Published: September 21, 2004
Brimfielders are a resilient sort. They eagerly deal with the blistering sun, or unseasonably cold weather, or wind and rains, and sometimes even the remnants of hurricanes. All this is endured while in search of the elusive treasure that may or may not appear in the fields and yards of America’s first and foremost mega-flea market town.
While temperate and sunny weather is desired by all in attendance, the rains are something that diehard Brimfielders have stared down more times than they care to remember. Yet, during the most recent Brimfield outing, many shoppers and dealers bowed out, succumbing to the forces of the remnants of Hurricane Frances. After leaving a swath of destruction and flooding up the entire Atlantic coast with damage easily totaling in the billions, Frances came to Brimfield and, for some, financially impacted the fall session.
Tuesday started off bright and sunny, Wednesday saw steady rains, threatening skies and light rains were seen throughout Thursday and the return of the sun for both Friday and Saturday.
Dealer spaces were available virtually everywhere on both Wednesday and Thursday with a couple of the larger fields experiencing no-shows of up to 25 percent. The lines of shoppers at each of the events were also noticeably smaller. “My stuff will just get ruined,” said one dealer at Heart-O-The-Mart on a wet Wednesday morning, “it’s just not worth it.” The otherwise hardy dealer left her unpacked van on the field and simply shopped the show before moving on.
Stoneware John always provides a good barometer for business as he gazes out from his roadfront stand at Faxon’s Midway. This year’s observation from John Hassapelis: “It’s not like it was this past summer,” the dealer stated, motioning out toward the congested rain-soaked roadway. “In July we watched people going up and down the road with nothing in their hands. The last couple of days there has been a steady stream of people moving things with carts and carrying their stuff back to their cars.” When queried on Wednesday morning regarding sales of earthenwares, the dealer commented that he had already done quite well.
Tuesday’s start was auspiciously pleasant and bright, but some dealers seemed distracted, mentally looking over their shoulders at the prospect of a couple of good soaking days that loomed as the remnants of Hurricane Frances churned up the Eastern seaboard.
Some dealers said they had taken advantage of available spaces at the Tuesday field openings – Faxon’s Midway, Dealer’s Choice and Brimfield Acres North, for example – because they figured that May’s could be a washout on Thursday. Better to make some hay while the sun shines, they reasoned.
Faxon’s Midway opening at 7 am drew a fair sized crowd of Brimfield regulars – versus the retail shoppers that come on the weekend – and dealers actually had time to chat and catch up with colleagues and familiar customers as they finished setting up their spaces in the relatively shallow frontage along Route 20.
First-time exhibitors Ed and Frances Pinkham of Canton, Mass., were taking their 21/2-year-old shop business on the road to see if Brimfield could add some sizzle. The pair was upbeat as they described an early sale of a carved wooden piece from a church, a kind of funeral torch lamp that held candles. Of interest in their booth was a three-piece oak flat file from the turn of the century.
Also at Faxon’s was Les Sackin, Keyport, N.J., whose “Wake Up And Smell The Bakelite” T-shirt eloquently telegraphed his passion. Sackin said he was one of the first in 1968 to begin buying Bakelite. When the factory closed in 1975, he acquired some 10,000 pounds of the material.
On the seemingly ever-expanding real estate of Jon Magoun, Paris, Maine, and partners, an E.M. White canoe from the 1930s parked in front hinted ominously of wetter times ahead. Magoun said that he and his field partners – Peter Byers from central Pennsylvania and George Gould from Penns Creek, Penn. – “always do well” because “we always leave a little room in the price.” A pair of grain painted blanket chests – one from Skowhegan, Maine, and another from Norway, Maine – were priced at $350 and $1,900.
Another first-time exhibitor at Faxon’s Midway, Peter Karman of ABC Import/Export, Etten, Holland, said business was “not too bad.” ABC, a wholesale operation comprising about 60 dealers, specializes in antique Eastern European German and French furniture, and Karman said he brought some nice pieces, such as a large Vienna, Austria, Biedermeier pyramid secretaire, circa 1825, with hood and gilden dolphins, and a French credenza decorated with ornate mythological carvings
Adjacent to Midway, the Brimfield Antiques Center offers a year-round showcase for about 80 dealers – well, at least, 362 days, according to Richard Tiberrii, who with Heather Wettelaufer was managing activities inside the building. Two of the participating dealers – Robert Holbrook and Robert Louder, collectively, B&B Antiques, Springfield, Mass. – were showcasing such estate treasures as a Baroque-style bronze silver plated chair and table set and a late 1950s/early 1960s Lalique desk set with blotter and letter opener. The table and chairs – pre-1950 – came out of a Palm Beach estate, according to Holbrook.
