The Toronto Harbourfront Market in its Heyday

Our Harbourfront offerings circa 1983

Our Harbourfront offerings circa 1983

Every Sunday morning from the early 80’s to the late 90’s, the alarm would go off at our house at 4 a.m. The truck would be packed and the load tied down the day before, the lunch would be made and ready in the fridge, and our cloths would be set out. We would hop out of bed, get dressed, grab a coffee and get underway. An hour and a half later we would be pulling in to the Toronto Harbourfront Market, ready for another day of buying and selling. Rain or shine, we would make the journey, full of hope that the furniture and small items that we were offering would meet the approval of someone there.

When we started in the early 80’s the market would be held on about an acre of parkland near the terminal building, with the 100 or so vendors being set up in parking lots and green spaces right alongside the water. In the winter we would go across the road and inside an old one story warehouse. These were the glory days. It’s hard to imagine now just how “hot” the market was. The boomers in general had done well enough that their Toronto houses were paid for and they were madly buying up all the charming little farms and cottages within about a three-hour drive of Toronto. These rural places demanded antiques of course, being sympathetic to the rural environment, and a refreshing contrast to the city digs.

A loaded truck ready to go.

A loaded truck ready to go.

So in these days there was a large number of motivated collectors and dealers arriving about 6 a.m. vying to pick the best of what was being offered as it arrived. It was a thrill to arrive in our open pick-up truck, and have people run along beside us, racing up to the window to ask the price of the pieces they could see tied to the load. Often they would just say “yes, I’ll take it” even before it was unloaded, because they knew the competition was right behind them. It would happen occasionally that by the time we arrived at our spot, most of the furniture which could be seen was sold. Sometimes we had completely sold out by noon, but would still have to stay until five as to not create a disruption. We had our regular dealers whom we got to know would buy certain items without hesitation if the price was reasonable. You had to pay close attention. Sometimes two or three dealers would be right there as a piece was coming off and you had to be very conscious of who asked about the piece first, and who was next in line. It was easy with two people selling, under this kind of pressure to even sell the same piece to two different people. Tempers would flare. It was not always easy to sort out, and have everyone be happy with the results. It didn’t happen often, but it was difficult to avoid altogether.

Then by the mid-nineties, the Harbourfront development had other plans for the summertime parkland, and the wintertime warehouse, and so they built a brand new market at 390 Queen’s Quay W. As so often is the case, these new quarters under new management meant higher rents and lower sales. It continued to deteriorate until it was not profitable for us by the late nineties, and it eventually closed in early 2003.

Our friend, and avid collector Rod Brook used to say that he wanted to produce a book which presented exclusively all the incredible pieces that had been bought by collectors at the Harbourfront market during those glory years. Sadly, he died before he could accomplish this, but I’ll bet if someone took up the cause it would be an amazing document. For a while there it felt like it would never end, but then like everything else in life, it did.

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loading the truck for another Harbourfront Sunday.

Let’s visit a French antique market

FullSizeRender (2)The first Sunday of every month, there is an antique market in the town of Soumoulou, 10 km from the city of Pau in the South West of France. It goes from 8 am until 6 pm, and on average has about 100 dealers in attendance. Twice a year, in the spring and fall they have a large show which brings in about another 100 dealers. In this it is roughly equivalent to the Aberfoyle antique market held near Guelph, Ontario. Because my wife Jeanine is from this area, we have been visiting this market from time to time over the past thirty years, and like Aberfoyle we have seen changes. Primarily, a rise in interest and prices until about 2008, followed by a precipitous fall. There is still good attendance and sales taking place, but the packages being carried are smaller and fewer in number.
Still, it is a wonderful way for a person of my persuasion to spend a morning and so it was with great excitement that I woke, had breakfast, and got everyone underway, determined to get first dibs on anything special that may arrive. You’ve got to be on your toes. I remember a few years back being very disappointed missing out on a 100 years old terra cotta bust of an aristocratic French gentleman because I was still trying to figure out the exchange while a more astute dealer stepped in and bought it. Another time I almost cried because I was a few seconds behind a man from Provence in committing to what remains in my mind the most beautiful wrought iron butterfly panel which had graced the entrance of an old restaurant. IN A GADDA DA VIDA baby, indeed.

