5 Questions with Expert Vintage Scavenger Guide Tom Conrad

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The Treasures of Europe group will head to Bamberg, Germany for a one-day only flea market.

The Treasures of Europe group will head to Bamberg, Germany for a one-day only flea market.

Every year Tom Conrad, a former antiques dealer, takes a group of 12 or so vintage hunters through Europe on the search for the best secondhand finds and arranges to bring their finds back home. Leading the way on an “off-the-beaten-path” route, Tom guides his scavengers though dusty barns, cozy resale village shops and flea markets. From now through Thursday, September 5, Tom’s group Treasures of Europe Tours is offering Krrb members $300 off the tour package. We caught up with Tom as he prepares for the rapidly approaching nine-day trip (from September 25 through October 4). Read on to find out what cities on the itinerary are flea market gold mines, what essential items travelers should pack and the strangest items Tom has ever shipped home after a trip.

Tom's discerning eye for vintage comes in handy when you want to buy it all.

Tom’s discerning eye for vintage comes in handy when you want to buy it all.

Hi Tom! Can you tell us a little about the towns on the September trip itinerary?
“Under-the-radar” is our middle name, so our tour focuses on towns that are not on the average tourist itinerary. Gräfenhainichen is a must-see visit for us. It’s a tiny hill town in southern Saxony, Germany, which belonged to the former East Germany during the Cold War era. We’ll zero in on a remote farm shop and scavenge a warehouse in a local mill that has six floors of drool-worthy furniture, estate finds, folk art, toys and architectural and farm items.

We’ll also be visiting a German prop shop in Chemnitz, filled with tons of communist-era accoutrements, housewares, design objects, vintage furniture and other relics. Bamberg, a city in Bavaria, Germany is the mecca of flea market finds if you’re a serious scavenger. The medieval old town morphs into a humongous bargain basement, packed with hundreds of sellers offering vintage decor, antique household items, retro, high-stye antiques, clothing, art and other finds. This market only takes place one day a year and we’ll be there bright and early.

We’ve also got our sights set on the flea and antiques market in Pfaffenhofen, known for its strong Bavarian vibe. It draws farmers, dealers and part-time casual sellers. It’s one of the best stops in southern Germany for treasures from clean-outs and estates, rustic items, ceramics, glass and old furniture. Hoersching is a village in Upper Austria that’s on nobody’s radar except ours. We recently uncovered a dealer there who operates out of a huge 300-year-old four-sided farm. It’s sheer joy to poke through his restored and unrestored furniture, vintage household antiques, paintings, garden items, farm goods and estate finds.

Pack light because you'll want to load up on secondhand treasures!

Pack light because you’ll want to load up on secondhand treasures!

After years of scavenging across Europe, you must have narrowed down what you lug with you from country to country. What are three essential items for attendees to bring with them on the trip?
A flashlight. There’s no such thing as a “well-lit barn” in Central Europe. You’ll be glad you brought additional lighting when you’re on your back on a dusty floor trying to decode a label on the underside of a to-die-for table in a dark barn.

A fork, knife and spoon. No serious scavenger wants to spend two hours eating lunch at a restaurant in the middle of the day when the next warehouse or farmstead beckons. You’ll be spearing lots of fruit, cutting lots of Wurst and cheese and spooning lots of yogurt in the bus while we’re on the trail.

And handiwipes for women and a big, red bandana for men. Ten days on the road in pursuit of vintage finds and antiques means you’ll be prying, probing and plunging your hands into the innards of old furniture, box lots, old relics and other places they’re not used to. After you’ve found the hidden jewels under the rust, dust and grime, a temporary wipe-down in the bus at least gives you the “illusion” of cleanliness until you can hit the shower in the evening. Experience shows that gals go for antimicrobial handiwipes but the guys usually opt for a big macho red bandana.

You’ll be making a stop at Germany’s biggest antique market. What’s the name and where is it located? Has anyone during one of these trips bought something at this market that turned out to be notably valuable?
The Leipzig Flea and Antiques Market, which take place at the old agricultural fairgrounds south of Leipzig, a university town in the former East Germany. One of our scavengers took a leap on a sculpture she liked but didn’t know anything about. After she got home, she found it was worth several thousands of dollars.

You tend to keep the size of your tour group intimate. Do you ever have members of your party competing with each other for an item?
We keep our groups small and are fortunate because we tend to attract simpatico people who are adventurous and also like to dialog, share their interests and learn from others. So in some ways the trip is like a workshop on the road. You can learn a lot. We foster a spirit of camaraderie and a “we’re-all-in-this-together” vibe on the road. Sometimes competition arises, but it’s good natured and friendly.

What is the strangest item you’ve shipped back home for one of your tour attendees? Where was it headed? Was it for personal use or business?
A wooden sign with the words “Eleventh Party Congress of the Socialist Unity Party” in stylized red lettering and great retro design. A genuine cultural-political relic from a bygone era. It was headed to Philadelphia area for personal use. Also high on the list of oddities is a set of 19th-century French doll clothes that turned out to be worth so much that the buyer paid for her trip with the proceeds. I shipped them to Virginia for private use. I once sent a set of retro 1970s mod-style molded resin chairs to New Jersey, for resale at a well-known Modernist auction house. Recently I sent a huge sample book of embroidery, lace and specialty textiles that went to a vintage dealer in Pennsylvania.

Wow! Sounds like these scavengers scored big. Thanks, Tom!

To see the full tour package description and find out more about this exciting trip, visit Treasures of Europe Tours. To reserve your spot, email Tom at info@treasuresofeuropetours.com with a link to your Krrb corner.

 
  • Tom Conrad

    A big shout-out to our friends at Krrb for partnering with us on this offer. Great response! We’ll be seeing everything from Baroque to Midcentury on the road– lots of estate finds, antiques, and vintage items. Join us an shop 19th and 20th-century material culture at under-the-radar markets, Stalinist-era factories, farmsteads and shops. Space is limited.