Published: May 22, 2001
By Steve Sundlof
BRIMFIELD, MASS. – The May chapter of Brimfield closed Saturday, May 12, after a stellar week of clear blue skies, temperatures in the mid-80s, and hardly a cloud to be seen.
With each field opening, hundreds rushed forward, in hopes of being the first to buy an rdf_Description unseen by the charging herd. Peripheral vision is a valuable asset among some 4,000 dealers.
Hardly could words describe to the uninitiated the selection and sheer volume presented along both sides of rural Route 20 as it winds east to west through a usually sleepy town, aptly named Brimfield. Only “brimful” would perhaps a more suitable name.
Objects were pulled, carried, carted, cursed, heaved, broken, lifted, and transported in myriad vehicles, away to places unknown – mostly destined for resale. Brimfield cultivates a strong buyers market and dealers restock during the three shows scheduled in May, July and September.
Sue Ryan of Ryan’s Antiques, Harwinton, Conn., felt she and husband David “had a good Brimfield. First of all, I bake chocolate chip cookies and have extra chairs and beverages for all my out-of-state friends. It’s my own personal touch.
“We set up at Dealers Choice Tuesday with a much smaller selection and believe the crowd was a little smaller there. We always have regulars looking for sewing and kitchenware.”
Ryan added, “We have friends from Texas help us during the busy times when several people want to look at smalls from the cases. Selling was everything from a tooth extractor to a rare hair waver to a wig holder. Also sold were general rdf_Descriptions such as a piece of Wedgwood, sewing rdf_Descriptions, pie tins, and a golf club. One collector bought a beautiful early Nineteenth Century Nailsea rolling pin and has been buying blown-glass pieces from me for several years.”
Continuing, Ryan said, “On Thursday night we set up for J&J, after spending Wednesday back home in Connecticut re-packing for the bigger show and refilling the cookie tin. We sleep in the van at this show so it requires more planning, including our solar shower that we use at night.”
Ryan stated, “The crowd was good and we had regulars returning for ice skates [we had an unusual pair], French wire plates [we had some], sewing rdf_Descriptions [fresh stock always is appreciated], kitchenware [good, unusual rdf_Descriptions sold], and tools.
“We had a very interesting woman looking for Eighteenth Century rdf_Descriptions for her home she’s restoring in New York. Fortunately, we had a few rdf_Descriptions and enjoyed sharing tales about our adventures.”
Also selling were a collection of irons to a couple from Mexico City; two nutmeg graters to a regular customer from England; a sampler to a woman from Texas; two carved walking sticks to a dealer from Pennsylvania; a carved nutcracker to Pennsylvania; and a maid’s bucket to Iowa. “In general customers were looking for interesting and rare rdf_Descriptions.”
Concluding, Ryan stated, “We were hit with a thunderstorm Saturday afternoon, but the management wisely gave us notice so we were able to save our merchandise. We got soaked but our rdf_Descriptions were packed safely.”
Rusty Bliss of Rusty Bliss Antiques, Springfield, Mass., replied, “I had a great spring show at Brimfield at Faxon’s Mid-Way. Attendance seemed to be strong all week and I couldn’t have asked for better weather.
“One interesting rdf_Description that I sold was an 1893 ballot box, complete with the mechanism, counter, and bell. It had a great look in its original finish. Everyone would comment that Florida could use it as an upgrade to their system.”
Bliss added, “Overall, sales were very good, with more furniture selling in the first two days. Then it seems like we get a more local crowd looking to buy smaller rdf_Descriptions. I always count on moving more ‘big’ rdf_Descriptions in the spring and this year was no exception. Now it’s time to get ready for the summer show, only seven weeks away.”
Wayne Nelson, Nelson’s Antiques, Cranston, R.I., declared, “Brimfield Acres North is a great show. It has two opening days, Tuesday at 1 pm and Saturday, 8 am. Both days have been great for me in both buying and selling. There are always new rdf_Descriptions on the field and priced reasonably. This is a great field and there are always good deals there.
“I have been selling there for many years and enjoy it. This year I sold a lot of artwork, furniture, and some odds and ends as well. I am not a high-priced dealer, so I move a lot of rdf_Descriptions. I like to turn the rdf_Descriptions over as fast as I can and buy new stock.”
Daniel Ryan of Yesteryear This & That’s, Putnam, Conn., who writes a monthly column called “Covering Caps for the Milk Route” for the monthly publication The National Association of Milk Bottle Collectors, stated, “I thought gate attendance Friday was lower than usual but the percentage of buyers as opposed to ‘just looking’ was higher so the sales were about the same as the past shows. On Saturday we get the retail trade [Friday is usually more dealers], so the percentage of ‘just looking’ is always much higher.”
