BETHLEHEM, PENN. — Norm Schaut has an expansive imagination that was really put to the test over the April 13–14 weekend, dates of his Antique City Fun Fair. When questioned about the attendance at this event, he replied, “It surged far beyond my imagination, if that is possible.” To boil that down into numbers, more than 700 advance tickets were sold and the line on opening day stretched the length and width of the Rausch Fieldhouse on the campus of Lehigh University. And compared to attendance over the two days last year, numbers showed a 63.3 percent increase.
“As the days prior to the show got shorter, we had dealers calling to see if we had any room left. At the last minute we added an extra aisle, filled it almost immediately, and now we have a waiting list,” Norm said. He has indicated that the show will not grow any larger than 248 dealers, due to the limits of the fieldhouse, and as of April 19, he has received 165 contracts for next year, and some come with every mail delivery. There is talk that a new convention center might be in the future for Bethlehem, which could present a whole new ball game for the show. Time will tell.
This show bears some resemblance to Norm Schaut’s blockbuster Atlantique City event that set records in attendance and dealer participation. Now dubbed the “Fun Fair,” it brings together dealers in many different types of collecting, and also in grades of collecting. And when it all comes together, it is fun.
The variety of objects offered is limitless, and one never knows what will turn up. Some say that if you can’t find it there, it might not exist. And sales this year were strong, for the most part, and, in fact, so good for some of the exhibitors that it sent them running home for more things for the second day.
Holidays were well remembered with hundreds of Christmas objects and decorations, as well as Santa in many shapes and outfits, and Halloween items filled shelf after shelf. One collector of holiday items traveled from Portland, Org., to attend this Fun Fair. And, of course, there are lots of advertising signs, with Coke and Pepsi taking the lead over other soft drinks. Cars and auto parts are well advertised, and one booth had some less ordinary signs, including one that read “Want Good Fishing — Obey The Law.”
Many of the characters that lots of us grew up with were there to remind us of our childhood, including Flash Gordon, Captain Midnight, Nick Carter, Dick Tracy, Blondie, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry —and even a tote bag with a picture of Archie.
Racks of vintage clothing, booths filled with early watches and jewelry, cut and pressed glass, hat pins, Hummels, movie posters, Canton, silver pieces, robots and even a large electric wall clock surrounded by garish neon lights in red and green were all there. And if you needed a Bell Brand musical instrument string, there was a case of them.
If all of that is not enough fun, then you can always count on Norm to bring together a good number of toy dealers with wide range of interests ranging from those small car models to any number of early boats and from large cast iron fire wagons to push to lithographed toys to pull. Russ Harrington was one of the toy dealers there with cast iron horse-drawn coaches, ice wagons, buggies, circus and music wagons, carts and all kinds of fire equipment.
Joe Freeman of Tin Toy Works in Allentown, Penn., said that “this show is like the old days, a good crowd and lots of buying. It’s like the crowds at the toy shows.”
“Some of the fun of this show is the social end of collecting, getting together with others who collect the same things, which I think has been missing from lots of events. But it is happening here,” Norm said. And it will be there again next year when the Fun Fair runs April 12–13, not on the same dates as the two shows in Philadelphia.
As with every show, there are always some problems and it is sort of fun to watch Norm rush about the fieldhouse putting out a fire here and there. We think it is sort of fun… unless you happen to be Norm Schaut.