The spring edition of the Brimfield Antiques Market, May 8‱3, was a big success for buyers and sellers alike in spite of cool temperatures and rain showers for most of the week. Beginning with exhibiting dealers arriving Sunday and Monday, but with selling beginning on Tuesday, May 8, the markets’ fields were thoroughly scoured by shoppers seeking new additions to their home décor, collections or inventories. This week saw good buying, according to most exhibitors and the promoters of the 20-some fields making up the shows.
This was the season’s first show in this small town about 90 miles from Boston where three times each year antiques dealers gather to offer their collections. For the May event, about 3,000 exhibiting dealers and many thousands more visitors were in attendance selling and buying.
The action officially began Tuesday at first light when more than a dozen fields opened for business. Among the popular Tuesday morning stops is the Vermont Tent at Green Acres. Started about 20 years ago by Greg Hamilton and some of his friends who were all originally from the Green Mountain state, it has evolved to now having several Vermonters and also a number of dealers from other parts of the country who have a Vermont connection. Hamilton and friends were selling fine furniture, folk art and also a good amount of silver.
The big openings that first day included Dealers Choice at 11 am and Brimfield Acres North at 1 pm. Dealers Choice is among the largest fields, with more than 400 spaces for exhibitors, and this May it was nearly full. Found early after the opening bell were many New England pieces, including a peach basket in decorative grain paint from returning dealer Judy Tyler of Auburn, Maine. Tyler had been an exhibitor at Brimfield more than 20 years ago but left for other career pursuits, only returning after an early retirement from her “day job.” She was also found later in the week at Hertan’s.
More sales that morning from Dealers Choice included furniture from many dealers and even a pair of mopeds from Travis Worrell, a Bridgeport, Conn., dealer. Bill Gittes, Barrington, N.H., was selling stoneware and a collection of small antiques. Business partners Bill Grotheer and Brandon Levine from Huntington, N.Y., had an assortment of furniture, which included an early Nineteenth Century drop leaf table. Unusually long and with single board leaves, it was a quick sale for less than $500. Their inventory also included fine art, early porcelain and several early Twentieth Century Louis Vuitton travel bags.
When Brimfield Acres North opened its gates for the buyers, at the entrance there were several regulars in their spaces. Otto Hart, Arlington, Vt., was showing an alligator, but a harmless one made of cast stone. Bearsville, N.Y., dealer Mario Pollo was showing a small arcade fire truck.
Auctioneer Dave Straight, Sturbridge, Mass., has an oversized space where he sells the latest additions to his collection, which this time included several stained glass windows. Just down the aisle, Tom and Kate Pirozzoli were selling early furniture found near their home in Goshen, N.H.
Never missing an opening, Pat Greika, Stafford, Conn., now does the show with help from her children and grandchildren. Her collection is primarily small antiques and earthenware.
The rain held off for much of the day Wednesday, with only a slight downpour during Heart-O-The Mart, and the rain would not have daunted determined buyers anyway. The May edition of Brimfield is always a strong show, and the refrain among quite a few dealers was that the show was reminiscent of “the good old days.” Several other dealers did not even have time to talk, so busy were they selling and wrapping up items for sale.
The sales seemed to start as soon as morning dawned. The first of the Wednesday fields to open, New England Motel did a booming business, and one dealer was overheard on his phone just shy of 8 am, telling someone he had already made more than $2,100. The field had been open for less than two hours at that point.
Setting up at the Motel, dealer Philippa Katz of Barleycorn Antique Prints, Dorset, Vt., said, “I had an excellent Brimfield this May. The rainy weather during the first few days didn’t seem to deter visitors, and there were lots of buyers from all over the states. I particularly like the buyers from New York because they usually make up their minds fast.”
She added, “There were quite a few buyers from Japan. I noticed they have a great eye and are often looking for something quirky! I think that, as a dealer, if you have attractive and unusual items you will always do well. Buyers are very savvy nowadays and are on the lookout for something ‘different.’ The successful sellers at Brimfield are aware of this, and bring their best stuff, especially to the May market. My friends in Shelton’s field, for example, had their best Brimfield ever!” Katz said.
On the other side of New England Motel, Mountain Thistle Antiques was selling well from its inventory of Black Forest carvings, barometers and decorative accessories. “Our Brimfield New England Motel show was gangbusters. On Wednesday, opening day, we had our single best day at any show anywhere,” said dealers Bill and Trish Huestis. “We had very modest expectations,” the couple said, noting sales were strong all week. “There were no huge single sales, just consistent, steady business every day. We offer a rather broad selection and there was no particular focal point. They came, they looked and they bought.
“We also had follow up phone orders and some Brimfield-related activity on our Ruby Lane website when we got home. It was like the good old days,” they said.
Rustic furniture, smalls and signs were selling well at Christiby’s, Traverse City, Mich. “We’ve sold a little bit of everything,” the dealers reported, while a plethora of red sold tags soon dotted the booth of South Porch Antiques, Spencerport, N.Y.
