern coast, in the exotic cities of Durban and Zanzibar, I found ivories and teakwood from China and India. In the bazaars of Cairo I picked up copper and brass that is seventy-five to a hundred years old.
The little candelabra (pictured), bought in Montevideo, illustrates what can be accomplished without benefit of a common language. So far, everywhere I've been, arabic numerals have proved to be a universal sign language. One must know the local exchange rate. Then by writing numbers on a paper, we arrive at a price. Of course, we must always be the judge of the item's worth-its value to us.
In all the larger cities, you can find valuable articles if you have the time to search for them. For example, in South Africa there are still pieces of old Dutch craftsmanship to be found. You might locate some Cape silver, lovely ebony and satinwood furniture or the early kitchen utensils made of teakwood and brass. Eighteenth century Japanese Imari brought there by the early traders can be found sometimes.
Don't forget, you can send your treasures home by cargo ships. Small or large items can be shipped this way much cheaper than by air. Of course, if you are one of those exceptional air travelers who is under the weight limit, you can carry your smaller purchases with you. The Meissen ware figurines I bought in Munich a few years ago arrived weeks later (by boat) in perfect condition. A large silver cabinet I ordered last May in Lisbon, Portugal, has just come. Agree on a price for both article and shipment with the shop owner. In western Europe, a personal check is acceptable in every sizable city. Be sure to obtain a bill for customs declaration purposes. Don't forget you must declare your purchase if it is not older than 1830. If your treasures are older than 1830, you may bring them into the United States duty free. Rugs and musical instruments come under a different classification (they must be still older), and it is better to check with the customs agent about them.
Cruise ships are wonderful receptacles for shoppers. You can bring in an almost unlimited amount, but then, you must remember there is the problem of transportation from the port city to the home city. However, it is all part of the fun of shopping abroad where you can buy either modern items or antiques.
The world is growing smaller with each new invention in the airplane field, and even the ships are faster than some years ago. Thousands who never dreamed of collecting antiques in Europe have been doing just that. If you didn't accomplish all you hope to on your last trip, you may next time. Soon you will be flying around the world as easily as you now fly to Europe. To avail yourself of every opportunity to shop, learn as much as possible what to expect before you leave home. May you be lucky in your search.