Published: June 1, 2004
It is a cute town, a charming, sleepy village too far from the cities of the Northeast to be a suburb. The houses are mostly freshly painted by residents who care. The little town hall is well cared for and there is not a whole lot happening there – at least not for 49 weeks each year. But for one week each during the months of May, July and September, Brimfield virtually explodes with people when upwards of 50,000 antiques collectors and dealers descend upon the west side of this Massachusetts hamlet.
They come in cars and vans, trucks and trailers, motor homes and on motorcycles. Busloads come from New York City and Burlington, Vt., or they fly into the area and rent a car. The fields are filled with the dedicated antiques shoppers here for a day or two or even the week determined to find some special treasure or simply to decorate a portion of their home.
They come because 45 years ago Gordon Reid got something started when he organized the first Brimfield flea market. It was popular then, but no one would have ever imagined it would become what it is today.
During the week of May 10, there were more than 4,000 dealers set up in 20 fields, as they are called, dedicated to the display and sale of antiques, collectibles and decorative accessories for the home. Each field had from as few as 25 dealers to as many as 700, and each field has its own rules and hours of operation.
The fields that open on Tuesday at dawn are generally the ones open all week, including The Meadows. Here, several hundred dealers share tents or put up their own to exhibit. Karen and Bob Stewart, Wakefield, R.I., create an open-air showroom together with Leo Comeau of Lebanon, N.H.
One tent has a group of friends sharing the space with a wide variety of merchandise. Don Schweikert brings painted furniture from his native Ohio; Larry Baum usually has some fine hardwood furniture from the South, this month a tilt top Georgian-era tea table; and Geoff Jackson and his son Kester had English porcelain from the Eighteenth, Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries. Hanna Humes, a Columbus, Ohio, dealer set all her antiques on tables, as all of her rdf_Descriptions were small, including a paint decorated toleware tea caddy, circa 1875, priced at $375. David and Karen Metcalf, Edgewood Antiques of Greenville, S.C., put up their own tent and created a room setting for the week with country furniture and accessories.
Magoon Bros of South Paris, Maine, had a large space in Central Park with canoes and porch rocker, moose heads, decoys and early kitchen furniture. Bill Neylon of Village Green Antiques in Barre, Mass., had a restored surrey with the fringe on the top priced at $3,500.
Opening at 11 am on Tuesday was Lori and Tom Faxon’s Dealers Choice. This field is an admission fee entry and only dealers are allowed on the grounds until the appointed time. In fact, the rules here also prohibit exhibiting merchandise until 9 am. The idea is to keep the merchandise from being picked over before the public is admitted. It seems to work fairly well, as Michael Malloy said he “sold a New Hampshire secretary desk attributed to George W. Rogers, Concord, N.H., circa 1800, in the first hour of the show.” It was tagged at $4,200.
Eleanor Meadowcroft, Salem, Mass., had a variety of early pieces but there was a special rdf_Description, a Chippendale child’s chair in excellent condition, for $2,400. John Maggs, a dealer from Conway, Mass., was doing some serious buying as the show began, including a sausage turned ladder back armchair and a pair of large early hinges. With a booth space in the covered shed, Thetford Center, Vt., dealer Susan Gault had a collection of small antiques, including a child’s ladder back chair and some stoneware.
Brimfield Acres North opened at 1 pm to large crowds. This field is a one-day only affair on Tuesday, with a different group on Saturday. Accommodating several hundred dealers, the late opening makes the activity fast and furious – for about two hours. Bill Bakeman, Wilbraham, Mass., is a regular on the field, and he came with a collection of wall boxes and sconces, priced from about $400 and up. Barrett Menson has also been doing this field for some time. He recently moved from Vermont to Willington, Conn. Very early on Tuesday he found a gouache, a painting of watercolors with oil paint highlights, which was being offered here for about $600. The piece was in an inferior frame, he said, and if he kept it, he would get the right frame.
Scituate, Mass., dealer Butch McGrath came with some New England furniture, including an early corner cupboard priced at $5,500.
