Published: July 29, 2020
Review by W.A. Demers & Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Brimfield Live & Ruby Lane
ONLINE — It looked a little bit like the backdrop for a science fiction disaster film —nearly empty roadway, empty fields, a lone church spire punctuating a seemingly unpopulated landscape. But, wait, that’s Klia Ververidis popping into view in a video with the Hertan’s sign (albeit backwards on my iPhone screen) telling us that all is well, there’s fun in store and lots of shopping, shopping, shopping to be done. Yes, it’s the July edition of the venerable Brimfield Antiques Market, this year conducted July 14-20. It used to be said that only mad dogs and Englishmen ventured out into the broiling fields in July, but this year, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, you could shop the show from the air-conditioned comfort of your home or from anywhere in the world, for that matter, with just an internet connection and digital device.
Ververidis leads a band of organizers that rescued the May edition of the Massachusetts mega antiques market from being a non-event, canceled on account of the coronavirus outbreak. She and her team have brought people together virtually — and this was again the case with the show’s summer session — which presented the Facebook LIVE event but newly combined it with a robust transactional marketplace on Ruby Lane.
The Brimfield LIVE Facebook events — under the aegis @brimfieldlive — ranged from live videos of vendors panning through their collections to videos of fields “opening” to “teaser” shots of individual items with a link taking viewers to the Ruby Lane online marketplace. A pinned post advertising the show stated that it would run to 6 am on Monday, July 20. The weeklong online mélange may not have been fully satisfying to diehard gatherers who never miss a single live edition, but it was collectively emblematic of the perpetual inventiveness within the trade to keep the flea market alive.
“It was definitely smoother this time,” Ververidis told Antiques and The Arts Weekly. “We had a much better idea of how to do it and it was easier because a lot of dealers sent in videos and slideshows. We had more content, with more people going live through the live feeds.”
So on Tuesday, July 14, Ververidis stood in front of the Hertan’s sign, where she had been a longtime exhibitor before buying the show this past January, and in a live stream video previewed what folks might expect to experience on the Facebook page over the next six days. There would be videos with dealers — some live streamed (about a dozen), some pre-recorded videos or photo albums showcasing merchandise (about 75), live stream “gate openings,” a live auction and even some wacky but popular distractions like scavenger hunts and the “fill-a-bag for $20” event.
The seven shows that participated in May returned for July, with the exception of a live virtual opening for New England Motel, which, due to family circumstances, posted a banner with greetings from co-owners Bobby and John Doldoorian and their staff. Also absent from the mix were markets like Shelton’s and Sturtevant, which historically have not featured a live opening at a set time. Ververidis said she is trying to determine a way for those shows to join the virtual market in the future.
With a live show teaser to lure shoppers to their Ruby Lane booth, Brian and Michele Berger of the Velvet Box Society offered a myriad of exuberant gems and jewelry. Among the highlights here were an antique Tiffany & Company engagement ring set with amethyst, onyx and diamonds; a 60-carat cabochon Santa Maria old mine aquamarine ring in 18K yellow gold and a rare antique carved cabochon Colombian emerald ring by Tiffany & Company featuring a custom cut antique carved emerald. The latter came with the original receipt for the stone that was purchased in India, circa 1935.
Hatpins, hatpins and more hatpins could be sourced from Norma Lamont of The Spanish Comb. It was actually a debut for this UK dealer as she has never before sold at Brimfield. “The chance to participate in this online event came up because I have a shop on Ruby Lane so I thought I would give it a try,” she said.
Lamont, in her 70s, started selling full time when she retired as a university professor in 2004. She said she’s been involved in the antiques trade all her life, though, and as a kid used to collect jewelry and little china ornaments that she bought with her allowance. “I soon became an avid collector of Victorian jewelry,” she said, encouraged by her grandmother, who was the widow of a diplomat in the old British Empire. When her grandmother passed in the 1970s, Norma was left the contents of her house. “That was how I got into the antiques trade as a dealer,” she recalled.
“My specialist interest is in costume and fashion accessories and in particular hair accessories. I amassed quite a large collection over the years. Being an academic, I spent quite a lot of time reading up and researching on the history of fashion and accessories.”
