BRIMFIELD, Mass. — The Brimfield Antiques and Flea Market Show toasted its strongest season in years May 15. Informally known as the “Mecca” of antiquing, the once half-acre collector’s fair now welcomes 5,000 nationwide dealers each year.
“Brimfield is the closest thing the antiques business has to a trade show,” said Chuck Schneider of Carver, Mass., a 30-year collector and Brimfield seller. Like many dealers, Schneider said he was having his best week in recent memory. “A lot of mid-20th century garden tools ($5-$20) and Pyrex bowls ($5-$10) have been selling great,” he said.
In the 51 years since the Reid family opened Brimfield in 1959, the market has poured across a one-mile stretch of country road featuring 21 unique vendors. Weeklong shows operate annually in May, July and September. Buyers peruse items ranging from 19th century Dresden to contemporary art.
The original J&J Promotions Field is still a buyer and seller favorite. “I’ve been here on and off for 30 years, and I’ve always been at J&J,” said Doris Myers of Georgetown, Mass. Myers specializes in primitives and porcelains.
“The quality at J&J is very strong,” she said. “Also, when you stay in the same place for a long enough time, people start to know who you are and where to look for you.”
Fellow dealer Janis Eldridge of Springfield, Mass., agreed. “I like seeing the same people come back,” she said. Eldridge specializes in glassware and kitchen tools. Her pieces included early 20th century sugar shakers ($25-$50). Both women noted they were selling better than normal. “I’m not sure if it’s the nice weather, or just that times are improving [economically],” Eldridge said. “But everything’s been selling well, especially the glassware.”
Gary Lickver of San Marcos, Calif., makes his living doing cross-country shows. “Brimfield is a favorite, because there’s always a good mix of offerings, and a lot of people,” he said. Lickver specializes in cut glass, Van Briggle and Roseville pottery. He also boasts a sizeable collection of early 20th century carnival glass ($75-$125).
“Carnival” is an apt term to describe the show itself. Brimfield’s air of Festivus carries the rare and unusual. A highlight of Sue Mesick’s booth was a late-18th century Veuve Perrin inkwell ($325). The West Brookfield, Mass., resident acquired the mint French piece at a New England antique shop. “It’s not something you see every day,” she said.
Mesick has been buying and selling at Brimfield for years. It was also the place she met her American husband. “You never know where the [antiques] business will take you!” she said with a laugh.
Buyers can also discover plenty of quirky finds at Brimfield, from a vintage Pillsbury Doughboy Doll ($8) to college sports memorabilia. Sport & Spool Antiques owners Doug and Diane McElwain of Goldsboro, N.C., are first-time Brimfield dealers. “We’ve come in the past as buyers, and now we’re sellers,” Doug McElwain said.
In addition to vintage college flags, photographs and sports equipment ($65-$150), the McElwains sell spools and sewing equipment at cross-country shows and through their online store. “We’ve had a great time at Brimfield so far,” Diane McElwain said.
Another popular Brimfield show is New England Motel, inviting visitors to check out antique advertising, vintage clothing and Pillin pottery. Fred Glogower of Silver Spring, Md., specializes in vintage die cuts, prints and posters. “My collection goes back as far as the 1890s,” he said. “I look for things that people can afford.” In addition to James Dean-era die cuts of chocolate milkshakes ($3) that looked good enough to eat, Glogower had a collection of 1960s Zodiac posters ($12 each). “I’ve sold a few signs,” he said with a wink.
Vic and Maxine Weitz of Brooksville, Fla., owners of Vimax Antiques, specialize in American art pottery. “The Pillin and Rookwood ($425-$1,200) have been selling well, as have the Maxfield Parrish prints ($425-$525),” Vic Weitz said. The Weitzes said they focus on finding pieces in nothing less than mint condition. “It’s our second year at Brimfield, and we’ve been really enjoying it so far,” Vic Weitz said.
Many visitors were hooked on Gary Durow’s booth, literally overflowing with canes. Durow, of Okemos, Mich., is an international cane dealer and collector. “It all started when I was at an estate sale in Michigan many years ago,” Durow said. “I bought a Teddy Roosevelt head cane with glass eyes for $5, and I haven’t stopped since.”
In addition to the well-known walking cane, collectors vie for the best-preserved gadget, gun, doctor and sword canes, among dozens of other kinds. Gadget canes double as clever novelties. One of Durow’s favorites is a Rabbi cane, in which the head is actually a squirt gun. Physicians used doctor’s canes to store medicine on home visits. Sword and gun canes contain weapons. Durow’s most valuable cane actually revealed a playable violin; he sold it for $20,000. “The invention of the automobile pretty much ended things for canes,” Durow said. “There wasn’t really room to store them.” At Brimfield, Durow’s canes, made from every conceivable material, including glass and 14-karat gold, ranged from $75 to $1,200.
Adjacent to Durow’s booth was Michael and Lena Fedorovosky’s, featuring equally high-end pieces. The couple concentrate on Russian folk art. Pieces included icons ($700-$900), Russian lacquer boxes ($325-$575) and Russian enamel spoons and salts ($800-$1,200). Based in Baltimore, the collectors own Imperial Heritage, a shop specializing in Russian fine art.
Jeff Spear of Marietta, Ohio, owns the 40-year-old, family-operated Riverview Antiques Shop, also located in Marietta. Spear collects glassware, silver, porcelain and furniture. His pieces included a Turkish samovar ($325) and a glass apothecary bottle ($110) with an unusual story. “Both my father and grandfather were pharmacists,” Spear said. “They told me the history.” At the turn of the 20th century, pharmacists often filled apothecary bottles with different colored fluids to warn people of any major illnesses sweeping town. “Green, for example, meant cholera,” Spear said.
In addition to listening to the lore of times past, no trip to Brimfield is complete without dealer anecdotes of celebrity collectors. Mary Arciprete of Huntington, N.Y., specializes in antique cookware. The longtime Brimfield dealer has sold cookie cutters to actress/director Penny Marshall and cast-iron pie tins to the doyenne of domesticity herself: Martha Stewart. “Cookware has a timeless appeal, because it’s both decorative and, in many cases, still usable,” Arciprete said. The 30-year collector’s booth also included vintage Zenith radios ($85-$125). “They’re perfect for someone who would want to refurbish them,” she said. “They can become someone’s treasure.” Brimfield, she added, is the ultimate “treasure hunt.”
Brimfield is the largest outdoor antiques event in New England, located on Route 20 in Brimfield, Mass. The next show dates are July 13-18 and Sept. 7-12. Food vendors and restroom facilities are available on site. Admission is generally $5. All-day off-street parking ranges from $3 to $10. Shows generally open at sunrise and close between 5 and 6 p.m.
To learn more, visit www.Brimfield.com. ?
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Larissa Lytwyn is a freelance writer based in Connecticut. She has written for publications including the New Canaan News Review, Fairfield County Weekly and is a former editor of the Easton Courier. She may be reached at Larissa@LarissaLytwyn.com.
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