Over at Heart-O-The Mart, Obnoxious Antiques, Burlington, N.J., was among the many dealers throughout the day experiencing a successful show. “We had a good show, it was almost as good as the old days,” said dealer John Polito. Sales were brisk and a collection of puppets was a big hit. “We sold a carnival fun house mirror, as well as a Nipper RCA firebox from the old RCA building in Camden, N.J. We also sold a rare Sunoco porcelain sign along with many smalls. Hopefully, the trend is changing as I saw more younger buyers than ever,” Polito said.
The last of the Wednesday fields to open, Hertan’s offered a liberal dose of Americana and country primitives, as well as the usual mix of “merch” for which Brimfield is known. Leicester Americana, Ballston Lake, N.Y., offered a colorful booth as nearly a dozen fine quilts and hooked rugs hung on the back wall of its booth, while Dwan and Rick Mabrey, Raleigh, N.C., displayed a 5¢ To Play carnival sign, several fine game boards in good paint, and a two-drawer cabinet with one drawer labeled “Cottons” and the other “Woolens.”
Thursday †May’s Antiques Market
Slickers and a good pair of Wellingtons were clothes-de-rigueur when May’s Antiques Market, Thursday’s main attraction, opened at 9 am. The slickers would come off later as the skies cleared for afternoon sunshine, but the boots remained handy to navigate the muddy paths between exhibitor rows that had developed, thanks to the previous days’ rains.
For promoter Martha May, the soggy opening was a relative blessing compared to last year’s fall finale when May’s had to forgo its traditional Thursday opening, due to flooding, and opened instead at 9 am on Friday. For this year’s opener, she said, there were about 450 dealers, many of them taking advantage of a flexible rule instituted by the show management that permitted tents to be set up right away, although merchandise still had to be hidden away until the official opening at 9 am. “It’s an experiment,” she said of the slight easing of the rules. Just to keep everyone honest, May staffers canvassed the field warning scofflaws, such as one Stockbridge, Mass., dealer who had the back of his box truck open to view, to “cover up.”
Many of the dealers showing at this market boast of 25- or 30-year attendance records. One of those veterans is John Lord, owner of Antiques in Time, who said he has logged 30 years in this field. From Wells, Maine, he specializes in country store items, sporting memorabilia, pens and Arts and Crafts items. Highlights in his booth included a #130 nickel plate National cash register with name plate and amount clearly visible, as well as an oak case advertising Pratt’s Veterinary Remedies, circa 1895, with a graphic image of a horse and a list of available medicines.
David Fontaine of John Fontaine Antique and Estate Jewelry, Smithfield, R.I., took time to describe the salient points of a nice selection of early American stoneware. On view were a 3-gallon New York crock with a bird in cobalt and an incised eye, circa 1870; a 2-gallon cobalt slip decorated jug, also circa 1870; and an ovoid 2-gallon I.M. Mead & Co., Ohio, jug, circa 1820, with brushed cobalt accents and an applied handle.
A contingent of New Hampshire dealers †namely, Linda and Michael Tate of Sanbornton and Gail and Don Piatt of Hopkinton †were sharing tented cover in the back of the field. The Tates had among their collection a graduated-size grouping of Shaker pantry boxes from the second quarter of the Nineteenth Century. The Piatts were offering a Maine painted valuables box, stenciled and with chip carved initials S.T., circa 1810.
“I’m just overwhelmed,” stated Judith Mathieu, the daughter of Brimfield founder, the late Gordon Reid, and one of the principals of the J&J market that takes place on the original field. “Can you image how proud our dad would be,” she said, choking back a tear and looking out over the massive lines of shoppers waiting to get onto the fields. “It has been busy all week,” said Mathieu moments before giving the signal to open the gates, “But I haven’t seen crowds like this in years.”
Indeed, the shoppers had formed into huge lines at each of the four entrances onto J&J’s field, with perhaps the largest concentration of shoppers at the bridge entrance adjacent to May’s field and the main entrance on Route 20. The lines snaked off the property and down the road in both directions and as the gates opened, the crowds charged onto the fields seeking out their favorite sellers. Many of the exhibitors set up only at J&J, a trait that keeps loyal shoppers coming back and on their toes.
New York City dealer Luxe Gear was ready for the spotlight as it offered a selection of camera, lighting and recording memorabilia. A massive bright orange Hermes banner was quickly whisked from the booth. Rye, N.Y., dealer and stoneware author Bill Ketchum was on hand for the show, displaying a good selection of pewter, a nice cast iron pilothouse eagle and, naturally, several rare pieces of marked stoneware.
A good selection of blue decorated stoneware was also available at Paul Roberts, Carmel, Maine, including a nice jug marked Elmira, N.Y., and decorated with a man’s face.
Stephan Boyer, Campbelltown, Penn., had a good selection of trade signs and gaming wheels, including a horse race wheel that had been used on a New Jersey boardwalk. Another interesting gaming wheel was decorated with hand painted hamburgers, ice cream cones and hot dogs, which the dealer presumed would be prizes awarded from the soda shop from which it came.
Next Brimfield dates are July 10‱4 and September 4‸.