A Tuesday Facebook Live event featured dealer Beth Melfi, who specializes in industrial/modern furniture and artifacts. “We feel so fortunate to have been a part of both the Instagram and Facebook Shows for Brimfield since the actual field events were canceled,” she said. “Everyone who participates in Brimfield feels so passionate about it, and this at least gives us a chance to connect with fellow dealers and introduce our collections to a new online audience. I have to say since doing both the May and July shows, we have increased our followers significantly — that’s more eyes looking at our pieces all year long. It has also propelled us, rather reluctantly, into the world of online sales. I think we needed this push to start selling more online and it has been surprisingly wonderful. We are still speaking with customers, one on one. It might not be in person right now, but it is still personal. We are learning more every day and we are very grateful for the Brimfield online shows.”
Julie Rose, the “Steiff Lady,” was doing a video highlighting a very special bear from her Orphanage. She loves to collect early Steiff bears in “well-loved” condition, and this particular example, circa 1905-06, sported an interesting seam running down the middle of its head, a move by the maker, she explained, to conserve mohair fabric. “Only one in seven bears from this period have the center seam,” she said, “making them hard to find.”
Other live highlights on Tuesday included Vintage Vin offering a 1930s vintage Swami talking ouija board and Jeanne Gauthier from the Owl’s Nest Emporium, Bennington, Vt., who normally shows at Shelton’s. She panned through some of her Roseville and Weller pieces from the late 1930s to mid-1940s, abloom with a myriad of floral motifs — magnolia, peony, bleeding heart, water lily, etc.
Heart-O-The-Mart generally opens on Wednesday of Brimfield week. Owners Pam and Don Moriarty stood gamely outside their gate to herald the opening for a video.
New England Motel is another Wednesday show, here represented by Bobby, John and folks sending greetings to everyone and wishing their dealers good luck. Due to an unforeseen family circumstance, they said in their post, they were unable to stage a live opening but “can’t wait to see everyone in September.” Motel regulars Harry & Ginny’s Antiques, specialists in French enameled kitchenalia, other European enamelware and graniteware, Scandinavian and West German Midcentury Modern pottery, displayed some of their extensive inventory.
Harry Knoch said, “Basically I think the virtual sale went very well, and I am so grateful that they were able to put together something to keep the Brimfield tradition going. I am not particularly tech-savvy, but the organizers gave me a lot of help and encouragement to be able to do this. I am very happy with the way my booth and items looked and especially the way my introductory slide show was presented. We missed seeing all our friends — both dealers and customers — in the New England Motel. We also missed the food and being able to actually walk through the fields to see and touch things in person and finding unexpected treasures and bargains — that is the whole Brimfield experience. We did make several very good sales through the show, and it was good to reconnect with our regular customers. This was a monumental undertaking and a great beginning that I’m sure will get even better as we grow with it. Hoping we can all be actually ‘in’ Brimfield in September, but if not, this is the next best thing and I would definitely do the online show again.”
Ververidis could not resist re-enacting a staple of Wednesday’s always anticipated noon opening of Hertan’s market. She rang the bell, exclaiming “Hertan’s is now open” to an empty field that is normally buzzing with electricity as shoppers peek inside the tents ahead of the noontime bell.
A Facebook Live video from Wednesday featured Susan Voake of Norwich, Vt. Voake normally shows at the popular vintage textile and fashion shows conducted at the Sturbridge Host Hotel on Monday of Brimfield week. Alas, her Forget-Me-Not Antiques was among many others displaced by the show’s cancellation, so she videoed items from her booth — also available on Ruby Lane — all with the theme of Edwardian and Victorian sentimental fare — keepsake items, boudoir, sewing tools, vanity items, candy boxes, romantic trinkets and such.
Not all boats find safe harbor in the online world. A Thursday exhibitor of vintage costume jewelry reported, “So far, the selling experience has been a big disappointment. We have listed 100 items and two have been sold on the first day. I was very optimistic in this venue but now understand that at least for us, it is not a viable platform for selling.”
Other Thursday exhibitors, however, Dave and Linda Stone, Stone Croft Antiques, based in Pennsburg, Penn., were more sanguine. Panning among a variety of items, including a pair of small red children’s shoes with original shoe buttons, the Stones’ video sparked interest among shoppers who then found them on their website. “We are in Booth 86 in Hertan’s show field and have not missed a Brimfield in 30 years,” said Linda Stone. “I would rather be there selling, but the online video is going well and is directing people to my website. Klia, the new owner of Hertan’s, is doing a great job. I have been quite busy with the early samplers and other items we have shown so far.”