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Pictured here are confit pots. They are a local redware which are glazed on the inside, and part way down the outside. They were used to preserve cooked duck in goose fat before the days of refrigeration. As long as the pieces did not touch each other they would keep for about three years like this, getting more tasty all the while. To my mind Duck confit is one of the most delicious things you will encounter on this earth. Be sure to try it, if you get the opportunity. Today, these beautiful pots are used mostly as patio pots.  At one point about twenty years ago you would do well to find one available because they enjoyed such popularity in the States that all of them seemed to end up there. These were offered from 45 to 65 Euros. Hard to transport or I would have been tempted. For the scores of them that we have carted back over the years , we have kept only a few for ourselves.

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These little birch-bark storage boxes were very tempting ranging from 35 to 45 Euros each. The dealer said he bought them in Biarritz, and thought them to be local, but I was uncertain as I have never seen other examples here. Lovely patina and in excellent condition. Looking at the picture I wish I had bought them.  I find I never regret the things I buy, only the things I pass on.

 

 

FullSizeRender (5)I have brought back several of these wine bottle drying racks over the years. People made and bottled their own wine here so the bottles would be cleaned out and dried to be reused.

I love the exchanges here between dealers and potential customers. It’s a more in your face, and no bars held. I overheard a woman who was negotiating the purchase of a vase say, “what, did you wake up in the middle of the night after dreaming that price”. The dealer laughed and a deal was made. We had a wonderful morning looking at everything. Most of it very different than the things offered at home, and we managed to find a half a dozen things that we could fit in out suitcases and bring back as gifts. There’s nothing I enjoy more that an antique market on a crisp spring morning. You never know what you will find.

 

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Opening doors – a view from France

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the village of Amou

Now, after three weeks in this little town of Amou, in the south west of France, I can offer that my perspective on antiquity has changed, and developed by being here; and I find it invigorating. So much of this place remains essentially the same as it has been for a hundred years, and more. Old here is medieval, not circa 1900. Taking daily walks around town, you absorb the subtleties of age. You notice the details, and you feel that minus the cars, things might look much the same as they were in your grandfather’s time, or even his grandfather’s time. People just don’t change things unless they need to. A different perspective.

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door to a shop which sold horse meat

I would offer that this is a good argument for travelling to one place and staying put for awhile, as opposed to the way we travel these days which is the seven cities in seven day’s concept. Take a selfie in front of the Arc de Triumph, and move on to Brittany. Tomorrow we will be in Vienna. For example, you will see people in the Louvre walk by a monumental 18th century painting of a shipwreck; stop, take a shot on their I-phone and move on to the next. It seems the concept is just to document that you were there. What’s the point? Stop and smell the roses.

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17th cent. door in Amou

There are many opportunities to buy antiques in France. Now in spring “Vide-greniers” or “Empty the Attics” occur at the weekends in several small towns and cities. If you go on-line and google “Vide-Greniers – les Landes” which is the name of this region, you will get a list of what’s happening around here. These are typically on a Sunday, and everybody participates, much like the town yard sales at home. There’s a lot of junk, but you can also find some real treasures if you are there early enough. Bigger cities often have a weekly “Marche d’antiquites”. We have found fantastic things by arriving about 6 am Thursday morning in nearby Bayonne . Again get there early or forget about it. By noon the bottles of wine and lunches are spread on the tables, and then it’s pack up and go home. Again you can find them listed on the internet. “Depot-Ventes are the French equivalent of consignment shops. Hey were very popular a few years ago, but I notice there are less around these days. A” Brocante” is a shop which offers antiques and vintage items. A bit of everything or anything which is collectable. There are also “Shops de Antiquity” which offer only older and usually more upscale items. Last but not least you have the “Salle d’expositions” which are the French equivalent of our Antique shows. Held either indoors in a hall, or outdoors like the Christie show. There is one this weekend in nearby Somoulu which we plan to attend. I’ll give you a report next Friday.IMG_1144

