Published: June 25, 2002
By Carol Sims
FARMINGTON, CONN. – SUVs and minivans were streaming into the parking lot for early buying at Farm-ington Antiques Weekend, June 8-9. It was a bright, gorgeous morning with a just a bit of chill in the air as buyers dashed to check out their favorite dealers. If they knew exactly where to head, there were some great finds on the polo grounds. Things were moving right from the get go. According to John Jenkins of the Jenkins Management team, the gate for early buying and for the entire show was up about two percent over last spring.
Three hours head start gave early buyers a decided advantage over the general admission crowd if they knew what they wanted, but going into such a large show (557 dealers) without a plan was like “looking for a needle in the haystack,” according to one of dealers.
The field had a good mix of offerings. If you were looking for something in particular, you could zero in on your interests with the buyer’s guide handout. Furniture, for example, was referenced in the broad category “furniture” and also in more specific categories: “country,” “formal,” “French,” “oak,” “original paint” and “refinished.” The show has gotten stronger in textiles because of an effort made in that direction, but it would be hard to come away empty handed in any category. There were rdf_Descriptions for sale in the cents (buttons), and well as the thousands.
Early buying in rows A-E was probably a bit stronger than rows towards the middle of the field. That accounts for some of the hot and cold results the dealers experienced. With the next Brimfield about a month away, early buying by the trade at this Farming-ton Weekend was down from September, according to several dealers. At 10 am when the horn blew, the early buying crowd was quickly eclipsed by a wave of general admission showgoers. By Saturday afternoon Farmington’s vast parking lots were completely full. “I don’t know what we would have done if we had had another 200 cars show up,” said Jenkins.
Americana is still the strong suit at Farmington. American quilts, stoneware, folk art, Shaker rdf_Descriptions, samplers, trade signs, ephemera, country kitchenware, glass and ceramics were all on hand. Sporting accessories like old tennis racquets, baseball equipment, snowshoes, fishing gear, etc could be found on the field. Farmington showed evidence of America’s early industrial strengths, too, with old tools, lamps, foundry forms and professional equipment. But this spring the polo field was looking a bit more imported.
In addition to the traditional imports such as Limoges, Staffordshire, Quimper and Wedgwood ceramics, there were eight dealers selling Orientalia. Merchandise from Thailand (furniture and religious icons), the Himalayas (furniture), Middle East (especially carpets) and other Asian points added more flavor to Farmington. Like a new spice, it was not to everyone’s taste.
“The challenge is to have something on the field for everybody,” said Jenkins. “Farmington is a broad show. We are trying to create young collectors.” Jenkins said that Asian antiques are offering an affordable alternative to American antiques, which in turn used to offer an affordable alternative to European antiques before fine rare American pieces captured the top of our antiques market. Jenkins mused that authentic Asian antiques are more plentiful because of the millennia-old history of Asian civilizations and the sheer size of their populations.
Heidi and William Sandberg of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, have been doing Farmington about eight years now, although Bill has been in the antiques business all his life. They have done shows on both the East and West Coasts. Heidi said, “We find the Farmington show to be one of the more consistent shows, especially for retail business. The show is exceptionally well run and well advertised. The promoters have done a great job keeping the show going in these difficult times.
“As other promoters have diluted the quality of shows by allowing vendors with new or flea market rdf_Descriptions to be part of a show, the Jenkins have resisted this trend and have kept Farmington a true ‘Antiques & Collectibles’ show. As a dealer, you really have to give credit and support to these types of promoters.” The Sandbergs sold paintings, art pottery and, surprisingly, only one piece of wicker. “Normally the spring is a strong wicker market, but this year we saw very few pieces leave the field,” said Heidi.
Verna Trimble of Trimble’s Antiques, Willow Street, Penn., said, “We sold quite a few of the wooden drying racks, several that would fasten on a wall and two self-standing round ones.” They also sold a tin butter churn, cow bells, kero lamps, buggy and railroad lanterns, a wooden ice cream churn, wooden rake, wooden ironing board, long wooden bench, wooden step stool with fold out steps, many tin rdf_Descriptions such as berry pails, shredders, scoops, old tools including several large monkey wrenches and crosscut saw, as well as some old toys including Hubleys.
“On Saturday we were absolutely swamped from 11 am until closing; however, Sunday was a very long boring day with only a tiny fraction of Saturday’s sales. They were the ‘tire kicker’ crew,” said Trimble.
