By W.A. Demers
STURBRIDGE, MASS. – Just down the road from Brimfield’s bustling markets, a bold experiment was in the making on Thursday, May 15, at the Sturbridge Host Hotel. Nan Gurley conducted the , her first tailgate event indoors with 100 dealers from a dozen states in the hotel’s exhibit hall and ballroom.
“Everyone’s hungry for good merchandise,” said Tom Jewitt, who with partner Butch Berdan was exhibiting a nice Ohio or Pennsylvania pie safe in original blue and salmon paint, freshly harvested from Brimfield the day before. Jewett-Berdan Antiques, Searsport, Maine, was proving that while all roads may lead to Brimfield in mid-May, much of the high-end stuff gets plucked early by discerning dealers and added to their inventory.
“The show went very well,” said show promoter and dealer Gurley. “We had 275 early buyers, and what impressed me the most was the quality of the buyers. These were very serious, advanced collectors and dealers.”
Gurley said that a key motivating factor in getting the high-end crowd to make the 15-minute drive from Brimfield was the advertising that she had placed in trade newspapers and local publications. “By listing the names of the dealers who were going to be there, people could see what the quality was going to be,” she said.
“I think for the serious dealers and collectors it just gives you something else to look forward to do on Thursday,” said Jewett. “After May’s opens at 9 am, there is nothing else that afternoon. It really only takes a couple of hours to shop May’s.”
Jewett said that he and Berdan had set up at two other shows in Brimfield, as well, but saved all of the things that they had picked on the fields for a fresh look at Nan’s. “It seemed to work very well for us,” he said, adding that they sold a very good piece of redware, game board, folk art table, and numerous other expensive smalls. “The picking was great as well,” said Jewett. “The dealers doing the show put great effort in bringing fresh rdf_Descriptions, and it wasn’t the repeat of the same ‘merch’ that you see on the Brimfield fields of dealers going to show to show.”
For Don Cruise of American Stars, Baltimore, the Sturbridge Host Hotel proved to be a great location for the show. “It was easy to get to and easy to load in and out of,” he said. Cruise noted that a specialist in political memorabilia, a dealer from Las Vegas, identified a pair of very large cast-iron book ends, that Cruise had tagged “Colonial Man” as being a likeness of President Franklin Pierce. “President Pierce flew back to Las Vegas with him,” said Cruise.
Similarly, a knowledgeable collector recognized an unusual Northwest Persian Shahsavan Soumak Khorjin (a small flatwoven Bagface), circa 1900, and “was very happy to take it home,” added Cruise. “This was an esoteric textile that very few people, including most decorative Oriental rug dealers, are familiar with, and it is always a pleasure to meet someone who shares a special interest of mine,” said Cruise. He said will most likely be attending the July show with a business partner.
Anne Bedics, who deals primarily in early to late Nineteenth Century country furnishings and textiles as The Cat Lady Antiques, Ackermanville, Penn., agreed that the Host Hotel venue eased packing in and out. “And it was wonderful to be in a climate-controlled environment with my things,” she said. “Outdoor shows can really be hard on the merchandise, and there are some things you just don’t want to take to an outdoor show. I was able to offer my customers all of my best merchandise in the comfort and security of an indoor show near the most well-known conglomeration of outdoor ones.”
Bedics sold a folky trade sign from a factory in Maine – “ten commandments of the workplace” written on an old door. “The paint was wonderful, as was the script it was written in,” said Bedics. “I also sold a fabulous roll of early rag carpet stair tread that had never been used, as well as a nice early Pennsylvania wall box with scalloped edge in original paint.”
Paul Thien and Doug Warner of Firehouse Antiques Center, Galena, Md., also reported having a good show, and will be back in July and September. “Great location, good size, easy pack in and pack out. Good mix of dealers, easy going, no pressure, people in a good mood,” said Thien. “We sold a very nice Deco-style leather sofa to a retail customer.”
Thien recounted that they had brought a dark green solid-colored simple country quilt to use on top of a table to display smalls. “During set up one of the dealers asked if she could look at the quilt and if it was linsey-woolsey. It turned out to be very early, in excellent condition and we sold it reasonably,” he said. He added that the dealer resold it for a nice profit, and the dealer who subsequently purchased it was trilled to have it for her own bed. “That made us feel like this show was he right place to be,” said Thien.
Having been at the hotel before for the textile show, Bruce Rigsby of Lancaster, Ky., said that he was familiar with the layout and knew that it would work well for Gurley’s show. “I think dealers who have done Brimfield and have good things are ready for an indoor show away from the elements,” said Rigsby. “The short hours and quick setup gives the show the same feeling as the one-day markets that have nearly died out. The public will catch on once the show has been established.”
Rigsby said he sold a large blue transfer Staffordshire platter to a dealer on the floor after opening, who described it as a rare pattern and purchased it for her own collection. He also sold a painted bowl that sold again before selling to a customer who came to the show.
At least one of the dealers signed on expressly to support Gurley’s new endeavor. Said Art Smith of Smith-Zukas, Cape Neddick, Maine, “[Gurley] is a one-of-a-kind Maine dealer’s dealer and promoter with exceptional knowledge of the antiques her dealers are offering.” Smith said he will not be a regular exhibitor at the show because his specialties lie outside the show’s emphasis on Americana and folk art and due to schedule conflicts. “Regarding the Brimfield tailgate effect, that will drive this show’s success,” said Smith. “A large part of my reason for being at Brimfield is the networking with people from far and near.”
Like Rigsby, Smith is convinced that the Host Hotel is a great venue for a show of this size – mainly because his wife, Linda Zukas, has been running the very successful Vintage Fashion and Textile Show there each Brimfield Monday since 1990 for a total of 36 shows.
Buyers expressed delight at the quality of antiques at the show, according to Bev Norwood, who with husband Doug, displayed Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Americana as The Norwoods’ Spirit of America, Timonium, Md.
“With an indoor textile show continuing to gain momentum at the same site earlier in Brimfield Week, Nan’s show has the wonderful potential to attract even more astute buyers in the future and become an important feature of Brimfield Week,” said Norwood. She added that they were very pleased with their sales, which included seven early pantry boxes in original paint, three mid-Nineteenth Century paint decorated document boxes, two early painted dough bowls, Shaker smalls, a watercolor portrait and an early gathering basket.
For the July event, Gurley said she is factoring in a few lessons learned, such as getting signage permits to better direct people to the hotel and perhaps look into what improvements can be made for lighting. But by and large she is very satisfied with her “experiment” – so much so that she has contracted with the hotel for the next ten years.
“I must have had about 100 people come to me and tell me what a great idea this is,” said Gurley. “With such high quality, it will grow in popularity, and if people know about it, they will come.”