Ververidis and her husband, Arthur Crisafulli, are the chief executive officer and chief operating officer, respectively, of Crown Company Inc., which has conducted a live auction on Brimfield’s Thursday evenings on Hertan’s field for three years. This May, Ververidis and Crisafulli conducted virtual auctions nearly every evening, which they continued during the July event. Due to relaxed COVID restrictions, they were able to bring back the live in-person sale on Thursday, July 16, which attracted about 60 people who snapped up nearly 275 items. “We had a really good crowd; people were really happy to be at Brimfield and because we could use the entire Hertan’s field, everyone was spread out,” Ververidis reported, saying auction results ranged from $5 to $900
At press time, the town of Brimfield has not issued an official word on the status of the September Brimfield market. According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and CDC guidelines, the state must have reached Phase Four of reopening for the antiques show to proceed in an in-person capacity. The state is currently in Phase Three, in which limited-capacity auctions are permissible.
For the September online edition of Brimfield, the show will have exposure not only on Facebook, Instagram and Ruby Lane but Ververidis will also be adding Pinterest and YouTube to the equation, providing an even greater online reach than before.
Exhibitors with a history of participating at Brimfield were eligible to sell on the formalized Ruby Lane marketplace, which was new for this edition. Dealers could list up to 500 items of inventory in virtual booths on Ruby Lane for the duration of the show; if a dealer was an existing vendor on Ruby Lane, their Brimfield booth could link to the rest of their inventory. The Ruby Lane site hosted the virtual booths of 157 dealers; of those, 73 were new to Ruby Lane and between 30 and 40 dealers were already part of the Ruby Lane family.
Once an item sold, it moved to the back of a dealer’s inventory and went into “Sale Pending” status until the item had been paid for. At that point, the seller could finalize the sale, which took the item off the website. The number of items sold through the Ruby Lane platform were not tracked, but Ververidis said, “Several hundred sold through the platform while there were several hundred more off-platform sales from people who contacted the dealers directly.”
The Ruby Lane platform featured about 19,700 items when the show opened, though Ververidis said she plans to change that flood for the September show. “It was overwhelming and very hard to search for things. We’ll change that for September, when we’ll have different fields that will have staggered openings, much like the fields do when the show is in person. All fields will run through the end of the weekend and will be grouped together by field.”
The page views were impressive on Ruby Lane, with the show receiving more than 200,000 total page views throughout the six-day run. The first day, Tuesday, July 14, was the busiest with 66,381 page views. Each subsequent day saw less traffic, with 41,569 page views on Wednesday, 29,012 on Thursday, 25,758 people on Friday and 22,238 on Saturday. On Sunday, the last day of the show, 18,531 views were logged and the marketplace was taken down at 6 am on Monday, July 20.
Like most antiques shows, live or virtual, some dealers had multiple sales while some had none, and Ververidis said prices were across the board. “Some people had sales in the thousands of dollars, either in individual sales or all together; some dealers had no sales. I saw sales on Ruby Lane from $1,500 down to $9, so something in every price range.”
After the show site was closed, Ruby Lane president and chief executive officer Tom Johnson commented, “Working with Brimfield LIVE Online has been especially meaningful for us, and an all-around rewarding experience. Shows have a special place within our industry and as a tech-driven company, and collectors ourselves, we strive to help the community prosper by developing the tools necessary for communication, sales and success in these challenging times.”
Approximately 245,000 people visited the Facebook Live page over the week, although Ververidis was unable to get a breakdown by day. There were lessons learned, she acknowledged, for the fledgling effort. “People were posting every single day whereas in September we’ll go back to trying to recreate what the live show experience is like. I probably should have learned by now that I shouldn’t worry about the level of participation. We just need to present it in a way that most mimics an actual show.”
The virtual show is here to stay, said Ververidis, regardless of what goes live or not. “You, of course, can never replace the sights, the smells, the touch of being at a show in person. The purpose of the online show is to give another opportunity for sales and also to introduce the show to a lot of people who would never otherwise be able to know about it, and also to give a chance to people who can’t come in person to participate as well.”
New additions for the September addition include Stephen’s Place as well as the creation of the Brimfield Wholesale Marketplace, which Ververidis says will be a place for the design trade to connect with Brimfield sellers.
For additional information, www.brimfieldliveonline.com.
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