Brimfield Antique Show | The Ultimate Antique Treasure Hunt
The Brimfield Antique Show dates for 2015 are: May 12-17, July 14-19, and September 8-13. brimfieldshow.com
Mist curls off the foothills of the Berkshires, rising like hope. Calm and peaceful, it’s the ultimate in serenity, a world of winding roads curving through lush green fields and blooming apple orchards.
Deep in its midst, surrounded by the remnants of old farms and quiet ponds, a hush descends. Nature holds its breath. And then, 9 a.m. the whistle blows at the edge of a stubbly old field, and all hell breaks loose. Antiques dealers fly out from every direction, yanking treasures from the backs of pickup trucks and the tops of cars.
Flinging open the doors to vans on their last legs or fancy lettered vehicles that shelter upscale merchandise, they hear, “How much for the harpoon?” “Got any gold watches?” “What’s your best price?” Civil War swords, typewriters, rare instruments, legless chairs, topless mannequins, bits of Buddhas, shabby chic, Sheraton…all tumble out. It’s a dizzying assortment, an unimaginable collection of everything on earth.
Frenzy grips the field. Buy it or lose it, as sellers toss goods onto the ground, onto folding tables, into the arms of eager buyers. There’s no time for chitchat, and oh, by the way, welcome to the Brimfield Antique Show, a three-ring circus of a fair that descends on this quiet Massachusetts town three times a year. During that handful of allotted days in May, July, and September, the population of little Brimfield swells from 3,500 to a mind-blowing 130,000, each person intent on the object(s) of his or her desire.
“That came out of a cool estate in Buffalo!” a lanky dude says about an iron wall sculpture that starts off at $450, but quickly drops to $350 as the buyer walks away. In the booth next door, the words “World War II” emerge from a string of Yiddish, the harpoon sells for $160, and everyone runs a hand over the ancient, battered, but gorgeous mirror frame–until they hear it’s $4,000.
Brimfield is the rock star of antiques markets. Martha Stewart marks it on her calendar, and customers come from the four corners to ogle and buy. Roughly 6,000 dealers pack more than 20 fields along both sides of Route 20 in south-central Massachusetts for nearly a mile, making this show the ultimate flirt when it comes to temptation: Happiness at every price. Or half price. Or make me an offer.
A siren wails in the distance. “Someone must have had a heart attack about the prices,” says a dark-haired woman with an Oriental rug rolled up under her arm. She makes a beeline for a beautiful textiles booth. “How much?” she asks, fingering a delicate, silky scarf.
“So low you won’t believe it.”
It all started simply enough, in the 1950s, in one big field. Today that area, now known as J&J Promotions, is but one of a number of privately owned fields, the individual names rife with a certain carnival mystique: Crystal Brook, Heart-O-the-Mart, Hertan’s, The Meadows, New England Motel, Quaker Acres. Technically, Brimfield runs from Tuesday through Sunday. But opening days for the main fields are staggered, to give each an advantage. Some open at sunrise; others charge admission for that first crack at fresh goods. But no one does it quite as spectacularly as May’s Antique Market, the chaotic scene we witnessed at the beginning of the story.
“I’ve done May’s for 30 years,” says Donna Heinold, an “estate specialist” who’s barricaded behind an eclectic collection of doorstops and pincushions. Unlike other fields, where dealers can set up in advance, “May’s has no presale or set-up of any kind, and they police the field to make sure no one’s putting anything out. The gate opens at 9 a.m., they blow the whistle, we start pulling things out, and it’s a free-for-all.” By noontime, she says, the buying frenzy is over.
The thrill of the chase is palpable at Brimfield, along with the ever-present prospect of encountering the unexpected. To that end, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re buying or selling. It’s a fine line, anyway.
“I’ve been collecting for years, selling for two,” says Cheryl Krumrine, who’s driven all the way from West Palm Beach, Florida. She points to rows of exquisitely detailed antique bookends set up in her shady booth at The Meadows. “It’s how we all start. So it doesn’t look obsessive; it just looks like I have a business.” She hefts a Lincoln Memorial set ($459). Bronze Pompeian figures listen in silence; bookends are fine art at this level of collecting, and her buyers are as obsessive as she is, sometimes collecting 10 sets at a time.
“You’ve got to hold things, touch them,” she muses. “Then you get a sense of what’s real.” Brimfield is all about real. Touching, turning things over, lifting, rubbing–turns out we’re still a tactile, sense-ridden species after all.
Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.