The History of Flea Markets & Road Tripping to RePurpose

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Who Put the Flea in Flea Market?

Have you ever stopped to think about the origin of the  term “flea market”? In all the years I’ve scoured flea markets full of other peoples’ “junk” to turn into my “treasures,” never once did it occur to me to find out … until now.

Where the term “flea market” actually originated is a point of contention. One theory says the “Fly Market” in the early 1700s in  New York City was where it started. The Dutch word Vlaie or vlie, which means a swamp or valley and was pronounced – you guessed it, “flea” –  was at Maiden Lane (today the Financial District) near the East River. Two hundred years ago the land was a salt marsh with a brook which flowed to the East River. By the early 1800s the “Fly Market” had become the principal market in New York City. Another theory says “flea market” is  from the French “Le Marché aux Puces,” literally translating to “market where one acquires fleas,” dating back to the 1860s. Why, you ask, would anyone want to buy fleas? Clearly not the case! In the article “What Is A Flea Market?” by Albert LaFarge in 1998 published in Today’s Flea Market magazine, he says, “There is a general agreement that the term “Flea Market” is a literal translation of the French marché aux puces, an outdoor bazaar in Paris, France, named after those pesky little parasites of the order Siphonaptera (or “wingless bloodsucker”) that infested the upholstery of old furniture brought out for sale.”

imgres-2 Imagine that, going to the market and bringing home fleas – YUK! The Flea Market concept, however, did exist in countries for thousands of years … in Asian countries like India, Bangladesh and  China among others.

Thankfully, today “flea market” has a whole new meaning! 

No matter where I’m going or where I’m driving on any given “jaunt,” I rarely if ever pass up a flea market, an antique store, a craft fair, a garage sale or a church bazaar! This is what you’re likely to hear, “Stop the car … STOP the car!” Now that I think of it, whether in a minivan with the whole family driving through several states or just taking a leisurely ride, spur of the moment stops at any type of market is just something you have to do!

Here in New Jersey, Mom — who is so fond of saying (in her ever present Italian accent), “Let’s go for a ride in the country” — and I just love taking Route 78 or 80 (you can tell I’m from NJ as I refer to interstates as  routes) westbound to Pennsylvania just to see what we might find along the way. Of course, when I was growing up in New Jersey, there was NO route 80, NO route 78 and NO route 287, so a ride in the country was truly that as soon as we left the driveway.

Now-a-days, once we hit Pennsylvania, we get onto PA Route 32/River Road which runs north and south along the Delaware. There are antique stores, farmers markets and so much more all along the way!  Among one of our favorite places … New Hope, PA. which is chock full of artisan shops, markets, antiques, galleries, you name it – there’s even a store honoring the dead, dead things and things of the dead!

NJ-PA MapIf post-mortem isn’t you’re thing, keep driving as flea market and vintage market finds make for the absolutely coolest re-purposed decor. 

Take my Table … actually, now I think I’ll keep it.

Several years ago at a garage sale, I found a small wood table table which was in pretty bad shape.  The veneer was peeling off the top, the wood was damaged, scraped, pitted and the varnish was flaking off and discolored. I think I paid 5-dollars for it. I moved this table 3-times knowing for sure that one day I’d get my inspiration to turn what had clearly become trash into a treasure.

Old Table copy

Enter Mom … again. After returning from Italy and a visit to my aunt and uncle, she returned with a copy-cat idea … a really good idea but a copy-cat idea nonetheless. My aunt is an artist – a semi-famous one who has absolutely NO inhibitions about taking paint and a brush and going after whatever she sees fit to become her canvas. Taking a cue from her, a little paint, some creative inspiration and a lot of patience and Tah-Dah! My new (old) table; well almost. I still have to add some very thin black accents and the table top remains unfinished.

Re-Purposed Table

Re-Purposed Table Top

My idea for the top is to paint a square within the circle – you can just make out the design. On the four outside edges, I’ll paint an alternating black and white harlequin pattern in the larger diamonds and most probably alternating gold and orange triangles on 2-facing sides and alternating gold and turquoise triangles on the opposite sides.

Inside the square is another story; THAT inspiration has yet to come. I have several ideas but I’m just not sure … I’ll have to see where the creativity and fanciful thinking take me. Stay tuned! 

Oh, an one more thing … there is no shame in scavenger hunting! That is, stopping by the side of the road during trash pick-up week and helping yourself to what is literally other peoples’ trash. I’ve done it dozens of times, my neighbors do it, my mom does it and my children think we’re all crazy.  Their loss, for now as when they finally inherit all our stuff, they’ll no doubt realize how valuable it really is!

Below is my latest acquisition … perfectly good fencing and 4×4 PTW posts … picked up on my way home from a visit with Mom. As a gardener, fencing and posts always come in handy.

I was also tempted to put that upholstered yellow chair into the car as well but it didn’t fit! I just hope my darling husband Antonio doesn’t see this post as I didn’t tell him what I did or that I put it in the back of his Lexus – Yikes!

GD Mizar scavenging some fencing from the side of the road


About the author / 

Green Diva Mizar'

Green Diva Mizar is a former co-host of the GD show. GD Mizar is also dedicated to providing safe, clean water to all through her company Pur2o Water Filtration & Purification.

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    Lois August 7, 2013 at 5:16 pm -  Reply

    I love it! No I never did think about where the name flea market came from it was just a part of my life from birth. My family coming from along Lake Erie in Pa I can just imagine what might have been found in upholstered furniture a couple of generations ago. My grandfather told me stories of the rats, roaches, bed bugs…. Your table is gorgeous I will look forward to seeing what you do with the top.If you are anything like me you will change direction just as you pick up a paint brush. One thing I wanted to add, I was reading today that it is illegal to pick things up off the curb. I don’t know if this is just in PA or elsewhere I need to look into that, but it is punishable by jail time and/or $10,000 fine. Isn’t that nuts?

    Green Diva Mizar August 9, 2013 at 6:15 pm -  Reply

    10 THOUSAND DOLLARS and jail time?!? Whoa!

    I have just spent 40 minutes surfing NJ State laws regarding curbside pick up/scavenging. I’ve come up empty. I’m not even sure this would come under state law, falling instead under local ordinances.
    I can’t be sure. Where did you find the information about curbside pick-ups in PA? Maybe it will shed more light on where I can go to find same in NJ.

    Nevertheless … happy treasure hunting and be careful out there!

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