Tuesday, August 17, 2010


"Don't touch", she bellowed as she smacked the outstretched hand of a prospective buyer.  "Stop messing with my display.  If you're not going to buy, leave!"  At best, her paste jewellery was hardly valuable. 

When she finally dispersed the French students whose valiant attempts to buy some of her trinkets had been sternly rebuffed, my husband, an onlooker known for his cheerful outspokenness, said teasingly, "Now have you finally got everything under control?"  The wild-eyed vendor, iron gray hair springing from her head like electrified steel, rolled her eyes alarmingly.  It was obviously time to move on.  Portobello antique market with its 1300 eager
vendors beckoned.

Since Roman times dating back to 43AD, London has been a trader's city; a center for buying and selling everything from horses to love potions, medicinal concoctions to objet d'art, including what today we consider to be antiques.  Local street markets, boot sales, flea markets and antique markets do brisk business in a wide range of collectibles of varying antiquity.  At any of these attractions the odds are good for a knowledgeable, and on occasion a lucky shopper, to find a rare and priceless 'jewel'.

Topping my list of favourites is Portobello in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.  Considered to be one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world, business is brisk well before daybreak.  The 'Good Fairy' opens at 4 a.m.  Between then and first light, local dealers anxious to acquire the latest valuable finds, meet out-of-town dealers in a literal scramble of snatch and grab.  As the vans and trucks pull in, torch-wielding antique hunters, like hungry lions on a kill, invade before the drivers are out of their cabs.  Why all the tension?  As the saying goes, "the early bird gets the worm". 

It's not uncommon for museum grade antiques to change hands during these early morning exchanges; a brief and frenzied spell when dealers with luck or quick judgment frequently acquire something of value.

Posted by Anne Gordon on 17th August, 2010.


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