“Unusual antiques” was the watchword of Elmwood, a Georgetown, Mass., business run by Daniel and Luanne Meader. And unusual it certainly was to see a massive stuffed buffalo head the Meaders had acquired from a lodge in Maine. “It’s wicked heavy,” said Dan Meader of the 1880s-90s-vintage piece – and, ironically, offered a better price (per pound) than going out and snagging a trophy head oneself.
Two hours later, the “party” crossed over Route 20 to Brimfield Acres North, which under the management of Robert Hopfe and Colleen James started in July 1990 with just 49 dealers. Today, it boasts some 400 dealers, and they were ready for the crowds when the gates opened at 1.
For example, Conrad Schure, whose At The Sine of the Rule business in Freehold, N.J., offers early instruments of technology and science, had a display case bristling with all manner of precision instruments, such as metal and ivory slide rules, prisms, a geomancer’s compass and even an old-fashioned check perforator.
American Indian artifacts, along with antique and estate jewelry, were offered ay Moonstone Antiques. George and Jackie Bernheimer said they have been coming the fields here for some 35 years. George Bernheimer showed an Apache olla, circa 1890-1900, that went beyond the typical artistry seen in such pieces. Along with representations of dogs and people, the olla’s artist had also created shadows and coyote tracks.
Like Midway, Brimfield Acres North also features an indoor market. Antiques in the Barn runs throughout Brimfield week, and inside the barn – cool in contrast to the midday heat blasting dealers and shoppers in the field – a number of dealers were doing a good business. Sally Van Den Bossche of Ashway Antiques, Ashway, R.I., was showing a fresh cache of ironstone and pewter that she had picked up at recent auction. “I bought two out of three major lots,” said Van Den Bossche, who added that she was having an excellent show. Nearby, Barbara Ladd of Mansfield, Conn., was doing a brisk trade in postcards and ephemera.
It was hard to believe that such a beautiful day on Tuesday could be followed by such misery on Wednesday. Clouds blasted into the area well after a painterly sunset and the rains came soon after.
Slickers, boots and umbrellas were the appropriate gear of the day. Heavy rains during the night got the fields good and soggy, but mud was one of the last things on shoppers’ minds.
A good-sized crowd was on hand at the New England Motel as promoter Marie Doldoorian surveyed the area just before opening to the public at 6 am. Buying was brisk around the market with many of the dealers reporting good sales. Especially cozy were those dealers under the two large pavilions that the motel’s fields offer. The rain did little to hamper their spirits and during sudden downbursts the pavilion dealers found themselves in a location preferred by all.
Many dealers had the sides on their tents battened down, others braved the elements with their side walls open – no one we saw was without some sort of cover. Clear plastic sheets were draped over virtually everything that was set up outside the tents.
Just down the aisle was Bethel, Conn., dealers Keys to Success who offered vintage caps, eyeglasses, and their trademark ware – jewelry fashioned from the keys of vintage typewriters. The dealers were quick to point out that the only typewriters that are used for their jewelry line are “ones that are far beyond a repairable state.”
DJ Dougherty of Poster Glory was positioned safely under one of the large pavilions and he offered a wide assortment of colorful posters. The dealer reported good sales early on in the show including a large chromolith poster that he had discovered in a barn near Albany. The poster, circa 1902, was a milliner’s advertisement profusely decorated with hats of the period.
Gale Zelnick of Mount Dora, Fla., offered up a huge assortment of lighting including Sandwich glass oil lamps to Gone-With-The-Wind hanging lamps. If the Florida resident had heard it once, she had heard it a hundred times – though she still adamantly denied bringing the rains North with her stating, “It wasn’t me, I’ve been up in this part of the country for the last couple months now. I haven’t even been back home to see what damage either of these hurricanes did.”
