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Brimfield: A Tiny Town, An Antiques Mecca

by Sandra Lee Stuart (07/23/08).

It is a small town like many other small towns. A main street that is only a mile long without even a stoplight along the way. Small mom-and-pop stores and a fast-food place just outside the town limit. Population about 5,000 or so. That is Brimfield, Mass., most days. However, for one week in May, July and September, Brimfield becomes “The Nation’s Antiques Capital.”

In 1959, a handful of antiques dealers set up outdoor tents in a pasture near the edge of town. Nearly 50 years later, there are 20 separate shows featuring 5,000 dealers placed a half-mile deep on both sides of this otherwise quiet rural main street. With this many dealers, antiquing becomes an Olympic event in Brimfield, and so WorthPoint has come to participate.

Dan Borsey and I set up camp in one of the 20 fields, or shows, known as Central Park. Pat and Robert Waite, the owners, named their field that because it is, guess what, almost exactly halfway down Route 20, the main street in and out of Brimfield. Robert parks the cars while Pat says hello upfront with an irrepressible calm. Nice folks. We were able to evaluate a very old emerald-and-pearl bracelet Pat has had since she played with it as a child. It is a silver-gilt bracelet from 1890 to 1910 with cabochon aquamarine- or emerald-colored glass stones that are framed with tiny seed pearls strung on wire. Worthologist Maggie Turnipseed gave it a value of $275 to $375 or up to $875 once it is repaired and some of the seed pearls replaced. Pat won’t let the grandkids play with it now.

Talking WorthPoint

Naturally, we spent time talking to many of the curious about the value of WorthPoint features, such as the ability to search auction records, ask the community questions about an item or even to question a Worthologist directly. Some people liked the ability to search, others liked the ability to sell, others to ask questions. All believed that WorthPoint is a great idea. A few signed up right away when we helped find the value of old paintings and other items they own by demonstrating our ability to research more than two million auction items in our Worthopedia.

As I visited dealers and helped create videos all around Brimfield, I was able to occasionally spot things that fit my role as a Worthologist for political items and flags.
For political items, there were the usual campaign buttons from late 20th-century presidential campaigns, of course. A Landon/Knox campaign poster of 1936 was really great even with the water damage and general wear. It’s highly unusual to find an advertising board complete with the political pins intact such as the ones from “The Party Show-Off” featuring the Republican elephants of the 1950s. What a great find and in quite excellent condition. Both the poster and the advertising board were in the $100-to-$125 range.

The most unusual political item, though, was the round stickpin featuring a black-and-white image of William Howard Taft with a teddy bear above the photograph. A teddy bear? For Taft? This could only mean that this was a campaign item from 1908 when President Teddy Roosevelt backed him. Roosevelt later broke with Taft in the 1912 campaign for being too “reactionary” and formed his ill-fated Bull Moose candidacy that split the Republican vote and ushered in President Woodrow Wilson. What a great political item priced at $295.

Flags, flags and more flags

As for flags, there were really so many great historic and collectible ones to choose from. Lucky for me, Rae and Bob McCarthy of R&R Collectibles were placed near WorthPoint’s tent with a full collection of many early American flags both framed and unframed. See them in the WorthPoint See them in the WorthPoint Flags at Brimfield video. An unusual availability of oil-company corporate flags was offered, too. I’ve seen one or two on occasion, but one booth had a dozen or so different ones for about $25 each. A red-white-and-blue “Welcome Home” pennant from the World War II era was very striking. I didn’t get a value for this one, but I was amazed at its nearly perfect condition after all these years.

Bennington flag

For historic flags, I visited David Seamans’ booth and found an early 20th-century Bennington flag. This is a unique American flag as it shows 13 seven-pointed stars instead of the usual five-pointed ones in use on the U.S. national flag. The large “76” evokes 1776, the year of independence. It was called the Bennington flag because it was reportedly used during the Battle of Bennington in August 1777. However, technical analysis of the original showed the woven material was not available until at least 1800 through 1810, thereby making the original flag consistent with the War of 1812 era. This particular flag dates from the early 20th century. David had other woolen flags such as the yacht-club vice-commodore flag, a few very nice stick flags of the Civil War era and a great many wool 48-star flags, too.

I did pick up a 6-by-10-foot 46-star cotton flag for $80 from a dealer who was packing up to go home. It is a reproduction, but it is a good one to take to classrooms and special events as a teaching tool or for use as a decorative backdrop.

And then there are the flags you wish you could have but weren’t for sale. The colorful PACE flag, meaning peace, was of European manufacture and very desirable. I’ve always seen Tibetan prayer flags in photographs flying near Mount Everest but have never seen one “in person” until Brimfield. Both flags were flying in the wind in one of the booths selling vintage Eastern religious icons and statues.

On my last day in Brimfield as I was leaving to head home, I spotted a very large, well-preserved 48-star cotton flag flying outside an antiques store in Sturbridge, a few miles east of Brimfield. The owner was using it as advertisement since signs are strictly regulated there and wasn’t aware of its value. I evaluated the flag as being in the $200-to-$250 range retail because of its very good condition and size. After mentioning that the sun could easily fade the flag, the owner assured me that this would be the last time it would fly outdoors.

All in all, a very wonderful trip to Brimfield. For a first timer, I made contacts with so many of the dealers of not only political and flag items, but of so many other collectibles, too, such as posters, paper items, postcards and other general collectibles. And yet, there is still so much I missed. Perhaps I will see you at Brimfield in September for another visit.

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