One of Trimble’s favorite pieces that did not find a new buyer at Farmington was a one-quart round tin butter churn, the stomper type, “which has a date on the side of it of, I believe, 1875. I was surprised that no one asked about it as it is a very unusual rdf_Description.”
Lorraine & Steve German, Mad River Antiques, LLC, North Granby, Conn., are new dealers who just started doing shows in March and Farmington was their eighth show. They have also signed up for the August 31/ September 1 show.
“Farmington was a great show for us,” said Lorraine. “Sales were steady, with pewter and decorated stoneware being the most consistent sellers. Among the other rdf_Descriptions we sold during the weekend were a game board, a rustic child’s chair and an advertising sign for eggs and poultry.” They also sold an Oriental crewel wall hanging to an interior decorator from Massachusetts.
Irving Versoy of Greenhouse Antiques, Scituate, Mass., carries clocks and lamps among other things. “Shows have changed. With a lot of the mega mansions all the money is going into the structure and there is nothing inside. People are house poor, car poor.” He continued, “I usually do better during the Labor Day show though I honestly don’t know why. Labor Day is right before Brimfield. You may be drawing on a wider group of clients. In September I find more distant buyers that I do in June. I certainly will be there in June and definitely in September. I was there with Bob Mackey. He founded the show. It’s getting harder to get my inventory. I have been in the business for close to 40 years When you see something good at the right price, you buy it.”
Joel Baldwin of Foundry Art, Stony Creek, Conn., specializes in salvaged hand carved foundry forms. The mahogany forms were used in casting bronze machinery components. Some looked like gears, others had forms of some mysterious bit of equipment that, now enigmatic, will become decorative in a new context. The forms were painted in interesting color combinations.
“Many people did not know what my patterns were, but loved hearing about them. I met two men who came by the booth that actually made patterns back in the 40s and 50s. They told me a thing or two that I didn’t know myself, so I actually benefited from the encounters. One thing I did notice, even from those who just walked by — they all smiled. It must be the shapes or colors that do it. One person told me they looked like large children’s toys, which is probably why they elicited such a response.”
Indiana dealer Don Orwig brought high-end Americana to Farmington. According to John Jenkins, he had a $20,000 trade sign that sold, as well as many other sales in the thousands. “He had a great show,” said Jenkins.
Jim Smith of Buckboard Antiques, Westfield, Mass., did not have such a great show, but is hoping for follow-up sales, which is not uncommon for his merchandise — restored sleighs and buggies. He brought a fine doctor’s buggy. He does his own restoration including stripping the paint, all the upholstery work and all the woodwork. It was his second Farmington Antiques Weekend.
He said, “There is a lot of money in the area. People were guessing that because of 9/11 a lot of those people were laid off. Any of the higher priced rdf_Descriptions weren’t doing well at Farmington, whereas Brimfield was great.” Smith is signed up for the September show. “We will bring more smalls and less expensive furniture in the fall. Our furniture in June got attention but wasn’t selling. I was glad I went. Kovell’s did an interview with us about our carriages.”
Smith thinks that overall there are just too many shows. “Every weekend there is a show. There are so many dealers.” He stated that Farmington is a perfect show as for the number and mix of dealers. “The show management treated us well. They do a super job and make it very easy. They gave us a nice meal on Saturday. No other management does that.”
David and Eleanor Billet, New York City, brought English garden furniture and ornaments among other things. In David Billet’s eyes, the competition for up and coming buyers is not so much with other dealers or shows, but with knockoffs readily available in garden shops or catalogs. “Reproductions are so inexpensive versus French and English antiques from the 1800s and 1900s. Some people want the original with the patina and lichen. Authenticity is important to them.” Billet has seen manufacturing scouts on the lookout at shows and even in Europe.
Heidi Sandberg said, “It seems like the retail customer is more interested in ‘the look’ rather than the historical or aesthetic value of an rdf_Description. I’m not saying that they may not be informed, only that those things are of lesser importance in our disposable society.” (Reproductions, poor cousins to the real thing, are repulsive to antiquarians until a couple of hundred years pass, and they too become desirable).
Judging from the enthusiastic crowds at Farmington, cruising the outdoor antiques show for one-of-a-kinds and collectors’ rdf_Descriptions is still a cherished pastime. Farming-ton delivers four days a year of antique hunting pleasure.
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