Friday, October 9, 2009

The Gift of Thrift: Virtually Versailles

As many of you know, I am not greedy with my thrift finds and love to give them away, especially if I discover an item of special meaning or is located in a particularly heartwarming locale.

Such was the case when I ventured out to an estate sale with my garage-sale pal Ruth Handel. While in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, we headed up into the Pacific Palisades to a spot that was clearly the home of a couple who was very much in love.

Of course, I immediately went into a thrift trance when I entered a room packed with ephemera -- old wedding albums, love notes sent via Western Union, invitations to birthday parties printed out by a ditto machine in purple ink, negatives from handmade Christmas cards, photographs of the couple at a Washington nightclub in the 1940s, and the list goes on. The husband was a well known doctor and patron of the arts and his wife quite the socialite and local tour guide.

I could have spent hours weeding through travel guides from around the world, brochures from far-away places, notes, letters and priceless photographs, but here is a sampling of some of the items I brought home, for about $15.

Of all the things I found on that magical day, a standout was this catalog, "Treasures of Versailles." It dates from 1962 when the some of the palace's finest objects went on tour of the United States. The tour, which made its way to (as they were called back then) The Art Museum of Chicago, Toledo Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum and The California Palace of the Legion of Honor, and was heralded as the largest collection ever allowed to leave France. The exhibition touched American soil at a time of disrepair for Versailles, and the French government was seeking ways to raise money for bringing the national treasure back to its former splendor.

According to an October 1962 Life magazine the offerings included "Gobelin tapestries, carpets, furniture, drawings, paintings and sculpture from the reign of Louis XIV to that of his descendant, Louis Philippe, 200 years later."

Almost 50 years later as I was preparing for my arrival in Austin chez LeAnn Stephenson, The Vintage Laundress, I thought this would be a fun gift for her, knowing that she, too, shares my love of everything French, especially the magical château where Marie Antoinette once lived. I wrapped my new treasure up in a Frenchy looking vintage scarf I found in a Long Island thrift shop, et voilà, one of my favorite gifts of thrift!

À la prochaine!

The Elegant Thrifter

Always Frugal, Always Fabulous!


  1. I treasure my beautiful, "Frenchy" gifts!! Does your real name begin with Santa and end with Claus? You are the "darlin'-est" creature (or is that the "darkin'-est?"- thank you so very much!

  2. Thrift trance! lol! Yes ~ I go into those often but have never had a name for it. Beautiful gift you gave your friend.

  3. I found you thru Toni and need to run out and buy your book :)
    I'm in the process of helping a friend get a home ready for an estate sale...FUN!!!
    Maybe you'll visit me sometime.
    It's the thrill of the hunt!!
    Deb :)


  5. During the French Revolution, everything that had been aristocratic was considered an enemy of the people.
    IN the rush to purge the country of everything associated with the monarchy, the furniture, draperies and all the decorations of Versailles were put out on the sidewalk and sold. Really shocking!
    The only lucky bit in this story is that the French bureaucracy required that all sales be recorded along with names and addresses of buyers. From these lists, many of Versailles' treasures have been tracked down and purchased back for the chateau.
    The French Revolution was extremely destructive - not only of lives, but also of the country's heritage.

  6. I would most likely pee my pants, if I arrived at an estate sale to find a room of ephemera - especially from the era you described - fabulous. Isn't it fun to find things that you know your friends will love? It's a two fold fun fest when you find it and then make the presentation. I'm glad you enjoyed the altered art street graffitti video thank you for visiting - xo Julie

  7. Sounds like an amazing estate sale... my favorite finds are always ones that have some personal history attached to them (wedding cake toppers, lockets, charm bracelets, photo albums). It makes me wonder what happened to the family and why they wouldn't want to hold on to their family's memories.

  8. Oh God I would have spent hours there, I love looking through old documents and letters, must be weird to think that somebody all your personal effects could just be out there for people to look through at a sale.

  9. my car is on auto-pilot for these precious venues.
    after 30 years of junkin, it just knows~~

    found you over at oldthymemarketplace ...we should chat, dear new friend.



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