Massachusetts's Own Road Show
Sunday, August 17, 2003
Antiques are getting a bit old, aren't they?
Antiquing used to be about the thrill of the hunt. Nowadays, all you have to do to find a replacement for Grandma's Roseville vase is type "Roseville" into eBay and wait for the list to scroll. And what about all those folks on "Antiques Roadshow" who've somehow stumbled across Civil War relics in their attics? The hobby's become so diluted by amateurs, it's enough to make a veteran antiques hound start shopping at Wal-Mart.
Thankfully, there's still Brimfield, a Western Massachusetts antiques show expansive enough to accommodate eBayers and experts, aficionados and amateurs -- even dogs and small children.
Brimfield, which started in 1959, bills itself as the nation's largest outdoor antiques show. Held three times a year (May, July and September; the next one is Sept. 2-7) in the otherwise quiet town from which the show takes its name, Brimfield comprises more than 20 privately owned and operated markets amassed along a mile-long stretch of Route 20.
I've been a regular for the past 20 years, often competing for deals with other Brimfielders from as far afield as California, Germany and England. And I'll be going back.
Here are nine reasons why.
At Brimfield, serious collectors wear hats or T-shirts advertising their passions, from guns to Barbies to lunchboxes. One year I found myself circulating through its vast acres unable to break step with a gentleman who, upon entering each booth, barked out "Marbles and marble-related items!" by way of making his needs known.
Then there was Gary Sohmers, a 20-year Brimfield fixture and expert on pop-culture artifacts who's made a name for himself as an appraiser on "Antiques Roadshow." Sohmers is a grownup kid with a graying ponytail, Hawaiian shirt and booming voice like a game-show host. He rents two booths and fills them with all the junk -- comic books, records, trading cards, board games and toys, toys, toys -- that your mom threw out when you went to college.
Prices tend to be lower than those in, say, Manhattan or even at tonier outdoor shows like Connecticut's Farmington Antiques Weekend. But the price tag is just a starting point: Haggling -- polite or otherwise -- is generally expected, and I've never paid list price. The last day is the best time to snag bargains; some dealers would rather sell an item cheap than have to pack it up and haul it home.