A treasure hunt in a second-hand shop

On the ground floor of an old building in the Saint-Pierre district of Bordeaux, there is a second-hand shop called "Au Dénicheur". I like the diversity of the old objects that are offered. That's why I visited the place, looking for a useful item.
Store front of the second-hand shop "Au Dénicheur" in the Saint-Pierre district of Bordeaux

I used to visit this place when I was a student because I liked to be surprised by an unusual object or because I wanted to buy a gift. I go to the shop after several years without being there.

As soon as I enter the shop, I am stricken by a mixture of strong smells. First of all, it’s the smell of the old objects, similar to the smell of an old book being leafed through. Then, the smell of the old wooden furniture on which the objects are laid. Finally, the musty smell that reminds me of a basement or an old granary.

I’m also surprised by the large quantity and the diversity of the objects in front of me. For example, I see a yellow mailbox that has an old look. The shop owner, Thierry, tells me that the mailbox is from 1898 and is the first one in France. I’m surprised by that information as I didn’t think that the object would be that old. Thierry adds that it’s currently the oldest object in his shop and specifies that he already had an even older item, from the 16th century. In that case, that’s not an object for a second-hand shop but rather a museum piece!

I’m searching for something costing less than 10 euros, that can be useful and make me happy. In this Aladdin’s cave, I will for sure find something to my taste.

I don’t know where to go as there are so many objects. I thus decide to head towards a wooden case containing old vinyls placed next to the entrance. I’m particularly interested in jazz, French songs, and acoustic guitar. I especially like a jazz compilation vinyl thats has a coloured cover illustrated by a dozen of small pictures of the jazzmen.

While turning around, I find a small wooden case containing notepads of famous old beverage brands such as Cinzano, Martini and Vittel. I could write to-do tasks or shopping lists on it since the sheets are detachable. Moreover, when I’m not at home, it could be useful to note phrases or wording coming to my mind that I like. I grab several of them and enjoy their elegant vintage style. I notice that the paper of one of the notepads is withered and has become yellowed. I guess someone has split a liquid on it, a long time ago. Then, I put these promotional items back. I’m only at the beginning of the shop. Therefore, I’ll maybe find later an object which I like more.

Box full with notepads from beverage brands in the second-hand shop "Au Dénicheur"
Old notepads

As I step forward, I pass by the cash register behind which stands Thierry. His tall silhouette moves around the shop to advise visitors. I enjoy listening to him while he speaks to customers in a polite but informal tone about the origin or the function of the objects. While chatting with Thierry, I realise that he has developed his business without any online advertising since he has neither smartphone nor computer. I’m divided on this topic.

On one hand, the fact that he doesn’t have access to modern technology makes him more available to communicate face to face with people. For example, people sometimes sell him utensils or old devices that he doesn’t know about. Later, if a visitor sees the object and recognises it because his grandparents had one, he would explain Thierry what this is. What I mean here is that Thierry wouldn’t have the chance to hold this kind of interesting and surprising conversations if he searched for information on the Internet about the objects.

On the other hand, being used to have access to a lot of information and in just a few clicks on my smartphone, I couldn’t imagine getting informed at such a slow pace and in such a tight scope. Plus, I believe that Thierry misses informations as well as opportunities to communicate with others. Take auctions. A few years ago, Thierry used to attend auctions in person but had to stop since they take place online only.

What’s more, I’m astounded that “Au Dénicheur” managed to survive in this charming and renowned district without any promotion other that word-of-mouth and with the same look over the years. Indeed, 10 years ago, the inside and outside appearances were pretty much the same as today. I admire Thierry for building a viable business without investing in advertisement or in the refurbishment of his premises. According to me, the sustainability of the shop lies in the rarity of the objects and its ideal location. On this, Thierry surprises me when he tells me that when he settled here, 20 years ago, it was a bad neighbourhood. Luckily for him, Saint-Pierre has changed for good and is now one of the most touristic areas in Bordeaux. I like the outside terraces of restaurants and cafés, the small paved streets and the charming place Saint-Pierre. Especially, I find it very pleasant to take a walk there in the early morning, when it’s quiet and only cafés are opened, and in the late evening to enjoy the lively atmosphere.

Chatting with Thierry

Pierre le reporter: “When I see you here, the word that comes to mind is ‘passion’. It seems like you are a passionate person.

Thierry: It’s a passion that comes from childhood, like Obelix who fell into the magic potion pot.

A passion for collecting?

Collecting is a big word. I am not a collector. I am more of an objects lover. I especially like everything around old shops. What I like in my job is that I learn something new every day.

By talking to people?

Yes. For example, when I put in a new item, sometimes I don’t know what it’s for because I don’t have the Internet. It’s not for me. I get information about the object by talking to people who visit my shop and know about the object. Another example: if someone comes in looking for a Rolling Stones poster, he would tell me that he went to a concert of the Stones in England a long time ago, and that Ron Wood was not there that year… It’s always like that.

