NEW MILFORD, Conn. – The Elephant’s Trunk Country Flea Market unpacked for its 35th season Easter Sunday, its warmest opening day yet. “Turnout was better than we ever hoped,” manager Greg Baecker said. “The weather was beautiful.” About 2,000 buyers perused offerings from 200 vendors.
One of New England’s top collector havens began modestly in the mid-1970s. Baecker’s friends owned part of the future market’s New Milford, Conn., property. Together, they brainstormed ideas for a weekly event running April through November. “We first thought about a country music fair,” Baecker said. “Then we thought about antiques.”
Baecker first became interested in collecting during childhood visits to his aunt in Cape Cod. “She owned a lot of Audubon prints and Staffordshire,” Baecker said. Today, Staffordshire is among his favorite pieces to collect.
Many of Baecker’s friends were also collectors. They scouted venues including the Brimfield Antique Show in Brimfield, Mass., and Renningers Antiques & Farmers Market in Kutztown, Pa. “We pretty much modeled the Elephant’s Trunk after [those places],” he said. The market’s unique moniker stems from The Elephant’s Trunk Too, an eclectic boutique in Mount Kisco, N.Y.
In the early days, a good week was 15 vendors. As the show’s popularity grew, Baecker and his friends negotiated with alfalfa farmers to exchange additional acreage for a generous supply of vegetables. A Northeast staple for top buyers and dealers officially took root.
The fair is comprised of about 65 percent antiques, including glass, porcelains, antique furniture, vintage toys, work tools, jewelry, clothing, first-edition books, and 19th century art and sculpture. Additionally, the Elephant’s Trunk offers “a little bit of everything,” Baecker said, from hearty flatbeds of plants and flowers to gardening supplies to contemporary paintings and literature. “You’ll never know what you’re going to find,” he said.
Last year, he said, a buyer bought a sampler for $3,000 and sold it on eBay for $31,000.
One of the show’s longtime dealers is Joe Perry of Danbury. “I like to collect everything,” he said, gesturing to a framed print of Laurel and Hardy behind a table covered with vintage kitchen tools. “A lot of people like to buy these old tools and still use them,” he said, “because a lot of them still work.” During the April 11 show, Perry sold a Bohemian glass vase marked $50 for $40. Good quality Bohemian vases have a market value of about $150.
“There are a lot of good deals here,” Baecker said. Many buyers, he continued, attend Brimfield during the week and sell their wares that Sunday at Elephant’s Trunk. Others buy at Elephant’s Trunk to sell at Brimfield. Additionally, many buyers purchase items for their shops throughout New England and beyond.
Vendors come at a first come, first serve basis. Cars, trucks and trailers begin arriving on the fields at 4 a.m. “We strongly encourage vendors to arrive absolutely no later than 7 a.m.,” Baecker said. “Most arrive well before dawn.” Each space costs $50 each week; a rate Baecker said is fixed for the next four years. Each space is 20 feet in width and 25 feet in length. Larger trailers usually take up about two spaces. The fields accommodate up to 490 vendors. Most weeks average about 300 vendors and 2,500 visitors. The most popular months are May, June, September and October.
First-year vendor Gerard Van Kempen of Jersey City, N.J., is originally from Holland. “I collect a lot of glass and ceramics and always liked to buy at Elephant’s Trunk,” Van Kempen said. “I’ve enjoyed coming this year as a vendor. I’ve accumulated a lot and it was time to sell some of it. Everyone has been very friendly and I’ve been selling great.” Van Kempen’s wares at the April 11 show included vintage Hazel Atlas Blue Dot Capri glasses and Fiestaware.
“You never know what’s going to sell,” said longtime vendor Francine McLeod of Bethel, Conn. At the April 11 show, McLeod sold Khokhloma spoons for $2 apiece. Khokhloma are Russian folk art pieces made of hand-painted wood. McLeod also sells assorted glassware and porcelains.
Richard Ronalter, owner of the Noble Peddler Antique Shop in Torrington, Conn., is also an established vendor. “What do I specialize in?” he said. “I specialize in quality.” During the April 11 event, he sold a mercury glass vase for $150. His offerings included Majolica, Quimper plates and Royal Doulton character jugs.
Robert Uzzilia of Cairo, N.Y., is a longtime collector who prefers unusual, out-of-the-box items. On April 11, many prospective buyers stopped to admire a large Indian head carving Uzzilia marked $250. “I am pretty sure it’s 19th century and was originally used for an advertisement of some kind,” he said. “I bought it at a shop in the Catskills. It’s one of my favorite pieces.”
Another collector of the distinct and quirky is Pete Dunham of Saugerties, N.Y. One of his most striking pieces is a six-foot-tall sculpture of a man with Native American clothing and the face of Buddha. The man is drinking from a jug of what appears to be wine. Dunham acquired the piece at an auction in the Catskills and priced it at $1,200. “It’s a very different piece,” he said. “I’ve had it for a while. It was probably made in the 19th century.”
In addition to the eye-catching and bizarre, many Elephant Trunk vendors sell antique furniture. Vendor Werner Schmidt of Coldenham, N.Y., is a professional decorator specializing in fine art and antiques. His display at the April 11 show included a 19th century Sgabello chair marked $425.
Sam Mirlis, owner of Unique Interiors of Seymour, Conn., specializes in a range of items including vintage furniture. His offerings April 11 included a pair of Hitchcock-style rush seat chairs for $100.
Carol Sand of Branford, Conn., is an estate liquidation specialist with 45 years of experience. She has a particular passion for jewelry and vintage purses. “I have been going to Elephant’s Trunk for years,” she said. Her pieces at the April 11 show included early 20th century purses ranging from $95 to $135.
Fernando Sanches of Bridgeport, Conn., likes mixing his collecting with his own artwork. In addition to glassware and Limoges china, Sanches’ booth April 11 included artistic renderings of classic rock albums and portraits of bands including The Who, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. “Earlier today, [Who front man] Roger Daltrey’s mother-in-law came by,” Sanches said. “She lives in the area and goes to Elephant’s Trunk every year. She bought my rendering of the Grateful Dead’s Skull & Roses album for someone in her family. You never know who’s going to visit.”
Elephant’s Trunk is open every Sunday from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. through November 28. Public admission between 5:45 a.m. and 7 a.m. is $20. Public admission after 7 a.m. is $2. While the market is formally open until 2 p.m., dealers begin packing around noon, so early birds are encouraged. The market is generally open rain or shine, although visitors should call 508-265-9911 in cases of significantly inclement weather. Fair-style food is available for purchase. The day often includes entertainment from local bluegrass bands.
No pets are allowed on the premises. Vendors are prohibited from selling weapons, knives, counterfeit merchandise, animal-leg traps and pornographic materials. Dealers cannot sell or give away food or beverages.
Ample field parking and restroom facilities are available. Elephant’s Trunk is located on Route 7 in New Milford, Conn., off I-84, Exit 7. The location is approximately nine miles north of Danbury, Conn. For more information visit http://www.etflea.com. ?
All photos courtesy Larissa Lytwyn
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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