Browsing tables of African artifacts, beads and textiles at Brimfield
If you enjoy antiquing and scouring flea markets for dusty treasures, chances are you've heard the name "Brimfield" tossed around before. I first heard the name a dozen or so years ago while working at an antiques store in Houston; the store's owners (retired pharmacists turned antiquing power couple!) routinely regaled me with tales of an enchanted New England town that transformed, as if by magic, from sleepy hamlet to bustling antiques metropolis during three precious weeks out of every year. For one of those weeks each year, the couple secured passage by air from Houston to Boston, then rented a small moving truck once they arrived. Each day saw the pair up before sunrise, flashlights and rolls of cash in hand, frantically hustling through acres and acres of dealer tents, elbowing past crowds of fellow enthusiasts to hone in on the pieces they knew their customers back in Houston would pay top dollar for. At the end of the week, they drove the truck, packed to the roof with the week's accumulation of period furnishings and bric-a-brac, back home, where I waited eagerly to help unload and begin the exciting task of sorting, cleaning (but not too clean!) and pricing the deluge of treasures.
Anne and I have lived about an hour and a half away from Brimfield for nearly two years now and each May, July, and September (the months during which the shows operate) we have said "Hey! Let's go to Brimfield!" and then the very mention of that name gives me a little shudder as I recall those old tales of dark, dew-soaked mornings, the tension hanging over the fields as hordes of professional antiques sharks race to claim the choicest morsels from the biggest stash of antiques the east coast, and possibly all of America, has to offer. I don't have the steel nerves and iron will that Brimfield demands, I decide, and the conversation invariably fizzles with a fickle "How 'bout let's go to Brimfield next time?" This time, however, a powerful curiosity did gnaw at me, and though we weren't able to go during the week (the shows run Tuesday - Sunday) our Sunday was wide open, so at 6:00 this morning we set out on our Brimfield adventure.
The antiques shows at Brimfield consist of some 20-odd fields on either side of a mile-long stretch of Route 20. Each field has a different name, and the "opening" of the fields is staggered throughout the week; much of the action takes place earlier in the week, and the real excitement (read: anxiety) occurs just as a field is opened and the crowds rush in to buy buy BUY. Knowing this, my biggest concern about going on a Sunday was whether there would even be anything left to buy, though that concern was tempered somewhat by the broadly held opinion among Brimfield veterans that whatever is left on a Sunday may be had at tremendous discounts since dealers are loathe to haul away unsold merchandise.
We pulled into town around 7:15, and I puzzled at the lack of traffic, the absence of crowds, the bounty of free parking:
(Route 20 at 7:15: One person and a lone truck)
This was certainly not the Brimfield of my imagination. Baffled, we parked and wandered into a field where a few dealers nursed steaming cups of coffee and exchanged battle stories from earlier in the week. Sunday, it turns out, is not the day to show up early; the dealers know that the families, casual antiquers, Harley enthusiasts and "lookie-loos" that comprise the Sunday crowd are not early-risers, and so they adjust their own schedules accordingly. We were thus afforded an opportunity to wander about and get the lay of the land before things really opened; we also worked up a mild air of melancholy and regret about not being able to get in on the action earlier in the week. This passed rather quickly, however, as the tents started opening up and wares (yes! there were still wares!) were set out for the steadily growing groups of browsers to ogle.
(Route 20 around 9:15: Starting to see more folks)
While those Victorian-era stuffed songbird displays set a promising tone early on in our adventure (no, we couldn't afford them, but still... Oh, and we got sternly admonished for taking this photo!), it was pretty apparent that the merchandise throughout the market was the "leftovers." It was also clear that a great number of dealers had already packed up and left:
I started noticing all sorts of little bits and pieces left on the ground in those empty spots, and wondered if there were people who paced back and forth across the fields in the days after the show, perhaps even with metal detectors, looking for little things of value that may have been left behind:
I picked up this little grouping in about 30 seconds-- plastic soldiers, watch parts, keys-- then left them for someone else to find. What else will be left behind?
If one was in the market for wooden lobster traps, lobster buoys, ship's wheels, and other nautical-themed items, one would certainly not have been disappointed. Portly gentlemen sporting wildly overgrown handlebar mustaches seemed to enjoy the abundant dealers trafficking in "mantiques," that curious melange of old tools, old toys, and military items, with the odd Native American artifact thrown in for good measure. Their wives sauntered off towards the equally abundant and meticulously arranged "shabby chic" tents featuring an array of wood furnishings freshly painted white, mint green, or pink, upon which might be arranged tidy stacks of vintage linens and aprons or baskets of antique ribbons and buttons. The collector of postcards would not be disappointed, and Fiesta Ware and Fire King Jadeite were, as might be expected, readily available. Savvy New Yorkers may have been enamored of the dealer specializing in rustic Swedish farm antiques, a more rarified and minimalist genre of shabby chic featuring well-worn wooden farm tables, steamer trunks and banks of wooden apothecary drawers in varying shades of white and dove, mostly featuring "sold" stickers (that latter piece was purchased by an antique dealer from Brooklyn).
If there had been serious dealers of mid-century modern furnishings, they must have sold out and gone home early on. There were still mounted antler sets to be had, if one is still embracing that trend (one pair is enough for me) and those old (or newly screenprinted, and scrubbed to appear old) linen grain sacks that everyone is turning into pillows and re-upholstering their wing-back chairs with could still be found. I'm a sucker for those fellows who unload shipping crates full of menacing (or sometimes just goofy) looking African statues and masks ... they always have an adjacent table piled with strings of old African trade beads that I just go nuts over. I didn't buy any, but I sure do like to pick through all those dirty old beads!
In regards to those mythical last-day price-slashed bargains, well, we didn't actually see many items that begged further inquiry. Anne found a violin that she liked, but the dealer's price reduction from $275 down to $225 wasn't enough to entice. As things wound down and dealers were packing up, there were plenty of tables heavy with merchandise priced at just $1.00, but these were the type of things you wouldn't bother looking twice at in a thrift store, and you really had to wonder why anyone would bother hauling that kind of junk to Brimfield.
My big purchase? I bought a book, $5.00 (was marked $12.00), and I think it might be about me, but I'll have to read it and get back to you on that...
Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning, though I certainly can't claim to have had the full Brimfield experience. The next show happens July 13th - 18th; if I go again, it will definitely be early in the week, and very early in the morning. The gals over at Design*Sponge went earlier this week, and have some great posts and pictures on the experience here, here, and here. The housemartin blog also has some great Brimfield posts and eye candy-- click through her links to see posts on shows past as well!
I may not have the tenacity and single-minded determination of the hardened career antiquer, but neither I am I content to shop from the leftovers; now that I'm more familiar with the way things work, I'm looking forward to getting in early and seeing first hand what all the buzz is about! Maybe I'll see you there?
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