The history of the Parisian flea markets goes back several
centuries to the days when ‘rag-and-bone’
men would search the streets at night for old items being
thrown out, which they then sold on their makeshift stalls.
Known as biffins, chiftires, crocheteurs or pecheurs de
lune, the rag-men became unpopular, partly because they
were associated with the inhabitants of the Cour des Miracles,
an area of Paris frequented by beggars and thieves.
By the late 19th century they had been driven out of the
city by the new authorities. They set up their stalls
on the other side of the city walls, notably around the
Porte de Clignancourt, but also near the city gates of
Montreuil, Vanves and Kremlin Bicetre. Gradually some
of the rag-and-bone men joined forces, and their displays
of miscellaneous objects spread out on the ground just
below the gate at Clignancourt attracted the interest
of the people of Paris who came out to take a look.
Before long the numbers of visitors and traders grew and
the market became a fashionable place for Parisian collectors
to be seen. In 1885 the St-Ouen authorities decided to
clean up the area and make it safer. Pavements were constructed
along the main streets to help the traders set up their
stalls - in return, they had to pay a fee. A 1901 town-planning
project shows plans for a flea market on the corner of
rue Marceau and rue des Rosiers. At around the same time
flea markets began appearing on postcards and newspapers
started reporting on them too.
Visitors leaving Paris by Clignancourt gate would discover
a market that was half urban, half rural, with a mixture
of secondhand objects and new items provided by travelling
salesmen. Gradually the markets grew so much that it was
clear they needed to be divided into more orgnaised areas.
Around 1920, Roman Vernaison, who had a concession on
market pitches at the Halles de Paris, set up a series
of pre-fabricated huts on land he owned between avenue
Michelet, rue des Rosiers and rue Voltaire to rent to
the bric-a-brac dealers and rag-and-bone men. This became
the first marketplace.
Some time later an Albanian
called Malik, reputed to be a prince, transformed a
restaurant on rue Jules Valles into another market-place
with a hundred or so stalls. Malik market was, and still
is, the place for second-hand clothes, old uniforms,
cameras and so on.
By 1925 the city walls had been almost completely demolished.
A group of traders took over the Champ des Rosiers and
formed Biron market, with two rows of about 200 stalls.
This soon became the ‘upmarket’ market,
selling quality furniture, gilt, glass-works and porcelain.The
flea market was extended further in 1938 with the opening
of the Jules Valles market. Local shops were bought
up by antique dealers or craftsmen, and the area still
continues to grow today.
than just a market
With 11km of shop windows and display cases, St-Ouen
flea market is the largest of its kind in the world
and one of Paris’ most popular tourist sites.
Around 11 million people vist a year - 120,000-150,000
visitors every week. People come from all corners of
the globe to seek that oh-so special bargain and around
80% of turnover is reckoned to be exports.
The 14 markets are more like small villages than a district
of a capital city. Each has its own distinct character
and together they offer a wide range of goods in all
styles and from all periods and countries. they attract
an equally broad mix of people, from professional restorers,
antiquarians, collectors, interior designers, art lovers,
casual browsers and tourists, all of whom delight in
the unique atmosphere. The stall-holders are an eclectic
St Ouen is more than just a flea market, it’s
a place people go to spend a day exploring, meeting
old friends and of course, stopping for the obligatory
long lunch at one of the many restuarants dotted among
the antique shops and stalls.
At various times of the year exhibitions and other activities
are organised in the markets. The main event is the
Festival des Puces or World Antique Fair, which takes
place every other year on a weekend in October. The
next festival is planned for October 2005.
The market is open on Saturday, Sunday and Monday (9.30
am to 6pm), with Thursday and Friday mornings reserved
for the trade.
words and phrases
To hunt for antiques: Chiner
Flea Market: Les puces
Bric-a-brac shop: Brocante
Secondhand shop: Dépot-vente
Attic Sale: Vide-grenier
What's your best price?: Quel
est votre meilleur prix?
To haggle: Marchander
To strike a bargain: Conclure
To pay in cash: Payer en espeèces
Stall holder: Marchand
For sale: À vendre
to his own
Although the content of the markets overlaps
to a certain extent, each has its own speciality:
Vernaisson (136 avenue Michelet):
This is the main market and the birthplace
of the St-Ouen Puces. When Roman Vernaisson
set up his stalls in the 1920s it was an overnight
success. The wooden stands were replaced by
more permanent ones by the end of WWII, and
there are now 9,000 sq metres of floor space
and over 300 stands.
