On 15 August 2003, Antonin Rispal died at the age of eighty-three. For over thirty years his shops in the Village Suisse and the Avenue de la Bourdonnais had been a compulsory call for anybody interested in Art Nouveau.
And yet nothing in Antonin Rispal's early life suggested he would become an antique dealer and play a leading role in the rediscovery and rehabilitation of Art Nouveau. He came from a modest farming background in the Cantal region. The youngest of seven children, he lost his father at an early age and spent part of his teenage years helping his mother run the family farm and tending the sheep.
In 1945, he and his wife went to Paris and, like many of his fellow countrymen from Auvergne, looked for work in the hotel trade. He did well and by the early 1950s was the proprietor of the Mars-Hôtel in the Avenue de la Bourdonnais.
By then he was already a keen collector, since a cousin had introduced him to the world of tobacco pots a few years before. He haunted second-hand shops and flea markets. The 1900s style quickly caught his eye although it was not a fashionable choice, as he recalled in 1988: "It all started about forty years ago. At the beginning I used to comb through the flea markets and second-hand shops on Sundays. 1900s items were not very much in vogue at the time. I would stay up until three or four in the morning, lovingly polishing my finds."
The idea of making a business out of his hobby did not cross his mind. However, one day, he was faced with the thorny problem of storage. So, at the end of 1967, he decided to open an antique shop in the newly renovated Village Suisse, a few minutes walk from the Mars-Hôtel.