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Bric-à-brac for sale at a street market in Cambridge

Bric-à-brac (French: [bʁi.ka.bʁak]) or bric-a-brac (from French), first used in the Victorian era, around 1840, refers to lesser objets d'art forming collections of curios. The French phrase dates from the 16th century meaning "at random, any old way".

Shops selling such items, often referred to as knick knacks today, were often referred to as purveyors of fancy goods,[1] which might also include novelty items and other giftware.[2] The curios in these shops or in home collections might have included items such as elaborately decorated teacups and small vases, compositions of feathers or wax flowers under glass domes, decorated eggshells, porcelain figurines, painted miniatures or photographs in stand-up frames.

In middle-class homes, bric-à-brac was used as ornament on mantelpieces, tables, and shelves, or was displayed in curio cabinets; sometimes these cabinets have glass doors to display the items within while protecting them from dust.

Today, "bric-à-brac" refers to a selection of tat, often sold in street markets and charity shops.[3]

In Yiddish, such items are known as tchotchkes.[4]

Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman Jr., in The Decoration of Houses (1897), distinguished three gradations of quality in such "household ornaments": bric-à-brac, bibelots (trinkets) and objets d'art.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Fancy goods (British English)". Collins English Dictionary.
  2. ^ "Fancy goods – History of Castleknock". History of Castleknock. 23 June 2017. Retrieved 24 December 2022.
  3. ^ "Shop". PAWS. Retrieved 24 December 2022.
  4. ^ Oxford Dictionaries, Oxford University Press, tchotchke : /ˈtʃɒtʃkə/
  5. ^ "French speech... has provided at least three designations, each indicating a delicate and almost imperceptible gradation of quality": Wharton and Codman, The Decoration of Houses, 1897, Ch. XVI "Bric-à-brac" p. 184.