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Round Top: Enjoy the controlled chaos of this mega-antique fair

Jay and Melanie Carnation Thomas are whittling down their “bucket list” since semi-retiring about 18 months ago. Attending the antiques show in Round Top, Texas has been on their list for the better part of two decades and they finally made it!

Some of you may recall that Jay and I are whittling down our “bucket list” since semi-retiring about 18 months ago. Attending the antiques show in Round Top, Texas has been on my list for the better part of two decades and we finally made it!

The regular population of the tiny town of Round Top, Texas, is 90. Photos courtesy Melanie Carnation Thomas

The regular population of the tiny town of Round Top, Texas, is 90.Photos courtesy Melanie Carnation Thomas

As with all things Texas, things really are bigger out there and Round Top is no exception, stretching the better part of 20 miles through five small towns. Round Top’s normal population is just 90; yes, you read that right, 90, but swells for two weeks twice a year during the show season.

If any of you have ever been to the Brimfield, Massachusetts show, you know how the vastness of 12 football fields filled with hundreds of dealers feels like. Now imagine Brimfield stretched out for 20 miles. In Brimfield, not only do you have to pay to park, it is not uncommon to be a mile away from the fields, requiring a long trek back and forth to your car. In Round Top however, parking for the most part is free, plentiful and not too far of a walk.

Where Brimfield is chaos, Round Top is controlled chaos on steroids.

After two days of driving in a rented van from our home base in Knoxville, Tennessee, we hit the ground running on a Sunday morning not sure what to expect. Folding down the back seats and bench in the van provided plenty of room for soon-to-be-bought treasures. Our hotel was about 35 miles away from the show’s venue simply because there just aren’t that many hotels much closer (unless you book reservations a year or more in advance at a B&B). Fortunately, our hotel had plenty of the show’s official sponsor books listing the different venues, descriptions of the dealers in each venue and a map indicating where they were.

Round Top is a hot antique fair

This life-size pâpiér mâché steer shows how eclectic the offerings of the Round Top antiques fairs truly are.

This life-size pâpiér mâché steer shows how eclectic the offerings of the Round Top antiques fairs truly are.

Sunday dawned hot and humid, as did each subsequent day we were there. It hit the low 90s with humidity running at least 50-60%, creating steam bath conditions. Even the dealers were complaining about the heat, and many of them were locals. Normal temps for this time of year are about ten degrees cooler, with cooler being the operative word. Eighty degrees has never struck me as “cooler.” We hoped for the best and prepared to sweat.

About half of the buildings had much sought after air conditioning. The other half, usually in a barn, did not. Some of the more sturdy jumbo tents had air conditioning, but most did not. The only respite from the heat in these tents was the shade and lots of fans.

Something that struck me immediately was how friendly everyone was. Dealers were from all over the world, many from France and the United Kingdom. Attendees were from as far as California, Miami and Manhattan. Everyone was so nice, it made looking and buying that much more enjoyable in spite of the heat.

Texas cuisine

We ate at locally owned restaurants versus any national chain. The food was not only tasty, but well priced. I will make a note for my Mexican food lovers, nachos and tacos in Texas are served not with browned ground beef but diced steak, something my plebeian palette did not enjoy. Some restaurants offered them with pork or chicken instead of traditional beef.

Antique sales on the upswing

I asked dealers if the temperatures were affecting their sales. Most said no, but added they felt there weren’t as many attendees at this show as in previous years. This observation can be heard at any antique show throughout the country. Many dealers were optimistic and upbeat saying sales this year were the best in almost a decade. Good to hear!

Based on the number of shippers we saw running around with dollies and carts, people were buying. A few dealers mentioned that “smalls” were selling well, but not larger items. A long-time jewelry dealer friend told me inventory priced between $500-$1,500 was sitting, but below and above this range was flying out the door.

As with many of the larger shows, there was something for everyone from a papier mache life-sized steer to fine Louis XIV gilt furniture.

New old treasures found at Round Top

We shopped and almost dropped, filling the van up and then some. I bought a set of red transferware dishes I do not need but absolutely had to have! Something I must confess here and now is I’m addicted to dishes. As of last count, I can now serve dinner to 59 guests. I can’t seat them, but I can serve them!

We’re expecting the delivery of two Bombay inlaid dressers, a gold-gilt floor standing mirror, a gilt console table and a pair of marble topped end tables. So much for larger items not selling. Jay and I made up for that! Keep your fingers crossed everything arrives in one piece. The console had a matching coffee table which came back with us in the van. It needs some touch up work because the gilt is flaking off, but the design is fabulous, as is the marble top. I’m still staring at the table trying to ascertain how to tackle the flaking gilt.

Our last day in Round Top was still hot and humid. We’d spent twice as much money as we budgeted (not uncommon for us). By Friday, we felt as if we’d finally “done” Round Top, never to return. But as the days go by, we’re already thinking we should make hotel reservations for next spring’s show. We’ve been told it’s the better of the two shows for a couple of reasons. First, the weather is milder. Second, the blue bells (a Texas flower) are all in bloom. And last, many MORE dealers set up from Europe.

More dealers from Europe? Hmmm. Time to book that hotel and reserve another van! 

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