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Brimfield Antique Shows: Diary of a First Timer

by John Londoner (07/11/11).

Three times a year, the town of Brimfield, Mass., hosts an open-air, rain-or-shine, dawn-’til-dusk antiques extravaganza over the course of several days. It draws more than 30,000 people and dealers come from hundreds of miles around.

I’m going to Brimfield.

I’ve never been there before so really have no idea what to expect. I’ve heard stories from a lot of dealers and collectors, but they all say you have to see it to believe it. I’m in.

For those of you that have never heard of it, Brimfield is a small town of roughly 2,000 residents nestled in south-central Massachusetts. Three times a year, the town hosts an open-air, rain-or-shine, dawn-’til-dusk antiques extravaganza over the course of several days. It draws more than 30,000 people and dealers come from hundreds of miles around—and sometimes form overseas—to set up shop for a few days and sell their inventory. Collectors come in droves.

The fair stretches for more than a mile with multiple fields offset from the main drag of Route 20. I know dealers who bring a mountain bike to cover it more efficiently—they get a sneak preview the day before. The fair opens to the public on Tuesday, July 12.

I hear the language of Brimfield is cash, so I’m bringing 400 bucks. Small bills, mostly. That’s my budget and I might not spend it all. There is a good chance, though, I’ll spend more.

A small section of the Brimfield Antique Shows as seen from the air.

I anticipate a long drive, small-town traffic problems, opening-day crowds and parking issues for sure. I don’t see any way around it. Brimfield is about 80 miles away from our home in Sheffield, Massachusetts—a town rich in Colonial history and, in itself, a hotbed for antiques. I’ve driven across the state to Cape Cod before and it’s a beautiful drive. Massachusetts is a beautiful state.

I do have a goal while at Brimfield. Lately, I’ve been collecting vintage electric fans. Not really sure why. I guess I like the retro design of them and the fact that they just don’t quit. I recently bought a 1940s Emerson Electric fan at auction and it’s a workhorse. It runs quiet but strong. The blades are a bit intimidating and I’ll have to hide the unit when my 4-year-old nephew comes over. I think the fan would slice a head off just looking at it the wrong the way.

So I’m hoping there are some fan dealers at the show. I know what to look for. Brass blades with a brass cage indicate that the unit may be pre-1920s; and they can be extremely valuable. Darryl Hudson told me that. He’s been collecting and repairing antique and vintage electric fans for more than 40 years out of his shop in South Carolina. I’ve got his cell phone number on speed dial if I have any questions while at the show. He’s the real deal.

The 1940s Emerson Electric fan I recently bought at auction. I'm hoping to find more fans at Brimfield.

My wife loves American Craftsman Movement furniture (also known as Arts and Crafts style), which basically means that I have to love Arts and Crafts furniture, too. And, I do. If I can find a nice ladder-back armchair for my office, I can finally finish furnishing that room and move on.

But it’s really all about price. I’m hoping to find merchants who have come from the farthest corner of the country and see what we can work out. Far-away dealers tend to be more lenient on price. Loading, unloading and reloading trucks takes its toll on the human body, and let’s face it, not a lot of fun.

So, I’m going to Brimfield, and I’m bringing cash, water and foul-weather gear. I’ll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck!

John Londoner is a digital media professional and antiques hobbyist. He frequently attends antique auctions in the Upstate New York area and can be contacted at jlondoner@nyc.rr.com.

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5 Responses to “Brimfield Antique Shows: Diary of a First Timer”

  1. Susan Busa says:

    Harry,

    Thank you for sharing John’s first experience at Brimfield. I’m looking forward to his follow up since we will be working the show for the first time in September. It has always seemed overwhelming to figure out where to set up and where we could stay that is close but economical. I turned to the help of my friends at The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles. Since we will be set up in the VFW lot in Hillsville, VA over the Labor Day weekend, we don’t have the time to make the 12 hour drive for the first day of the Brimfield show.

    I think we have found a good fit at the New England Motel lot which opens on Wednesday, September 7th. There is plenty of parking and food, plus we will be right outside the two tents that house antique and vintage fashions (space #168). Now all we have to do is figure out where to stay. We are really looking forward to hearing what John has to say about his first visit, especially if he has any good suggestions for those coming for the first time.

    For any readers that intend to be there, mention you read my follow-up on WorthPoint for a 10% discount on your purchases at either of the above mentioned shows.

    BANGLES & BEADS
    http://BanglesandBeadsOnline.com

  2. Nick Ryan says:

    Hi John, thanks for the good lead in to this show, I look forward to your follow up especially regarding prices, how they compare to your big city sales.

    Good Luck with your own personal quests.

    Kind regards, Nick

  3. Dana Parandes says:

    As an avid collector, antiques enthusiast, and restorer, I decided several years ago to see Brimfield. From Southeastern CT, it’s a good drive. What was noted however (besides the tremendous amount of dirt road dust) was the amount of “filler”, or better said, antique knock-offs being peddled. These seemed to dominate the show, though if you have lots of time, lots of energy, and lots of water, you can find some bargains. Do wear real comfortable shoes, clothes, and a hat. Bring a collapsable cart or a handtruck. You’ll be glad you did.

  4. Susan Busa says:

    Dana,

    Have you been recently? I know shows tend to evolve and I’ve heard the show isn’t what is once was. Maybe that has changed as well. I would like to hear when you were last there, as well as from other readers that may been recently.

    I’m also not having much success finding a place to stay that it’s $1K for six nights. Any readers have suggestions on that? Low costs are the only way we can keep our prices down, so comfort is not the issue (although bed bugs are).

    Thanks,
    BANGLES & BEADS
    http://www.BanglesandBeadsOnline.com

    • Dana Parandes says:

      In all fairness, I have not been to Brimfield since that experience (perhaps three years ago?) But I have heard more than several local dealers say that they have found excellent bargains in recent shows…and…that things have, in fact, changed for the better. Now if only the economy would follow suit..?

      Springfield, MA is West of Brimfield and not that far. Due to the economy, these motel/hotels have really felt the crunch and where rooms used to be near filled during the season, I’ve been informed that they were near empty. Try them. ATB!

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