Dr Jeffrey Kenneth Kohn a retired Philadelphia area psychiatrist, is an avid collector of American flags. “You can still do it here [at Brimfield],” he exclaimed. At Brimfield North, about an hour and a half after the opening, he was visiting a booth where he found a specialty piece called the American allies flag. It was made of silk and measured about 12 by 18 inches, and it had the 48-star field, French tricolor background, and the stripes were with the British Union Jack overlayed on them. Patented February 26, 1918, it was meant to honor the alliance in World War I. Kohn said it is worth at least $1,000, but the seller offered it to him for only $3; he paid the dealer.
On Wednesday, there were the usual three openings. New England Motel and Antiques Market was the first to open that day at 6 am, creating a traffic jam on the little highway that services the shows and town. Owner Marie Doldoorian has built two large sheds on the back of the property that protect the dealers and their merchandise from the weather, or at least sun and rain. Each of these sheds accommodates dozens of booths and gives an open feel to the area. As this market remains in place until Sunday, the shelter has been welcomed by dealers and customers.
Tony Gould is an Englishman who makes his living doing shows, including Marburger Farm in Round Top, Texas, and Scott’s in Atlanta, selling fine art and some small accessories and furniture. He does some of his shopping in England, but also in the United States as well. Not a big fan of outdoor shows, he did Brimfield for the first time, and picked New England Motel for a big tent and electricity so that he could put lights on his art. Dreamworks Antiques and Collectibles, Tamworth, N.H., had more than 50 feet of tent filled with Nineteenth Century furniture.
At 9 am, Don Moriarty’s Heart of the Mart opened. Among his exhibitors is Susan Stella, Manchester, Mass., with great small antiques, including a small hooked mat with multicolored diamond pattern. Michael Higgins and his wife live part of the year in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the rest of the year in Brussels, Belgium. They deal in Chinese export and Rose Medallion dishes. David Day of Brunswick, Maine, had a collection of early Native American baskets.
Hertans was the last Wednesday opening, but there is a twist to the procedure. The dealers are set in place in the morning, and are not allowed to display any merchandise. Buyers are allowed onto the field and are anxiously milling about waiting for the stroke of noon. At that moment the showing and selling begins.
Due to the rapid setup, the displays are not elaborate here but the merchandise is very good. Betty Berdan, Hallowell, Maine, offered an 1810 vintage stretcher base tap table, with no restoration in red wash finish for $2,275. John Burda, East Granby, Conn., was exhibiting for the first time in ten years with an extensive collection of early weapons. Dirinda and Jack Houghton had a cupboard in red milk paint for $575 and another one that sold in the first 15 minutes of the show. Jewel Miller Moospecke Antiques, Jonesport, Maine, has been doing Hertans since 1972, and she also has an open shop at the marina back home.
One of the shows that everyone anxiously awaits takes place on Thursday, and that is May’s. This is another show with a managerial twist – there is no setting up prior to the show opening to the public. May’s differs from Hertans, however, as there is admission charged and buyers must enter the field through gates. As always, there were huge crowds at the gates, which despite all the efforts by police and management, swelled into the road as the 9 am opening neared, thus blocking traffic and forcing the promoter to open a few minutes early.
If there is a “field of dreams” among the patchwork of antiques bazaars that comprise Brimfield, it is J&J Promotions. The build-it-and-they-will-come philosophy surely was at work in 1959 when the late Gordon Reid – father of current operators Jill Reid Lukesh and Judith Reid Mathieu – first invited some 67 exhibitors to set up booths on the large field behind his home.
“His dream of running the largest antiques and collectibles show in the US was soon to become a reality. At the time of his death in 1974, the shows had grown to 600 exhibitors and thousands of visitors,” says the promoter’s website. Today, about 800 dealers display their merchandise during the spring and fall editions.
J&J’s field is one that engenders fierce loyalty among its exhibitors, many of who reserve their spots (brookside is popular) year after year. William Lorne, for example, who lives in Manchester, Conn., and Boynton Beach, Fla., has been doing the show for 15 years. He was displaying pieces of transfer ware and Flow Blue from around 1840-1900 in his brookside booth.
Conversely, J&J also draws entrepreneurial types like Richard Catapane, who had traveled from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to visit his girlfriend in Sullivan, N.H., and at the same time offer an eclectic assortment of collectibles from vintage Christmas decorations to slot cars and toy yoyos.
J&J is open two days – Friday and Saturday – in May, July and September.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm