Bric-à-brac (French: [bʁi.ka.bʁak]) or bric-a-brac (from French),[1] first used in the Victorian era,[2] refers to lesser objets d'art forming collections of curios, 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, and so on.

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

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 items of modest value, often sold in street markets and charity shops, and may be more commonly known in colloquial English as "knick knacks". In Yiddish such items are known as tchotchkes.

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.[3]

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  1. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary
  2. ^ OED first reference in English: 1840.
  3. ^ "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.