Published: May 29, 2007
The daffodils and white tents that pop up along Route 20 here in early May mark not only the start of spring, but also the first of the year’s three Brimfield Antiques Markets. This stretch of highway in the seasonally famous hamlet saw the annual pilgrimage by thousands of treasure hunters for a weeklong series of shows running from May 8 to 13, 2007.
There is no statue of auctioneer Gordon Reid in the center of town, but there should be. In 1959, Reid began a one-day show with a smattering of dealers. Nearly 50 years later, that seed has grown into a “Miracle Mile” of antiques strewn among a patchwork of about 20 fields on both sides of Route 20. A total of about 5,000 dealers make their way here from all parts of the United States, Europe and Asia, and between the time that their booths, field spaces or tailgates open at sunrise on the first day of Brimfield Week until packout at week’s end, some 100,000 or more visitors will have swarmed through their encampments, prowling for the “big find.”
While there may not be a master plan for experiencing Brimfield, there is a well-established rhythm to the opening days and hours of the shows. Some charge admission and others do not.
At sunrise on Tuesday, the usual crowds began browsing the fields †about ten of them, most free †with Central Park and the Meadows getting a lot of first-blush activity.
“Stoneware John” Hassapelis wanted to let everyone know that he can now be found in the Meadows (Booth #149), fairly close to the entrance on the left hand side. The Winchester, N.H., dealer specializing in blue decorated stoneware had already sold an early 1-gallon jug from Boston, early on Tuesday, and he had nearly 100 other pieces on display, including a W.J. Seymour Troy Factory 3-gallon, eagle-decorated piece made in 1852 and a rare 4-gallon Norton jug with feather flower decoration, circa 1850.
Bob Shelborn from Sandy Hook, Conn., has been an antiques dealer for 23 years. His all-American collection included early prams, butter churns and an interesting storage box he had recently obtained at auction that was lined with newspaper pages from the New Bedford Mercury , dated January 19, 1829. Shelborn surmised that the newspaper lining protected clothing that may have been stored in the box from getting snagged on wood splinters.
Investment Antiques & Collectibles, a business run by Fritz and Diane Sterbak and based in Havre de Grace, Md., was having good sales of their architectural antiques and stained glass. A Philadelphia window with lighted jewels from the 1880s simply glowed when Fritz Sterbak held it up to the morning light for a customer. The Sterbaks’ latest addition is a custom line of hand crafted country furniture, and this was represented by a Brazilian rosewood bookmatched table in the center of their tent.
Like the Meadows, also opening at 6 am without an admission charge was Central Park. There, Walter Scott of Baraboo, Wis., was set up with an eclectic assortment of advertising, Civil War items and other curiosities, including a rare campaign lantern that was used for nighttime rallies in the 1860s. This particular model was called a “flaming flamingo” because the long-handled lantern featured a compartment for flammable powder and a mouthpiece that when blown into created a shower of sparks †and probably not a few related injuries.
Another curiosity was on view at the booth of Bob and Dee Dee Corey, specialists in lighting restorations from Inglis, Fla. A colorful French birdcage constructed in the form of the Louvre, circa 1880, did not stay there long, as it was snapped up by a customer who did not haggle over its price.
Early American bottles and glass were being scrutinized and similarly snapped up at Bitters Bottles, a business of Leo Goudreau, Ware, Mass. It was Goudreau’s second year at Central Park and he said he was having a “good morning” in the free field.
Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd were seen sharing a private cab on the shelves of Al Pfeiffer’s Unique Antiques. The Marx windup bump-and-go car, made in 1939, was one of the standout toys displayed in the Bloomsberg, Penn., dealer’s booth. Pfeiffer said that 70 percent of his sales go to repeat customers, “a good client base.”
