The neighborhoods of Fener and Balat are unique areas of Istanbul in which hipster coffee shops and artist enclaves mingle with a conservative, deeply historical neighborhood. It is also, fittingly, packed with auction houses—places where one person’s trash is set to become another’s treasure. That is, if you can keep up with the auctioneer…

By Monica Liau

It takes a bit of bravery to participate in an auction at Fener Antik Mezat. Held four days a week, the generally packed room seethes with people, and folding chairs groan as bidders eagerly throw up their hands to claim curios on sale. Prices climb rapidly from a few lira to hundreds. When one particularly big purchase is made, the spectators, who often spill out the door, cheer raucously.

These auction houses harken back to a time when Balat was, in one of its many iterations, known as the Jewish quarter and filled with shops packed with trinkets and curios. Along with the historically Greek Fener (just adjacent), Balat still maintains a feeling of the past. It would take a patient mind to sift through its wealth of antique and vintage shops.

The items found in the auction houses come from a range of sources: other markets, old houses, and the çekçekçi (junk collectors), with whom the managers of Fener Antik Mezat can often be seen haggling with outside. When the deal goes well, a sack filled with things is hauled inside to be sorted through.

At 3pm on a Wednesday, an experienced crowd begins filtering into Fener Antik’s small wooden auction room, examining the rows of vases, watches, paintings, random swatches of material and old throw rugs that have been put out on display. They are a sharp-eyed mix, from a range of backgrounds. There are vintage-clad hipsters with clipboards in search of decorations for homes, or to resell at their own shops around the city. There are well-dressed women with hawkish stares. There is also a large group of senior citizens, one of which tells us “I’m here because I always find something interesting.”

By 4pm, the auction begins. The auctioneer, a young man with a sleek, pointed beard, speaks in lightning-fast tones and enthusiastic descriptions, no matter if he’s holding a priceless painting, or kitsch item that looks lifted from an old granny’s house. You need quick hands in this environment. When the auctioneer yells “sattım!” bidding is finished and the item is brought over to the often exaltant new owner. After half an hour, the room develops a humming rhythm and items fly by. One older gentleman walks away with a bundle of lace doilies for 10 TL. A young woman buys a used iPad stand for 12 TL. A full Turkish coffee set is sold for 35 TL, a small landscape painting for 80 TL. On the weekends, there are many more auctions happening around the neighborhood, from the classy Antik Cibali to the Porto Fenari Mezat, where you can recline in velvet chairs with tea while you consider how to spend your cash.

Take Action

Feel inspired? There are weekend and weekday options, and they’re generally open to the public. If you’re seeking particular items, head to the spots early to get a gander at the goods going up that day, and to choose a prime seat near the front.

Antik Cibali & Teos Antik Mezat: This spot is a little better organized (and less dusty) than many of the other auction shops, and tends to sell sleeker and more covetable items, like unusual blue vases, old wooden trunks, vintage cameras. Auction days: Mon, Tues, Thurs-Sat, 3pm; Hızır Çavuş Köprübaşı Sokak, No.80, Balat.

Balat Antik Mezat: Don’t feel like you can face the competitive masses? Try bidding online. New items pop up on the Facebook feed of this group, and people put in their offers. Auction days: online auction on Facebook, Balat Antik Mezat page

Fener Antik Mezat: Auctions here are popular, friendly and almost always fill up. Most items don’t go for more than 50 TL, so it’s a grab bag in terms of quality. Make sure you bring cash. Auction days: Sat-Sun, 3pm-7pm; Vodina Caddesi No.138, Balat; T: 0532 587 77 49