Ryan remarked, “Our key rdf_Descriptions are dairy related – milk bottles, milk caps, dairy racks, cases, cream cans – and we also key in on kitchen dishes and related rdf_Descriptions. The trend seems to be that more dealers are buying with an eye towards eBay selling. Overall sales were about normal for us. The May and September shows have always been good for us. We don’t set up for the July show.
“May is usually one of the better-selling months. Of course this is a funny business and if you predict either good or bad sales for any particular week or month, you will be proven wrong most of the time.”
John Malchione of Malchione Antiques & Sporting Collectibles, Centreville, Del., believed “there was an average gate and appeared to be a little down from the usual May shows.
“We sold a Chesapeake Bay swan for $2,500, a Mason Factory Widgeon, $1,200, and a number of high-end reels and rods.”
Reflecting on the show, Malcione replied, “I wish there were a way to make setup easier. The setup at J&J pretty much necessitates being up all night and as my wife and I have gotten older, this becomes more and more difficult.”
He continued, “There was a pretty bad dust problem on the field due to the lack of rain. Every time a vehicle went by, most at high rates of speed, layers of dust covered our inventory and us. There are a few things the promoters could do to help in this situation.
“First of all, have small tankers spraying water to keep the dust down [as they do at Farmington in this situation], and second, limit the speed limit to 5 mph on the field when the conditions are like they were over the weekend.”
Malchione continued, “J&J is not our best show of the year, but sales are, generally speaking, quite good. One thing we noticed when going over receipts to add to our database of new customers was that the majority of our sales were from repeat customers, with less than ten sales from new customers.
“We depend very much on repeat customers but need more ‘new blood’ for our business to keep growing. That was not really present at J&J, at least for us. J&J was our fourth show in May and all shows were quite excellent.”
Regarding shoplifting on the field Malchione added, “We unfortunately have been hit three times, always in the spring. We had a Mason Green Wing Teal with a value of about $850 stolen virtually in front of our eyes. We believe it was a nicely dressed couple, mid- 30s. When I left the booth to go to the bathroom, a woman asked my wife to come out of the tent so she could ask a question about an rdf_Description. When she came back inside the tent in less than a minute, the man with her was gone as well as the decoy.
“We really watch our inventory, and on all occasions rdf_Descriptions were taken right in front of us. There are definitely professional thieves working the field.”
Pam Moriarty, manager of Heart-O-the Mart, said, “The show went excellent. Most of our dealers said that they had a great show, which is very important to us as that makes it a great show for us. I was able to get out and do some shopping at this show and was very impressed with the quality of merchandise found on our field.
“Of course the weather was absolutely beautiful, which made everyone happy. It was a little unusual for a Brimfield week not to have any rain; and I can’t believe that I am saying this, but it would have been nice to get a little rain at night just to keep the dust down.”
Andy Jacobson, who specializes in Marine Antiques and Americana painting, ship models, and navigational instruments, replied, “Another May … the never ending search for real antiques and saleable merchandise goes on. April is the cruelest month, May is supposedly merry. It was more July than springtime in New England. Unlimited sun, light breezes, no rain, snow, mud or tornadoes, pretty much ideal for the ‘hunt.'”
Jacobson added, “Traditionally, sales, material and crowds are the strongest in May though crowds seemed a bit smaller and a tad more cautious. There was no traffic coming in from Sturbridge at 6:05 Friday morning. There was no real price resistance for better goods, which are increasingly difficult to acquire.”
Jacobson continued, “‘Just stuff’ is a different story – one that is solely ‘price’ oriented. More people than ever are specifically shopping for material to sell online and more people are chasing fewer quality goods. As always, some people had banner sales and finds, some ‘tanked.’
“It seems that things have gotten so diffuse that it’s not possible to be in all the right spots at that magical moment. There’s also an incredible amount of collectibles and ‘just stuff’ to wade through. Perhaps that’s what selling.”
Paul Baker, who was at the show with partner Audrey Waltner, the pair representing Baker’s Antiques, Putnam Valley, N.Y., stated, “The May Brimfield showed a continuing trend in new buying patterns. Opening day was great, as usual, but the old early opening buying frenzy, even though we are not a gated show, is being replaced by a more constant and steady flow of customers throughout the day.”
“Further,” Baker said, “our retail sales over the weekend were excellent and somewhat unexpected, since weekenders are usually primarily ‘lookers’ and not buyers. We were happy to find that there is still a strong market for early American country merchandise.”
Baker continued, “Our promoters [Faxon’s Midway] are in the process of building a new antiques center and shower facilities on the field. We are looking forward to July, both for the added attraction and added comfort!”
Describing the crowds, Baker said, “They are not as large as in the past, most probably because of the Internet. We hope that, as in most cases, the pendulum will eventually swing back a bit. We also use the Internet, but believe that antiques need to be seen and felt up close to be really appreciated. The buyer/seller interaction is not only a necessary but also an enjoyable part of the transaction. Many of our customers have voiced the same opinion.”
