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What is a Bibelot?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2014
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The term “bibelot” is used for two different things. In the first sense, a bibelot is a small decorative object or trinket; the word is closely related to “bauble,” which means essentially the same thing. The word is also used to describe miniature books of very fine workmanship. In both senses of the word, a bibelot is a collectible and often treasured item which may have a rich history and sentimental value.

The word is French, and it is derived from the Latin bellus, which means “beautiful.” Bibelots may also be described as trinkets, tchotchkes, knick-knacks, trifles, novelty, and what-nots. They may be exquisite and hand made, or more crude, produced on a commercial scale. The value of a bibelot varies, depending on its age and how it was produced; some are actually quite valuable, while others are worth more in terms of sentiment than funds.

It is not uncommon for people to pick up bibelots when they go on trips. When they return, these objects serve as souvenirs of the adventure, and they may be displayed in the home and used as conversation pieces. Many travelers also like to give bibelots as small gifts to friends when they return from trips, letting the friends know that the traveler was thinking of them. Many popular tourist destinations have markets filled with such products, catering to the tourist demographic.

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Some interior design schemes encourage the display of small artifacts, either as isolated standalone units or as part of a larger display like a cabinet of curiosities. Some people complain that displays of such items can start to look cluttered and chaotic if they are not well organized, especially when bibelots of varying provenances are displayed. It can also be difficult to navigate in a room filled with such ornaments, especially if they are fragile.

In the bookmaking world, some people like to hand-craft bibelots as special gifts. They may have tooled leather covers complete with ornaments in precious metals and gems and other decorative features. The book itself may be written by hand, with illustrations also painstakingly created by hand. Bibelots made by famous authors and bookbinders can fetch handsome sums, and a hand-made bibelot can also be a pleasant gift for a friend. Art schools with bookbinding programs often offer courses specifically designed for people who want to create miniature books, for people who are interested in making their own bibelots.

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Sinbad
Post 6

I love going on trips, I mean, who doesn’t really? I usually have a plan in mind before I go to get some bibelots for myself, and family and friends, but I unfortunately usually forget when I am there. I have seen a lot of “cute” and different bibelots over the years and different cities and states I have visited. I always think to myself, I will buy the bibelot later, and then forget until I am already back home. I think if I ever make it out of the country, I will purchase at least a few bibelots for myself and to share with my loved ones. Buying bibelots when on a trip or vacation seems like a good way to remember where you have been, without having to take up a lot of space.

I have not seen the other version of bibelots, the ones that are little and intricate, hand-crafted little books, but this sounds like a nice thing to collect or at least just have one of. I love books, and a bit of their charm is the different ways they are designed, especially the front cover. Making a smaller version of a regular book seems difficult and creative. I am sure the different countries’ bibelots would be very interesting, especially if there are titles on them done in their native tongue. Does anyone know where to purchase these kinds of bibelots, the ones that are small books, not the trinkets?

OeKc05
Post 5

My grandmother has bibelots all over her house. She started out keeping them on a high shelf, but her collection grew so large that she had to use the lower shelves and tables as well.

I remember being very small and being told not to play with the bibelots. It was so hard to resist holding the cute little knick-knacks in my hand!

I broke a few of them by accident. My cousin and I liked to run and play in the house, and we would sometimes knock into a table full of bibelots and cause one to fall off and hit the hardwood floor. My grandmother eventually moved the breakable bibelots to the high shelf and put the plastic and metal ones on the table.

seag47
Post 4

I recently went to a waterfall tourist destination. You have to pay to enter the area surrounding the falls, and within this area are multiple bibelot gift shops.

I got a cute bibelot for my nephew. It was a little bear in a yellow raincoat like the ones they give you to keep from getting sprayed by the waterfall mist.

They also had tiny little boat bibelots made to look like the one in which you can ride out to the base of the falls. I got one of these for my own collection.

What’s strange is that among the three bibelot shops I entered, the prices for similar items varied quite a bit. I believe the ones at the exit had cheaper prices, while the ones in the middle of the area were more expensive. Quite a few people probably felt duped after paying a higher price in the park and then finding the other cheaper store at the end of the day.

cloudel
Post 3

@wavy58 - Some people think those numerous bibelot shops take away from the charm of seaside towns, but I disagree. I think they add to its allure by suggesting that the place is worth remembering.

I have seen some shops with interesting exteriors. One has a giant shark’s mouth for an entrance, and another has a big purple octopus on top of the building. I think it makes the town seem more festive, and kids love going in these places.

Like you, I have a collection of bibelots. My friends turn up their noses at the trinkets, so I never offer them as gifts. I put them in a curio cabinet and treasure them privately.

wavy58
Post 2

I have a variety of bibelots from my many beach vacations. The streets that run alongside the ocean are littered with souvenir shops, and I go in several of them during each trip.

I don’t really know why I’m drawn to the trinkets. My best guess is that they remind me of my favorite place to be.

My favorite bibelot is made of two halves of a seashell, a strip of fake seaweed, and a tiny little seagull in flight. It follows the theme of most of my beach bibelots, but a friend gave it to me, and it came from a location I have never visited.

burcinc
Post 1

I pick up bibelots as souvenirs at every big city or country I visit. I love snow globes and magnets, so that's what I usually buy.

I have a snow globe from London, Paris, Chicago and New York. The one from New York is my favorite. It has King Kong holding onto the high towers in New York and when I shake the globe, it looks like it's snowing.

It's so cute and when anyone thinks of King Kong, they will first think of New York, so it's really a perfect bibelot to remember New York and the time I spent there.

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