Although regarded by many as the cheapest
market, the traders are able to remain faithful
to the bric-a-brac tradition as stand rents
are lower. Most visitors are members of the
public, although professionals do wander in
A few years ago the market went from belonging
to property developers to a system of joint-owned
plots. As a result the traders have invested
more time and energy to the market, and the
quality has improved. In this maze of alleyways,
some covered, some open to the elements, there
is everything for sale, from humble to haut
Biron (85 rue des Rosiers):
From its beginnings in 1925 Biron traders
were determined to be seen as the best, selling
only the most sought after antiques, beautifully
restored and displayed. The 220 dealers in
the market’s two aisles uphold this
tradition, offering luxury goods with high
Jules Valles (rue Jules Valles):
This traditional market offers posters, antique
weapons, bronzes, books, records, and many
other unusual objects.
Paul Bert and Serpette (18 rue Paul
Bert/96 rue de Rosiers): Between
the two wars, Monsieur Louis Pore, the son
of a market gardener, decided to put his land
to a different use. He first bult an automobile
garage, but seeing the success and growth
of the Vernaisson, Biron, Valles and Malik
markets he came to a deal with the local authorities
and traders, building a series of wooden stalls.
Now there are almost 220 stands along seven
aisles. The merchandise is displayed in a
more haphazard manner, and the atmosphere
is very relaxed. items are wide-ranging and
include shop furnishings, Parisian bistro
furniture, garden ornaments, Renaissance objects,
primitive art etc.
The open-air Paul Bert market surrounds the
covered Serpette market; the two are run as
one under the title Serpaul. Bric-a-brac trader
Alain Serpette bought the aforementioned car
garage (which belonged to the first Citroen
dealer in France), and transformed it into
a flea market. He created concrete stalls,
but ‘forgot’ to apply for planning
permission, leading to a series of legal battles.
No measures were taken to prohibit the building
work though. the 130 traders supply various
high quality specialised products.
Cambo (75 rue des Rosiers):
Founded in 1970, the Cambo is currently home
to 20 stalls on two floors, displaying quality
goods such as 18th and 19th century furniture,
porcelain, objets d’art, regional furniture,
linens, antique musical instruments and ornaments
plus art nouveau and art deco objects.
Rosiers (3 rue Paul Bert):
A small market created in 1976 with around
10 stalls specialising in light fittings,
art deco and 20th century items. Somewhat
confusingly it is on rue Paul Bert not rue
Lecuyer/Valles (27 rue Lecuyer):
This market, one of the most recent areas
with 1,000 square metres of floor space, links
the rue Jules Valles and rue Lecuyer. It covers
all the periods, offering paintings, ornaments,
chairs, bric-a-brac and other curiosities,
as well as contemporary items.
Antica (99 rue des Rosiers):
This small market is set in an elegant gallery
alongside the Vemaison market. The dozen or
so stalls offer tapestries, ornaments, art
deco, Napoleon III, and so on.
Malassis (142 rue des Rosiers):
The innovative architecture and huge dome
of Malassis have been a landmark at the entrance
to the markets since 1989. Its partly covered
lanes play host to a 100 or so traders, offering
items from 18th century artefacts to modern
designer goods; it is full of the unexpected.
Some of the dealers specialise in a certain
theme or period, creating a bygone era.
Dauphine (140 rue des Rosiers):
Although it only opened in 1991, this market
quickly became established and is home to
around 180 dealers. On sale are a high range
of genuine antiques, all approved as such
by experts, everything from a Renaissance
dresser to a 1920s corset or an antique book.
Covering 6,000 square metres of space, the
market is organised on two floors around a
central square with palm trees and a fountain,
with a glass roof above it all.
L’Entrepot (80 rue des Rosiers):
Another fairly recent market, L’Entrepot
opened in 1990 on what was previously a wasteland.
At the time it was housed in a metallic structure
shaped like an aeorplane, but because everying
is for sale here, it has since become the
property of a Texan collector! Traders here
specialise in out of the ordinary, outsized
pieces, including huge staircases, woodwork
from stately homes or a castle gate.
L’Usine (1 villa des Rosiers):
This 40 trader market is not open to the general
Also in the capital
There are also Parisian flea markets at Vanves,
Montreuil, and the Place Aligre.
Puces de Montreuil: This
has become a regular market really, with only
a handful of secondhand dealers, although
you can find vintage clothes and fabrics.
Open Saturday to Monday.
Puces de Vanves: Although
the rag-and-bone men once traded in Vanves
itself, they moved closer to Paris over the
years. Since1965 the market has been on the
Paris side of the Porte de Vanves. The temporary
folding table stalls display small items of
furniture, glassware, ceramics, silverware,
tableware, paintings, curios, linen etc. Open
Marche d’Aligre: The
last abbess of the Abbey of St. Antoine donated
this site to secondhand dealers just before
the Revolution. Around 30 dealers sell mostly
bric-a-brac, while in nearby railway arches
various craftsmen and restorers have opened
shops and workshops. The area is known as
the Viaduc des Arts. It is only open mornings.
Marche du Livre Ancien: These
two covered weekend markets are home to around
60 booksellers, offering a selection of secondhand
books and rare editions (as well as newspapers,
maps and engravings) on their trestle tables.