Words echoed by other dealers, Baker asserted, “A trend we find disturbing is the increasing number of non-antiques, such as sap buckets, Beanie Babies(r), and other ‘five and dime’ and yard sale rdf_Descriptions. They have always been around, but over the last couple of years, we find many such booths set up right next to older merchandise, and we have repeatedly seen customers turn around and go the other way upon seeing this.”
Closing, Baker remarked, “We were amused by some of the customers’ enthusiasm for getting the best deal. A woman approached us very seriously and asked us if we would take $50 for the rdf_Description, which was marked $40!”
Jim and Linda Maley head up Atomic Age from Fullerton, Calif. Jim stated, “I had not visited Brimfield in about six years so I wondered how the market had changed at this show. It seemed to me there were more people in attendance at that time than last week. The chitchat among other dealers confirmed this as well.
“Six years ago eBay was not really a factor in the collectibles world so it seemed everyone I knew was there. With the ease of buying on the computer many people just prefer to stay home and save the travel expense.”
Maley continued, “I decided to attend from California more for the fun of it than the business end of it. I had five friends from the West who for the last three years have rented a motor home in Boston and driven it up to Brimfield for the week. We parked it in the rear of the New England Motel field and stayed there all week and a great time was had by all. We all got up early each morning and shopped all day. It was great to have somewhere centralized to go back to each afternoon for a break.”
Maley said, “Primitives and shabby chic seem to be the hot things. I’m looking for interesting collectibles and was happy to find a seven-foot robot that was used as a display in the 1950-60s. It will not be delivered to me on the West Coast until July, when the dealer makes a trip out here for other deliveries. I really had a great time this year and hope to return next year for the spring show. Once a year is plenty. It was so tiring I need a few days just to recover from it all.”
Carol Telfer of Stratford, Ontario, Canada, reported, “May Brimfield always seems to draw a large crowd. It is always amazing to see the crowds that descend on the small village.
“Items sold were mostly Grenfell mats and artifacts, and were the most popular rdf_Description in any one category. I feel the trends of today are definitely towards decorative rdf_Descriptions.”
Telfer, who displays at Heart-o-the-Mart, stated, “The promoters are very nice people to do business with. Overall sales were low. The show in general used to be great, but the last few years’ sales have dropped considerably. For the past 20 years I have only missed one Brimfield show out of 60. It is still an exciting week and I look forward to each one.
“I specialize in antique textiles such as quilts and hooked rugs and I don’t find the quantity of rdf_Descriptions that I found 20 years ago. The price factor certainly has changed but I still come away from Brimfield happy with the treasures that I do find.”
Beth Denning and Dave Charron comprise Cottage Antiques, Brimfield, Mass. Beth stated, “Overall, we had a great Brimfield week. I sold more yellowware pottery than in past markets and overall sales were the best since we started four years ago. David has been there now long enough to have repeat customers and a lot more interest in the sporting goods/antique firearms too.”
Denning believed, “There were serious buyers out there but I also noticed that there seemed to be a lot more ‘lookers.’ May has always been our best month but July and September have surprised us in the past too. We also managed to get some good buying done during the week.
“I think we expected that, because of eBay and the stock market, this show would be different, less exciting, but we were pleasantly surprised. I have faith that Brimfield is here to stay.”
Denning continued, “We did not see the ‘foreign’ shoppers and many of the ‘old’ dealers were not there; there is good and bad in that. Sadness in the loss of the old, and excrdf_Descriptionent in the possibility of new dealers with fresh ideas and different selling styles.
Reflecting on the Brimfield crowd, Denning replied, “We spend most of our lives with friends and families who share our values and styles, and to be able to sit back and observe that many different people is almost too much to take in. Why go to Boston and sit in at Faneuil Hall to ‘people watch’ when you can have this much fun at Brimfield?
“Brimfield seems to be a microcosm of the economy and many reported reduced sales and the presence of more ‘just-lookers,” Denning went on. “The stock market has been a bit like going to Great Adventure; you knew you would ride the roller coaster, just not that many times in a row. The memory doesn’t soon forget the dizziness of such a ride and this analogy applies to our Brimfield. Buyers are still not as willing to part with currency that still has one foot of George Washington trying to get back onto the ‘economy coaster.'”
Online auctions and individual antiques Web sites will continue to be a growing source for antiques and collectibles. Many dealers sell certain rdf_Descriptions online themselves and bring a whole other range to Brimfield, and many shoppers indicated they were looking for specific pieces with the intent to sell on eBay
But Brimfield will always be about the selection – diverse and broad. It will be about the dust, traffic, carnival food, suntan lotion, a good round of bargaining, the thrill of the hunt, and always the people, a cast of characters unparalleled by Shakespeare himself.
What’s in a name? That which we call Brimfield. It is all of the above and so much more. How can one describe such a block party? You need to see for yourself – the antiques and the event.
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