Other Tuesday opening day shows that can be counted on to reset the energy level of the crowds are Dealer’s Choice, opening at 11 am, and Brimfield Acres North, which admits people onto its field at 1 pm. Both one-day shows †managed by Lori Ann Faxon and by Robert Hopfe and Colleen James, respectively †attract sizable crowds by virtue of their limited run.
Dealer’s Choice is made even more frenetic because buyers are in a rush to find that special item before the field across the highway opens at 1. Over at Brimfield Acres North, which also accommodates about 400 dealers, dealers are set up in open-air spaces, plus there is a series of covered pavilions that are especially desirable when the weather is bad.
Inside one such pavilion, Gary Enseki from Cape Cod, Mass., showed a wide range of Oriental pottery, including a tall hand painted Nippon vase with grapes and Wedgwood bands, circa 1900. His aisle neighbor, Bob Miles, Yarmouthport. Mass., presided over a glittering display of Victorian, American Brilliant, Sandwich and Pairpoint glass.
A mug collection at Bernie Dreher Antiques, Jim Thorpe, Penn., was among his general line of antiques.
Remerging into the brilliant sunlight on the field, an interesting tilt top games table for checkers or chess, circa 1915, exhibited a feel of country parquetry among the items shown by Alan and June Goodrich, Bucks County, Penn. “It’s a good field and perfect weather,” exclaimed Alan Goodrich.
“It’s as ugly as hell, but it’s a nice piece,” observed one looker eyeing the merchandise being offered by Yew Tree House, New York City. He was referring to a folk art weathervane featuring a less-than-statuesque Lady Liberty amid a city skyline and tugboats. Priced at $7,500, the vane was being presented by Kevin Kleinbarts, showing for the first time at Brimfield Acres North.
Equally folky were three metal stars that had come from a barn in Pennsylvania being offered by Leanne Lipston. The Upper Black Eddy, Penn., dealer had also brought a John Vassos-designed streamlined chrome RCA Victor phonograph from the 1930s and a spun aluminum punch bowl, cups and tray by Russel Wright.
On Wednesday, the sun once again climbed amid a crisp blue sky and weather reports predicted an even warmer day out on the fields than the day before. As parking lots began filling up, early buyers were already lined up on Route 20 outside New England Motel. At 5:30 am, a half hour prior to the show’s opening, owner and manager Marie Doldoorian was making last minute inspections and sizing up the crowd outside the gate.
As the crowd surged through the gate at 6, vintage kitchenalia dealer Debbie Randle from Blue Ridge, Ga., watched helplessly as the shoppers moved like a tsunami wave past her tent at the show’s entrance. “This happens every year,” she said, acknowledging that shoppers eventually circle back once they have scanned the outermost fringes of the field.
“It’s May, the crowds are good and Victorian art glass is hot,” said an ebullient Scott Roland of GlimmerGlass Antiques, Schenevus, N.Y. Among his highlights were a Mount Washington decorated Burmese bride’s basket and an 1880s Royal Flemish pickle caster in cranberry.
Roland was displaying in Dealer’s Row, one of three pavilions permitting 75 dealers to exhibit their antiques and collectibles in room settings. Also benefiting from being under a roof were Helen Gaughan, a vintage linens dealer from Tiverton, R.I., who said she liked the five days of exposure the show gave her, and Don Cornwell of Kansas City, Mo., who found a great way to repurpose turn-of-the-century postal boxes by turning them into handsome oak banks. Cornwell also deals in antique printing type and vending machines.
Fine art was part of the mix as Woodstock, N.Y., dealers Joyce and Ron Balsamo, aka Peace Antiques, displayed their collection, which included 14 pieces by Rolph Scarlett (1889‱984), who was recently represented in a Pennsylvania Art Conservatory exhibition of non-objective paintings of the Twentieth Century, and whose works command up to $30,000 at auction, according to Ron Balsamo. “We’ve been told that we have the nicest art in the show,” said Balsamo, who has been a New England Motel regular since 1996.