By 9 am the crowd had made its way to Heart-O-The-Mart for the opening of Pam Moriaraty’s show. The promoter was pleased with the size of the crowd, although it was definitely off from previous fall events. Buyers were relocated from a tented holding area to a position in front of the main gates with about ten minutes till show time. The crowd squeezed up against the gates, often times peering over the vision-blocking wind-netting, awaiting the opening. Promptly at 9 they were off to the race with the crowd charging past and into the vast field.
A couple of large enclosed tents made for good shopping, especially when the rains picked up. One such side-walled tent housed a whole band of textile dealers whose vulnerable merchandise stayed high and dry.
The rain did not bother the folks at Artefact Architectural Antiques as many of the rdf_Descriptions that they displayed had been culled from the exteriors of buildings. The dealers offered a mix of new and old materials and it did not seem to matter to buyers who quickly snapped up the huge reproduction cast iron Great Dane in stressed paint and a pair of antique cast iron urns.
Michael and Calire Higgins had an elaborate tent with elaborate offerings inside. The booth was filled to the brim with Delft, Canton, Imari, Rose Medallion and Serves. The dealers, who share their time between Brussels and Chattanooga, Tenn., stated that they buy in Europe where these particular wares are not quite as desirable and are accordingly able to offer high quality examples at reasonable prices.
Potteries seen around the field included a good selection of redware offered up by New Jersey dealer Jim Greivo, and a strong assortment of creamware in the booth of Boston Associates highlighted by a rare melon-form tureen.
John Malchione had a selection of sporting materials that included everything from desirable bamboo fly rods to a rare Maine eider drake decoy with inlet head that had sold minutes after the show opened to a California woman for $4,500.
Two and a half hours later, shoppers began mingling around the fields of Jeanne Hertan. This field, unlike the others that open on Wednesday, prohibits any set up or selling prior to the promoter opening the show. A couple minutes prior to the noon opening, a sporty looking Jeanne Hertan dressed in red high-top sneakers, jeans, a white sweater and a white cowboy hat with white ribbon trim, emerged from her porch to “ring the bell” that has started the selling at Hertan’s market for years.
Many of the dealers opted not to set up tents, and not to set up in the open out-of-doors. Instead they transformed their vans into mobile showrooms with furniture and accessories tastefully displayed within. New Hampshire dealer John Wahl was one such exhibitor as he filled the van with trade signs, checkerboards, painted pantry boxes, stoneware and tole. The attractive grouping had shoppers clamoring.
Hebron, Conn., dealer David Bland used both approaches for his booth. His best pieces remained inside the van, but as the rains gave way to first a drizzle, then a light misting, to finally just heavily clouded skies, more and more furniture came out.
Hertan’s is always the scene of packed-booth-frenzy, and its contagiousness leads to all out mayhem. Such was the case at Cranston dealer John Check’s booth. The dealer had set up two tables and loaded them with stuff that was so interesting it attracted a crowd three deep almost 360 degrees. We never did get close enough to find out what kind of treasures we were missing out on.
Gary Stradling was once again on hand for the opening of Hertan’s with a wonderful selection of early glasswares. The New York City dealer has been doing Brimfield for decades and says that he comes as much to reacquaint himself with old friends as he does to sell.
The highly anticipated May’s Antique Market was termed another success in spite of the rainy weather on Thursday morning. According to Richard May, the head of the family run business, the field was nearly full of dealers. “We did pretty good,” said May, “even though a few dealers asked to come in a day late or cancelled. And the weather didn’t slow the buyers or the buying.”
May’s Antique Market has been in business for more than 30 years on its home site, just a quarter mile from the center of this former dairy farming village. It began as a parking lot to the J&J Promotions field across the street, but very quickly became a market on its own. Dealer loyalty is very strong here, as many have been exhibiting for the duration; Kay Baker, an Amherst, Mass., dealer, said she has “been in the same spot for 105 consecutive markets, never missed even one.”
This is a marketplace that attracts buyers. The setup is not the easiest, as dealers are not allowed to put out any of their collections until the opening moment at 9 am; indeed, they may not even put up tents until 8:30 am. This is intended to keep all the merchandise “fresh, not picked over,” according to Tim May, Richard May’s son, who, like most of the family, is involved in the business.
This “first time on the market” atmosphere means there are frequently special discoveries. In one example, a dealer shopping the field at a few minutes after the opening called a friend on cellular phones to discuss a find, which was then purchased for less than $50. Shortly thereafter, the buyer met up with his friend and saw the piece for the first time. A textile rdf_Description, he said it was an exceptional prize, which, if he chooses to sell it, would be worth at least ten times the purchase price.
There was also a great deal of activity in home furnishings. Tom Peper, a dealer from Lewisburg, Penn., said, “In spite of the rain, we had a good show. We sold a blanket chest, a couple of cupboards and a country harvest table along with various accessories like some wooden bowls and tin ware.”
Chelsea Hill Antiques owner Tom Nagy said he was selling well, with major furniture pieces finding new homes. From nearby Hampton, Conn., he has been doing the show for more years than he could recall and believed that the market was returning to better times.
Frederick O’Brien, Washington, Conn., and Steven Cirillo, Orange, Mass., combined their business and offered “an excellent example of early Boston furniture making” with a drop front desk, Chippendale style, in period for $3,250. John White and Warren Brown, Bristol, R.I., offered mostly small antiques, and White said they did well. Their largest rdf_Description seemed to be an early Connecticut shelf clock.
Dennis [Berard] & Dad, Fitzwilliam, N.H., had two truck loads of early English porcelain dishes and accessory pieces filling the tent to overflowing. Just across the aisle, David Erickson, Littleton, Mass., offered early wood stoves that had been converted to modern ranges with gas tops for use in today’s homes. He also had restored early wood and gas stoves for heat and cooking.
J&J’s was, as always, a success for the more than 600 exhibitors who set up shop for Friday and Saturday. Sales of antiques and collectibles were brisk as the weather cooperated on both show days. For more than 40 years, this event has been a cornerstone of Brimfield’s antiques markets and spawned the 20 or so other markets, fields and shows.
Jill Reid Lukesh and her sister Judy Reid Mathieu, daughters of the event’s founder, Gordon Reid, have continued to produce one of the premier shows of the week and one of the largest outdoor shows in the country.
Lukesh and Mathieu have strengthen their three-times-each-season show with little changes to keep pace with the marketplace. This year, they modified the booth sizes for the first time in many years to better accommodate dealer vehicles. After all, when their father started the show, a station wagon was as big a car as was made, far smaller in capacity than today’s sports utility vehicles and vans. The change allowed a greater amount of antiques inventory to be better displayed and improved access to the dealers during setup.
Patricia Ann Lane Breame has been at J&J for 35 years, and the dealer commented that she “did fine.” She said she has “a lot of customers who come back to see what I have. I sold a grain painted pedestal and several other things to a dealer from Maryland.”
When asked how he was doing, Syracuse, N.Y., dealer Peter Moses said, “Good. I sold quite a bit of furniture. I have no complaints.” One piece not sold by 9:30 am was an American Pembroke table in cherry with a stretcher base in very good condition. At about the same time, Miller-Robinson Antiques of Amherst, Mass., reported “a fairly good morning,” and the empty spots in their booth offered evidence.
Roy and Joan Peterson came in from nearby Palmer, Mass., and said, “It was nice to sleep in our own bed then get in here and start selling.” Donna East, Worcester, Mass., had a carved eagle in the position often described as “peace” – wings spread, head down and draped in an American flag – with an overall width of almost 8 feet.
For Ann Ronco, this was the first year at J&J. She has a shop in Winter Park, Maine, open all year, but now wants to do more. She offered furniture and a large collection of architectural objects. Ed Wilson has been a dealer at this show for many years. Hailing from Mansfield, Penn., Wilson offered a step back corner cupboard made of walnut from New Jersey for $4,400.
Glocester, R.I., dealer Daniel Romani of Allworthy Antiques said the show was “very interesting. I had only four sales, but that included two of the most expensive rdf_Descriptions in the booth, a chair table for $3,995 and a dry sink at $2,895.” He will be back next year.
Brimfield shoppers will again get their chance to pick all these fields and buildings when they reopen next year on May 10.
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