Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I have been reading about the Brimfield Antique Show for several years now. According to the likes of style, fashion, and trend writers for the NY TIMES and VOGUE, anyone who is anyone goes to Brimfield to buy antiques. Brooklyn hipsters who own vintage shops. Celebrities. Me. I was fortunate to land a great job this summer at the Newport Historical Society in Newport, Rhode Island, so I am within a morning's driving distance. And so, this morning, I headed north west.

Before I even arrived at the show, I witnessed first-hand the recent tornado devastation just east of town. You see this stuff on TV, but it doesn't quite make the same impact unless you're there in person. The show folk seem to be taking it all in stride, though. This year's t-shirt reads "BRIMFIELD/2011/Antiques Market." The "0" features an image of a twister in the center...I hope that the event brings some much-needed business and excitement to town this week.

So, what's this all about? For about a week, three times a year, antiquers make a pilgrimage to this somewhat out-of-the-way Massachusetts town. Dealers set up shop (many with tents) outside on one of several grassy fields along a mile-long stretch of Route 20. Not all fields are open each day, so be sure to find a schedule before you go if someone has tipped you off as to where you might find the freshest stuff. Parking costs anywhere between $4-8 dollars (I paid $5). Several carnival-type food purveyors stake their territory in the middle of the madness. I did not find a clean place to use the restroom until I got back on the Mass turnpike, but you make some sacrifices for the the sake of the hunt, I suppose.

I saw a mix of people. Some roam the fields wearing t-shirts indicating what they collect ("I buy and sell military!/555-555-5555"). Others go up and down the aisles on their bikes (not a bad idea). Some were obviously vintage shop owners from urban areas. There was a fair number of middle to upper-middle class collectors walking around too.

The goods? The quality varies, but nothing is exceptionally high-end (of course, not all fields were open today). This place is for hunters. Dealers tend to price goods fairly and better than smaller outdoor shows (Henry's Field and New Castle, for example), and many are willing to bargain. Some booths smell like cigarette smoke and mold; others scare away shoppers with awful other-worldly music. If you buy too much or something you cannot fit into your car, just make your way to the on site UPS booth. If you just need something with which to transport your finds, you can buy a push-cart (with a bag) for $25. The show is big (I concluded that its size really is its claim to fame--not to say that it was not worth it, because it was), but it's manageable.

Now, the good stuff. What did I buy? Well, this might be a bit of a let down. I did not buy anything today aside from an underwhelming veggie burger and three lemonades of varying quality. I know, I know. I brought cash, but, to be honest, only one item called my name (aside from a poster-size Berlin work pattern some other dude had found before I did), and it was priced a little more than I wanted to pay. I was still considering turning around to fetch it once I was about an hour away on the road toward Newport, but I did not.

What was it, you ask? It caught my eye because I thought that it was an eighteenth-century wood and leather box adorned with brass nails (I've been looking for one of these since I saw one in a booth from which I purchased something else for over a year now). As I approached it, I realized that it was not quite that old and that it was not in the best condition (or of the highest quality). But the treasure was on the inside. As I approached, I noticed that its interior was covered with a nineteenth-century printed cotton (!). I opened the lid and noted the textile and a relic note. Just my kind of object! The writer explained that her father made the box for her mother in the 1840s or 50s (I cannot recall which) and that it was meant to store love letters. The writer went on to explain that the love notes were "long gone" but that the wooden box remained (obviously). What a cute story! No names, though, and like I said, not the best condition. Price? Tagged at $150, I didn't think that I would be able to bring the dealer down to $80 (more in line with my budget). Recalling a fantastic deal I got on something similar in nature but not identical about a year ago (I'll post something about that at some point), I wanted a better deal. Maybe I need to be a real picker--someone who knocks on farmers' barn doors.

Hot, sweaty, and nearing my breaking point, I decided to wander back to the car.

And I am still thinking about the box.


  1. I also finally went to Brimfield after hearing about it forever, but after going to mainly yard sales and flea markets, I just couldn't bear to pay what people expected to get there! It was cool to experience, but I think I'll stick with my lower-tier picking until I feel more comfortable working with higher prices.

  2. Yeah, I agree. I think I will consider returning, though, but I would go for two days. I want to be able to see more of the fields. Perhaps there will be more opportunities for deals...

    Thank you for reading!