Across the street from New England Motel, Heart-O-The-Mart opened at 9 am. Bounded by a small picturesque lake that would be calming if the crowd were not so crazed by acquisitiveness, this field also has hundreds of dealers that show promoters Don and Pam Moriarty have cultivated over more than 25 years. Frantic buyers and even a television crew filming a segment for MSNBC swept through the field.
It was a big stuffed buffalo head at MC Antiques that posed for the MSNBC camera. Owners Mary Vidano and Cynthia Brooks of MC Antiques, Boulder, Colo., said they had been interviewed the day before.
“Legendary” dealer Bob Brown, Atlanta’s Red Baron, was also seen scouring the field, stopping for a moment at Artiques to buy a shiny red child’s model Hudson automobile. Brown said he hates being characterized as “legendary” †but his name is intoned in field after field as he “beats the bush,” buying up whole lots of merchandise for his auctions. “This is the largest crowd I’ve seen this early,” said Brown.
Hertan’s Antique Show began poignantly on Wednesday at noon, recalling its longtime owner, Jean B. Hertan, who died in September 2006. Next to the bell that she rang to begin each show was a memorial arrangement that included her trademark US flag and rhinestone-encrusted sunglasses, high heel sneakers and photos from throughout her career. David Lamberto, the show’s manager, rang the bell that set dealers and shoppers into action, briefly creating a moment of levity when the old bell fell from its hook on the wall. “That’s Jean passing the baton to you,” quipped staff member Tony Maffeo as he quickly replaced the old bell with a shiny new one.
Hertan’s differs from other Brimfield markets by barring its dealers from taking any merchandise from their vehicle or opening their tent prior to the ritual ringing of the bell. Because it is a free-admission field, it quickly becomes a scene of jostling confusion †hands, legs, merchandise and money swirling through the tightly packed displays.
A great piece of Americana was how Greg Smart from Twin Gables, Ohio, described a folky goat or dog wagon for delivery, circa 1870‸0, advertising “Main Street Pharmacy.” “It’s just a great piece,” said Smart, who also had an unusual three-light hanging fixture.
Having traveled to Brimfield from Timber River, New Brunswick, Canada, Cathy Consentino placed a colorful around-the-world quilt that had been made for the Virginia US bicentennial behind a handsome little Nineteenth Century three-drawer chest that had been made as a wedding gift †it was signed in the top drawer †and flanked it with a green basket from Maine and blue wall box, circa 1890.
But perhaps the farthest traveled among the Hertan’s crowd were Jeroen Kroondijk and his mother, who had flown in from the Netherlands. Kroondijk, who deals in Bakelite and early plastics, said he was having fun shopping the market.
The weather for Thursday was once again perfect with bright sunny skies and moderate temperatures. The opening for May’s is always one of the highlights of the week and a huge crowd was on hand. The line began forming more than two hours prior to opening, extending up and down Route 20 for quite a distance.
Laura May was busy, along with all of her children, preparing for the opening of the show as the 9 am hour approached. Each of the dealers was presented a special edition numbered cap commemorating the show’s 30th anniversary by one of the May family members; some were even requesting the memento be autographed by Dick May and Laura.
At precisely 9 am the crowd rushed in from both the front and rear gates and the dealers scrambled to unload their wares. In many booths, as quickly as items were placed on tables anxious buyers snapped them up, calling out for best prices and cutting deals while still on the run. While the crowd seemed slightly more selective than in the past, sales were still brisk all across the field. A wide variety of merchandise was seen being toted from the field, including slant front desks, four-drawer chests, Windsor and banister back chairs, garden ornaments and caches of smalls concealed within their wrappings.
After four days of intensive selling and buying, Friday in any other place might make the public weary. But in Brimfield, Friday is the day for the biggest and one of the most popular of all the week’s events, J&J Promotions Antiques & Collectibles Show. And in a week where all the promoters of the various fields were claiming the best numbers of exhibiting dealers and visitors in at least the last six years, J&J was swarming with people and alive with action.
