Brimfield Antique Show | The Ultimate Antique Treasure Hunt
Back in the field spreading out behind the New England Motel, Ron Bethoney, the unofficial “mayor” of this particular show, cooks up a tantalizing mix of onions and sausages on his camp stove first thing every morning. Incense, he calls it, saying, “I’m just burning it to bring you down here.” Animated and feisty, he’s a veteran who started setting up at Brimfield when the original founder, Gordon Reid, was still around, but then stopped coming in the ’80s. One day he said to his wife, “What happened to all our money?”
“We stopped doing Brimfield,” she said.
His booth is crammed with tables of glassware stacked on Lucite shelves and huge antique copper doodads that gleam like the sun. His grandfather in Brockton, Massachusetts, was a brass polisher, and young Ron used to wake up at 2 a.m. to help him polish brass ticket-booth grilles. His strategy at Brimfield? “I try to bring more than 1,000 items and make at least $10 on each,” he says.
No strategy is set in stone, however: “You come back here on Sunday, and if it’s still here, make me an offer–it’s outta here. I’d rather have you come back. Give people a bargain, they’ll be back.”
Oh yes, they will. Who can pass up the ultimate treasure hunt? The thrill of the chase? The mystery of what and why we chase? Everyone has a story at Brimfield, and more often than not, it’s a story of love and obsession, echoing in the voices all around you.
“Any more violins coming up?” asks a cowboy who’s bare from the waist up. A woman shakes her head at a friend: “My husband’s neurotic about buying signs.” A slender old man gently lifts a bottle of Madeira and peers at the label. 1851: Moby-Dick had just been published and the New York Times was brand-new.
There’s the queen of Pyrex, Linda deVillers, set up on the Midway field. “It’s you or the Pyrex,” said her husband, after she’d been collecting for 20 years and their house was stuffed with vintage dishware. That’s when she started selling at Brimfield. Her rarest item? A pattern called “Tulip,” from the Depression ($300 for the bowls, $50 for the custard cups). Naturally she’s hoping they don’t sell.
“I’ve done this show for 20 years,” says Wayne Howell, from Unionville, New York, he of the $4,000 mirror frame at May’s field. “If you’re buying, it’s the best one to buy at. If you’re selling, it’s the best one to sell at. Everyone has an equal shot at finding a treasure. If you’re looking for a meteorite, this is the place to find it.”
Which isn’t hard to believe, looking across the aisle at a booth displaying antlers, a torso, and a diving helmet. Where else is it so obvious that things have voices?
By 3 p.m., the day is winding down, but there’s still a steady stream of foot traffic on both sides of Route 20 and deep into the fields. A punk girl in black walks by with a unicycle. A guy balancing a box of French fries in one hand and a beautiful, faded-blue canoe paddle in the other, says, “Ain’t it a beauty?” to no one in particular.
If you’re not eating, buying, walking, carrying, or turning red in the sun, you’re thinking about removing your shoes and rubbing your feet. Oh, the tired, achy feet.
“It was $1,800,” says a disheveled-looking character, glasses slipping off his nose. The “it” is some kind of intriguing, mysterious metal base, Art Nouveau-ish. “Now it’s $950 with the mirror,” he pauses, “but you don’t really want it anyway. I’m packing up.”
Buyers, sellers, it’s all the same at Brimfield. Underlying it all is a shared love of the odd, the rare, the common, and ultimately the unknown. If it’s wrapped up in a bargain, that’s nice, too, but not essential. “There’s something we love about it here,” says Donna Heinold. “I don’t know what it is–something different. It’s probably the hunt. You can find anything here. One year it’ll be quilts. Another year, some old bucksaw to hang on your wall. Everything shows up here. And it’s a community. People have known each other for years. We all drive in and say, ‘Happy Brimfield.'”
The Brimfield Antique Show runs May 11-16, July 13-18, and September 7-12 this year. For hours, dealer lists, maps, and other details, visit: brimfieldshow.com