Where do you find your objects?

It’s either inheritance, collection purchase or exchange. I used to do auctions, but I don’t go there anymore since it takes place online only. It’s a new way of working but I don’t see the point of buying a second-hand object on the Internet. If don’t hold the object in my hands, I can’t buy it. However, I don’t criticise the Internet because it’s the best way to quickly find a lot of information. It has changed many things. When I think about people hunting for objects with a smartphone in the hand, using an app to find the price of the object to know if it’s worth buying to resell it, without having any interest in the object itself, I think that it doesn’t make any sense. I’m not here to make business per see. I’m here to exchange with people, and also make a living out of it, but before all for the exchanges. That’s the number one reason for the shop.

Which period of history is your favorite one?

I don’t have any ‘favorite’ one but I’m particularly interested in the second world war since my grandfather, who is alive and will soon turn 100, refused compulsory labour service during the war. I’m marked by this period due to my grandfather’s story but I’m interested in many other periods, such as the Middle Ages and Antiquity…”

I then see on one of the shelves not much further ahead an ashtray from a few decades ago whose size seems disproportionate to me. I think, smiling, that their size suits the high cigarettes consumption in France at the time when they were produced. I grab one in my hands. The logo of a spirit brand and the well-thought geometrical-shaped designs are stylish. It would make a beautiful decorative item, but I decide not to take it since I already have an ashtray from “Au Dénicheur” at my place. It’s useful to me, even though I don’t smoke, as I put my keys in it.

While turning around, I find a military helmet with a small red star which makes me think that it’s Soviet. When Thierry tells me that it’s Chinese, it seems immediately less interesting for me. I had already imagined that the helmet was used during the battle of Berlin. I’m surprised when I learn from Thierry that the Soviet helmets from the Second World War are sold for 500 to 600 euros.

I then see on the other side of the shop several wine cases full of books. One of them, written by a philosopher I heard about, Paul Ricœur, intrigues me. I read the back cover but it doesn’t interest me as I don’t understand the complicated philosophical notions. I put the book back and then have a look at the others in the same case. That’s the moment when a book from Amor Towles, Rules of Civility, catches my eye. I read a few months ago a novel from the same author that I found amazing, A Gentleman in Moscow. The story is settled in Moscow at the beginning of the 1920s. A Russian count is sentenced by the Communists to be under house arrest in a palace. I enjoyed the tone of the book which, despite the dramatic atmosphere of that period, is light and humourous. Moreover, I like the twirling character of the count and I’m interested in the place and period where the story takes place, namely a luxurious palace in the USSR between the two world wars. I enjoyed this historical novel so much that it made me want to read frequently again.

As I see the name of Amor Towles on the main cover of the book “Rules of Civility”, I’m therefore excited. The back cover says that the story takes place in New-York in 1938. This information is enough to make me want to read it. The novel is about a young daughter of immigrants who wants to join the Manhattan elite. I decide without much thinking to take the book with me.

Front cover of the book "Rules of civility" in French written by Amor Towles

Even though I found the product I’ll buy, I walk to the back of the shop. Who knows, maybe I’ll run into an item I like even more! I admire beautiful advertising posters that are probably from the 50s and seem to be hand-drawn. They sing the praises of various products, such as a French aperitif drink or an American motor oil. While looking at them, I say to myself that the ways to advertise products and services have changed a lot over the decades.

Then, as I turn around, my backpack hits large glass vases that almost fall to the ground. I’m relieved that it didn’t happen and think right away that the small space filled with objects is almost too small. Always looking for fascinating objects, I see a dozen of beautiful German beer mugs in stoneware or glass. They remind me of excellent evenings full of conviviality and good humour in breweries in Germany. I hesitate to take one to put my pens in it, but I finally decide not to take it as I already own many containers. I turn my head and see elegant mirrors decorated with the logos of beer brands. I imagine them several decades ago, proudly hanging on the wall of a crowded bar in Germany. I like this picture.

I’m now at the back of the store. I then decide to go back to the entrance and choose a notepad. Something to write on is always useful. On top of that, I like their vintage look. I choose a stylish one that has the Martini logo in it.

I pay 5 euros for both objects. I hope that the book, a historical novel, a genre I particularly like, will entertain me, and the notepad will help me be more organised and will allow me to write when away.

I leave the shop with my two purchased items in the hand and find the sunlight, the lively outside terraces and the old paving stones again. The treasure hunt has been successful.

The book written by Amor Towles "Rules of Civility" in French and a notepad of the brand Martini

What about you? Where do you go to find second-hand objects or products? In terms of decoration, which items do you particularly like?

Share your preferences in the comments!

Au Dénicheur

12 Rue de la Cour des Aides, 33000 Bordeaux, France

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