Thoughts and observations on the 2013 Bowmanville Antique Show

bow13shadThis is a picture of my booth at the 40th Edition of the Bowmanville Antique show. which was held Good Friday, March 29, and Saturday March 30th.  As you can see I went heavy on the folk art and light on furniture.  I love antique furniture, but I just don’t have the back for it anymore. If you want to see a slew of good pictures of the show please follow this link –  http://www.facebook.com/groups/126697675589/ to Adrian Tinline’s Canadiana Antiques facebook page.  If you are unfamiliar, this also serves to introduce you to this lively and informative forum.  Join, if you will.

This year Bowmanville was, as always a beautiful show, full of exceptional works of antique and folk art, and early handmade Canadian furniture and accessories.  All 24 exhibitors took special care to select and present their. best wares.  Many dealers put aside special pieces all year to present them here for the first time.

The show started humbly in 1973 when picker and collector extraordinaire Rob Lambert decided to invite the best dealers in the field of Canadiana to hold an annual spring show near his home in Bowmanville, Ontario.  In those early days dealers set up their offerings in their rooms at the Flying Dutchman hotel. When the starting bell rang, people would run (quite literally) from room to room to get ahead of their rivals, and purchase the treasures presented.  It was wild and hectic, with occasional  incidents of pushing and near fisticuffs. People were passionate about their collections back then.  It quickly gained the reputation of being “the” Canadiana show and it’s numbers and reputation grew from year to year.

Eventually the show moved to the G.B. Rickard Recreation Complex where it has continued to be held until present day.  For the past several years it has been expertly run  by Bill and Linda Dobson.  They have worked hard to maintain it’s tradition as a high quality, vetted show.  The vetting process is carried out before the show by a group of experts who go from booth to booth checking everything out for authenticity, quality, and accuracy of presentation.  Any repros, rebuilds, or items not meeting the criteria of the show are removed at this time.

I’ve been doing the show for about twenty years.  I’ve always been happy to do it, but I’ve also always fretted about doing well.  It all happens so fast. The bulk of the business is done within the first two hours of the show, People line up well ahead of time.  From time to time people even camp outside the door overnight to be first in line. With so many beautiful items competing for attention, you have to be ready to rumble when they come running through the door at  6 pm. Chances are that by eight o’clock you will have sold the bulk of what you are going to sell. You are on your feet and on your toes  selling, wrapping, and doing the math during those first two hours and then everyone clears out. By  9 pm you are either happy or concerned, but at least there is a good meal waiting for you.  Bill and Linda have always had wine and beer and food ready to bring out as the show closes, and for the last couple of years Mary Jo Field has been producing absolutely fabulous meals that in themselves are good enough reason to book the show.

Although many come to see the show on Saturday the atmosphere is considerably more relaxed. This is fine because  it allows you an opportunity to see the show, and chat with other dealers. Many of who I now see only once a year at this show. These chats often result in a few more sales or swaps.  Then it’s all over at 4, and within a couple of hours you’re packed and on your way home, either feeling great, or not so great, or disappointed.  It’s that kind of show.  Some people will always do well, and some people not so well.

I’d say that for the past couple of years, like everywhere else, sales have been slower, but there are positive signs too,  Prices are noticeably more reasonable, and interesting pieces, priced right do sell. It’s also great to see the show now includes three young dealers, Ben Lennox, Adrian Tinline, and Fairfield’s Antiques.  All had excellent booths, and added to the excitement with their enthusiasm and knowledge.  I also find it encouraging to see more young faces in the crowd, attendance figures are up over last year.

Here’s hoping that the Bowmanville show will continue to be a great place to see and buy the best in early Canadian antiques and folk art  for at least another forty years.