Seven Tips for Surviving Brimfield (or any other Large Antiques Festival)

The first of the three annual Brimfield antique shows get underway this week along a one-mile stretch of Route 20 in Massachusetts

The first of the three annual Brimfield antique shows gets underway this week along Route 20 in Massachusetts, and there will doubtless be many newbies attending this year’s events. We thought it might be a good idea to provide them with some tips on how to navigate the seemingly endless rows of tents and booths to make the most of the show.

The following seven tips will work for just about any large antiques show, but Brimfield—being the granddaddy of them all—has its own particular characteristics that need to be considered.

For those of you who don’t know what Brimfield is, it is simply a weeklong antiques extravaganza, held in open fields, tents and barns along a one-mile stretch of road near the city of Brimfield. It was started in 1959, when Gordon Reid held an open-air auction (which is still being run; look for J&J Promotions). Now, there are some 20 different shows set up during the week of May 13-18, each run as an independent operation. Taken together, it is simply called “Brimfield.”

The Brims, as those in the know call them, are held in May, July and September each year. The consensus is that May offers the best in terms of inventory and weather, and that September is nearly as good. July, while still offering all that Brimfield is known for, is just plain hot, so factor that into your considerations.

Regardless of when you go (or if you plan on attending other large antiques shows this spring and summer), remember these suggestions, garnered over the years by savvy veteran antiquers:

1. Be the Early Bird
Official start times be damned. If the sun is about to breach the horizon, serious shoppers are already at it. You’ll have less competition early in the day, the grounds are easier to negotiate and you’ll get a much better parking space.

2. Be the Boy Scout
Don’t forget what you learned in Boy Scouts: Be Prepared. Odds are that you’re going to be away you’re your car for a long while, so bring everything you might need with you. That includes, most important of all, cash, and not all in large denominations. You daypack or bag ought to also have bottles of water, some (non-melting) snacks, and bags for your small purchases. Dress in layers, as a cool morning will warm up later in the day.

3. Let the wagons roll
If it’s your first excursion to Brimfield, you might not think it’s necessary or even a bit of overkill, but bringing a cart or wagon will save you headaches and backaches. That old wagon you had as a kid may not work, but Radio Flier does make new models with big, knobby rubber tires that are perfect for Brimfield’s pastures and wooden railing that makes for a deep bed to keep things from bouncing out.

If you see something that you’d like to buy, don’t delay. Brimfield is a big place and if you pass on it and decide later you want it, you might never find you way back to the same booth.

4. Go your own way
Twenty years ago, if you got separated from your spouse or shopping buddy, you might never find them again. Now, with the invent of cell phones, you are never really lost. But try to get lost anyway. If you split up, you’ll cover more ground without rushing your partner and it’s easy to reconnect to confer on a piece whenever you want.

5. Let’s make a deal
Brimfield is the place to unleash your inner Monty Hall, so don’t offer to pay the price you see on the tag at first. Negotiation is part of the antiquing game and sellers build in a little padding to make the bargaining work out in their favor. Make an offer using 30-percent off the tagged price as a starting point. The seller doesn’t have to accept it, but what if she does?

6. You shall not pass (it up)
If you see something that you’d like to buy, don’t delay. If you walk off to “think about it,” two things will happen. The first is that someone else saw you handling the piece and bought it as you moved on. The second is that you might never find you way back to the same booth—Brimfield is a big place. So if you like it, but it.

7. Make it seasonal
The Brimfield events happen three times a year, so why not come back one or two more times? Like we noted, the best weather in the spring and fall, as July often gets to be brutally hot. If you make the summer trip, make sure you’re doing your Boy Scout thing (Tip No. 2) with extra water, sunscreen, a hat and maybe even a fan.

So there you go. If you have any other tips for surviving Brimfield. Be they general or specific, please weigh in in the comments sections, below. And if you are making your first trip to Brimfield this year, I’d love to hear about your experiences and if you find something truly amazing, please let me know. I’m always looking for great find stories to tell.

Gregory Watkins is the editor of You can e-mail him at

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