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Au Temp Jadis - Part 2

( Originally Published 1938 )



Sunday morning

Three whole days have gone by without my taking my typewriter in hand to wish you well — days so swiftly filled that I know your collecting heart will comprehend and forgive. Sightseeing, antique-ing, and a little necessary shopping have taken all my time. Marie and I have a way of meeting at the Odιon — think how romantic to have a rendezvous under the statue of Augier — and then going on to the Luxembourg or the Cluny or to some old church, and of course stopping at every antiquity shop that we find. My French improves, or anyhow I am less tongue-tied. The first day I bought shell hairpins by the simple process of removing one and holding it up to public view; but now I can ask in fairly intelligible French for what I want. And my luck has grown with my language. Thursday morning I bought a pair of pretty glass candlesticks, six inches tall, delicately fluted, and quite charming, once I had washed off the accumulated grime of generations. Again I paid twenty-five francs, — I grow superstitious about this price, — and I got them at a shop on the rue de Tournon, a street which runs from the rue de Vaugirard down to the rue St.-Sulpice. There were other desirable things, too, for very little: a small Empire clock with slender pillars and a quaint painted picture for sixty francs; a shaving-stand, oval and ivory-inlaid, for one hundred; and a number of pretty bonbonnieres and boites a mouches — which we call patch-boxes — from twenty francs on. I know the figures seem a little staggering, but what you must do is to multiply by seven cents — a little more than the franc is worth at present — to understand about what I paid.

My next good fortune was to find an even smaller shop almost at the head of the rue de Vaugirard; here the prices were more than moderate, and the owner accommodating and delightfully easy to comprehend. I now drop in quite frequently, and there is always something I want. My first purchase was three candlesticks — a pair of plain brass with saucer bases and sliding buttons at the side; the third, a trifle taller but with a domed foot: all three for twenty francs. And the next day I got my fourth even cheaper: for five francs. This is an older type, for the others might have lighted the good bourgeoisie to bed every night of the early nineteenth century. Madame called it "epoque Louis Treize," a name, by the way, that French dealers bestow liberally upon antiquities, just as ours in America call everything "Chippendale." The candlestick itself is five inches tall, the base is octagonal, and instead of a button it has a little hole where a nail once fitted to lift out the spent candle-end. Of course I 'd like to think that D'Artagnan used one like it when he lodged with Pere Bonacieux; but I honestly think it might have been just as probably an eighteenth-century pattern, too.

Madame has some brass and copper warming-pans — bassinoires, she calls them. I bought one for twenty-five francs, — I can't help it; it 's my destiny! — and it was brass, with such an appealing design of hearts-and-spades-and-clubs-and-diamonds. Do you suppose it was made to the order of some determined card-player? There was another, heavier and handsomer, for only five francs more; but some-how it was this first quaint fancy which appealed to me.

Yesterday I had another bit of luck. Going back to the shop on the rue de Tournon, I found that one of the little boites a mouches which I had looked at longingly, had fallen from fifty-five to forty-five francs. So I bought it for you to put on your lovely Sheraton card-table, which matches its blended tones of browns and soft golden yellows. It is made from some West Indian wood, I think, and the tortoise-shell with which it is lined completely harmonizes with it. Set in the centre is a small gilt-rimmed portrait of an early-nineteenth-century lady, with the simple word Aveu written below it — a declaration which reveals the devotion of the gentleman who first sent it, and mine now as it goes to you.

And I must not forget my silhouettes, bought on the rue de Rennes, nor my pewter plate, found at the rue du Vieux Colombier — such a pretty name, for it means the street of the Old Dove-Cote. (Don't be puzzled, Isabel; all these streets form a network easy to unravel; it 's really not tiring to walk about them, if you don't do too much of it.) The plate, nine inches in diameter, of a fine clear color, slightly hollowed and well hall-marked, cost thirty-five francs, and I bought it from one of the oddest old ladies imaginable. She is certainly the great character of the antique-quarter, and she has been compared by some journalist or other to Little Nell, along in years. But indeed she 's not like that; she 's far more like the Marchioness — not at all gentle, but very lively, and with a spice of malice in her make-up.

You can find almost anything in her dark, too-crowded rooms, and her prices fall in proportion to your unwillingness to buy.

The silhouettes came from a shop of dignity, where military rarities and really fine bibelots chiefly are for sale. Rather larger than my other shades, cut from glossy black paper and mounted on white back-grounds, they are the early-nineteenth-century shadow-portraits of a worthy citizen and his good lady, and the oval, slightly chiseled gilt frames will be lovely when I have had time to rub them up a bit. The pair rank very high in my collecting affections; they are cut not only with finesse but with real humor, and I always imagine the couple seated facing each other at a long-ago tea-table, the gentleman chiding his spouse for the frivolity of her ribbons. And they were just thirty francs — less than I have frequently paid for single profiles in the country at home. There is no doubt that silhouettes are, as all the dealers tell you, "tres, tres rare." But that I expected; Mrs. Nevil-Jackson in her History of Silhouettes says that they are extremely difficult to find in France. Still, it does seem strange that here in Paris where Etienne de Silhouette preached his doctrines of economy, reproached the gaspillage of Louis Fifteenth's prodigal court, and for his prudent pains found himself discredited and his name given lightly to all trifling things, my dear shadows of the past should be so undiscoverable.

These are all my purchases as yet. Quite good, though, for the first week on a foreign shore, don't you think? So far, the pressed glass has been a disappointment — heavy and much less beautiful than our early Sandwich. Occasionally you see rather clumsy goblets exalted by the dealers as" Louis Philippe" or "Charles Dix," but, wander as I will, not a solitary cup-plate. The lustre, for the most part, is inferior — of that muddy chocolate color which with us means reproduction. As for the furniture, well, of course I don't think most French pieces are suited to American houses; the elaborate designs certainly not. But I have seen some charming slat-back armchairs with rush seats, in type very much like the one in Chardin's beautiful Benedicite. These average from ten to fifteen dollars apiece and they would be lovely and 'simple for any country home. I dare say they 'd be cheaper, too, in the provinces; anyhow I shall look in Touraine and Brittany. I found also five delightful Empire chairs, all for about seven dollars each: two with delicate marquetry, the other three lingeringly reminiscent of Louis Seize; the backs have that crosspiece design that you sometimes see in Sheraton chairs, and Sheraton, you recall, was "Louis Seize a l'Anglaise." Would you like one? I can be most generous, since, to my sorrow, I have n't a corner left.

Adieu, Isabel! The Seine continues to rise, the Ruhr invasion to go on, and still Paris seems busy and happy and undisturbed. Ah, it is an adorable city! I go now to the Louvre to pay my respects to the captivating Madame Seriziat.

Yours with an antique affection, ALICE



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