(Editor’s note: DeeDee Wood is the owner of Black Cat Curiosities, an online antiques research and sales venue.)
When someone says the words “flea market”, generally the idea would come to mind of discounted antiques, furniture, clothing and perhaps tools or jewelry.
If you attended one, you might be looking for bargains for resale, or perusing for something to furnish your new apartment. What are the origins of these terms, and what is the history of the outside, open market?
The idea of using the word “flea” in describing such a market comes from the notion that used goods or clothing might contain fleas or other pests, due to the fact they are used, and no one really knew the origin of the goods.
They might have come from a flea-infested home, spent some time stored in barns with animals, and other such ideas of worn or bargain goods being “less.”
The reference of this phrase seems to originate from the first markets of such a description, sometime in Paris in the mid-1800s.
The French called this marche aux puces, which means “market with fleas.”
A flea market is a market of vendors, who generally sell second-hand or used goods.
The outdoor elements that surround the initiation of such activities must include the consideration of weather, therefore, most flea markets are seasonal.
In recent years, there has been the idea that not only quick sale used items should be offered, but the inclusion of vintage clothing, collectibles, higher-end antiques and building materials also get included in today’s more modern markets, especially in the United States.
Markets of the outdoor, trading nature have grown so popular among vendors and participants purchasing these goods, that the United States developed a National Association of Flea Markets in 1998, to provide resources for buyers and vendors alike.
Many outdoor markets now have permanent structures, and expand their sales indoors, even in inclement weather.
If a market is more than 50 percent indoors, the name then changes to “swap meet” or other terms that delineate this type of sale from a “flea market.”
The most famous flea market in the world is arguably the Les Puces de Saint-Ouen in Paris.
This market contains over 17 acres of many sorts of treasures, claiming a whooping 180,000 visitors each weekend.
In the late 1800s, in and around the cities that surrounded Paris, opportunists would find scraps and objects that had been thrown out in the huge city and set up make-shift shops that would provide quick cash for passers-by that were on their way to cities such as Saint-Ouen from Paris.
Some say this was the first form of flea markets from these early “dealers” origins of desperation and scrapping for items to sell.
Flea markets aren’t just in the United States or France.
The entire world has their own versions of these markets, from Instanbul’s “Grand Bazaar” with fine rugs and handpainted, illuminate lamps that hang from the bazaar’s ceilings, to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market of Thailand, which literally sits on a barge, entertaining many shoppers on the weekends.
Where there is a bargain, or a deal to be had, a flea market will not be far behind, around just the next corner.
Thousands of people all over the world visit flea markets every year.
Vendors, peddlers, resellers and dealers are some of the names given to the people who sell these goods.
Whether it be the buyer or the seller, they all have one thing in common, from the concept that originated in early Paris street dealers and beyond-they are looking for a bargain and trade of goods.
While the mystery of the name still endures in the true origin of the term “flea,” one thing is for certain, one can always find what they are looking for with so many choices and venues.