At a few minutes before 6 am, the waiting line at nearby May’s parking lot was through the entire lot, extending across from Hertan’s. The other entry at J&J’s driveway was overflowing onto Route 20. Rough estimates put the waiting crowd at well over 1,000, and that was before the opening.
The skies were unsure, but the customers did not care for they entered with gusto, ready to spend just as they had been doing all week.
At the entrance, Nipper’s Choice, the Keene, N.H., seller of early phonographs and radios, was greeting the first visitors. Right behind was Pete Lukash, husband of Jill Lukash (one of the J’s of J&J) with his collection of early glass and some antique furniture. Lukash especially likes early Windsor chairs. He had been helping the night before so his booth was not completely ready, but he kept working at it.
Brigham House of Sturbridge and Wayside Antiques from Marlboro, Mass., were nearby working together and sharing space. Their exhibit included an early country kitchen ensemble and a settle bench in red paint.
Hanauer & Seidman Antiques recently opened a new shop in Colchester, Conn., in addition to doing numerous shows. Their collection at the show was, as Chris Hanauer said, “mostly smalls. We leave the furniture at the shop and it works for us.” Their sales this May included some stoneware, a band box, a very early candle mold and some Staffordshire. She added, “We’ve been doing J&J for about ten years now and it is always good. We now have regular customers who come to us there.”
Peter Hunt was a craftsman and remodeling contractor in New Jersey †and, eventually, Cape Cod †in the middle of the Twentieth Century whose work has become highly prized for the folk art paintings he made in furniture and kitchens. Pink Swan Antiques of West Yarmouth, Mass., has been aggressively chasing after Peter Hunt pieces and works hard to have some for J&J each time. For this show, owner Dan Griffin had several pieces to offer.
There were many dealers at the show who were claiming great success for this May event. Michael and Monique Rouillard are dealers from nearby Sterling, Conn., who have full-time jobs and small children at home. Their availability for shows is therefore limited, but J&J is always on their schedule. This most recent gathering was their best show ever, with sales including two chests, several weathervanes, two hanging cupboards and more. According to Michael Rouillard, “We sold 28 items all together, our best ever anywhere.” He added that when the rain did happen about 9 am and lasted for two hours, the customers “just came into the tent and kept right on buying.”
The story at J&J was repeated at most fields through the week. There were greater bookings of dealer space than in many years at most fields. Buyers’ attendance is usually measured by the time the main parking lots get filled. According to Tim May, co-owner and manager of the most prominent parking lots, the parking was especially good and they filled early each day. Dealers generally praised the customer buying; they bought a wide spectrum of goods with good total dollar sales. Customers also praised the goods offered, claiming, as one unnamed Texan said, “We found more this month than in several of the past times and I come ever year.”
Brimfield happens again July 9‱5. For information, www.brimfieldexchange.com .
A Brimfield ‘Reunion’
Some of the finds at Brimfield are unexpected †but providential.
Vince Mulford of Broome, N.Y., did not expect to be reunited with the two-piece, cast iron Victorian birdbath that was taken from his lawn back in January. But here it was, in a dealer’s space †in better shape than when it was stolen. “It’s like it was a long repair job,” said Mulford, who explained that because the top and base pieces had originally been “married,” the fountain bowl bottom had initially been badly repaired, employing a flat stone to fill the hole.
Having a copy of a photo and description of the stolen item that had been published in Antiques and The Arts Weekly “sealed the deal,” according to Mulford. He said the dealer was totally embarrassed, telling Mulford that the birdbath had been brought to him by locals he had tried to help out in life and who claimed they had bought it. State police were informed, confessions were taken and now the bird bath is back in Mulford’s possession where it was originally placed.
“It feels like home again,” he said, adding, however, that the serendipitous discovery so rattled him that he felt disoriented when he tried to resume his shopping.
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