Published: August 22, 2023
Review & Photos by Rick Russack
MILFORD, N.H. — Jack Donigian has been running shows every Sunday during the fall and winter for the last 46 years, which have been a staple of the New Hampshire antiques world and had a loyal following of exhibitors and customers. The shows were initially held in the church hall of St Stanislaus Catholic church in Nashua, N.H., simply known as “St Stan’s;” in the past 16 years, they have taken place at the Hampshire Hills Athletic Club in Milford, N.H. If an antiques dealer said, “See you in Milford,” you knew what was meant. Yet Hampshire Hills has decided to upgrade and install new flooring in the 12,000-square-foot space, effectively ending the show’s long run. Donigian said that he received an unexpected phone call with this news on July 1, and that was it.
Donigian’s parents were “antiquers” and he usually spent Sunday mornings with his father at the long-running outdoor show in Amherst, N.H., where one of his first jobs was parking cars. After graduating from college in 1968, he opened a weekly show for the times of the year when the outdoor Amherst show was not operating due to winter weather, skipping only Christmas and New Year’s Day when they happened to fall on a Sunday. “I’ve never missed a show in those 46 years no matter how I felt. I’m something of a perfectionist so I’d usually get there by 3 am to get the tables laid out and be sure that everything would be ready when the dealers arrived at 6:30 am. I’ve never worried about what dealers would bring to the shows. I think that’s sort of self-filtering. If someone brings the wrong sort of merchandise, they won’t do well and won’t be back.”
These shows have always had the reputation of offering fresh merchandise, much of it picked from homes, yard sales, barns and estate sales just a few days before the show. Sometimes dealers knew what they had and sometimes they didn’t. Donigian said that several items that first came to the market at one of his shows wound up in museum collections, while others wound up selling in shops or at auctions for far higher prices than were paid at his shows. An early admission fee of $40 was charged between 6:30 to 8:30 am, when exhibitors began to set-up their booths, and 8:30 am when the price dropped to $5. The opening of each show was announced when Donigian blew the fire horn. After 9:30 am, admission was free, and the show ended at noon.
“It’s been a great time for me. The business certainly has changed over the years, and I worried about what effect those changes would have on my business,” Donigian said. “First, there were group shops opening all over and then there was eBay and now there’s the internet. But the shows still averaged around 60-65 dealers each week; some were there almost every week while others came when they had gotten a load of fresh merchandise. The buying crowd has always remained steady. When I look back, I’m proud of the dedication everyone had and the relationships we all developed.
“For myself, and the dealers, it’s all worked smoothly because we all followed the “Golden Rule.” Once the word got out about this being our final show, a lot of people have me asked what I plan to do. My answer to that was I’ve never done much traveling and maybe now it’s time to see the world.” It’s the end of an era, and these shows will be missed.
Sunday, August 6, was the beginning of Antiques Week in New Hampshire and the Milford show had close to 70 exhibitors. Donigian commented, “Everyone wanted to be here for the last show, so the place was packed. The attendance numbers were at a new high for us with 88 buyers paying for the early admission. There were about 160 more for the regular admission and about the same number for the free admission, so it was a really strong attendance. I’ve heard from so many people who had fond memories of these shows, and saying how they’ll be missed. It’s a nice feeling. Some people told me they had come especially because it was the last one and they wanted to tell me about some of their favorite finds over the years.”
As it always has been, the variety of merchandise is wide. The fun of the show has always been that you never knew what might turn up. For example, at this final show Patti Patenaud, Amherst, N.H., had a midcentury carved, sculpted face that she said was made in Hawaii during the 1950s. “I lived in Hawaii for several years, so I know that’s where it came from.” She was asking for $300. Lee Horowitz, Fitchburg, Mass., had a large selection of silver hollowware and flatware priced at $25 per ounce. Lloyd Lindholm, St Albans, Vt., had a variety of sporting items, including a framed group of labels from 16 various Winchester products that was priced at $250. He also had fishing reels priced from $50 up and a selection of ammo boxes ranging from $20 to $100, along with powder tins. Old Deerfield Antiques, Deerfield, Mass., had an Eighteenth Century child’s slant-front desk with a fitted interior for which they were asking $950.
The real story of the August 6 Milford show is that it was the last. Greg Hamilton, Stone Block Antiques, Vergennes, Vt., summed up the way nearly all felt: “It will be missed. Its demise will leave a huge hole in the New England, and especially New Hampshire, antiques scene that can’t be filled. For me, personally, some of the best shows I’ve ever had, and I do a lot of shows, have been right here. And Jack is one of the nicest guys in the business.” Tommy Thompson, Pembroke, N.H., is one of the dealers who has been doing the show for more than 40 years. “It’s always been good for me. Even on some days when the weather was really lousy. I’ll certainly miss it.” A dealer, who asked that we not use his name, confirmed a rumor that’s been floating around New Hampshire for years, “The best show I ever had anywhere was here. I had gotten into a house with really good stuff, and I sold $52,000 here in one day. In a space that didn’t cost more than $300.”
Antiques and The Arts Weekly normally closes with “For more information…,” but unfortunately, we cannot do so for this final review of the Milford show.
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