One of my favorite and more eccentric pickers is Sebastien Verger, 44, who lives in the Ardèche, high above the Rhône near the town of Privas. I met Sebastien about six years ago at the Sunday flea market in Carpentras. We’ve been friends ever since
Sebastien is an antiques dealer with the eye of an archaeologist and the soul of a poet. He’s greatly influenced by patina, surface, color, and material but his buying decisions are rooted in personal connection. “Above all, I have to feel an emotion (for the object),“ he says, adding, “I don’t buy to please anyone but myself.” In other words, he’s more artist than merchant. Fortunately, Sebastien’s international clientele, including a gallery owner from Japan, seem to share and appreciate his aesthetic.
As a young boy in the neighboring region of the Drome, Sebastien was fascinated by the Gallo-Roman artifacts displayed in his elementary school classroom. When he asked his teacher about a newly discovered remnant, the master told him he had dug it up near Sebastien’s own house. That prompted numerous field trips to the neighbor’s farm, a curio cabinet in his room, and fueled a lifelong passion for treasure hunting. Although Sebastien studied public relations, communications, and theater at the University of Grenoble, every summer for seven years he worked on pre-historic digs in the mountains high above the city.
Sebastien and his partner Valerie live in the owner’s quarters of a former silk factory built in 1810. In the vaults beneath their apartment, machines once reeled off, twisted, and doubled raw silk. For more than a century, silk production was the major industry in their part of the Ardèche. Today, Sebastien’s adult curio cabinet is a thing of beauty filled with Roman oil lamps, ancient coins, fossils, and early parchments. Eighteenth century oil portraits adorn the walls, along with folk art, architectural remnants, pottery, screens, stone urns, wooden sculptures, taxidermy, an 11-foot-long convent table, and many more things you can’t imagine—nearly all of it for sale. He also has a showroom in another moulinage just a couple of miles away.
Every visit to Sebastien’s begins here. It’s impossible not to be affected by his enthusiasm, the story he relates about each piece, and the obvious pleasure he takes in having collected such a surprising assortment of antiques culled from all over France and beyond. Over the years I’ve found that for every piece of his that I sell, there’s a counterpart that I’ve kept for myself. That’s about the highest compliment that I can pay him.