Barbara Wells, a retired teacher's aide, collects sewing items and kitchen utensils, pipe tampers and Early American glass. "I've got about 50 lines I collect in," she said. "Oh, I can't even think of all the things I'm interested in."

So, what better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than at the D.C. Antiques Fair, where 185 dealers from the United States, England, Canada and France yesterday made their final pitches to history-hungry metropolitan area residents.

The show started Friday, and by last night, more than 12,000 collectors had stopped by the D.C. Armory to browse, munch on beerwurst or English fruit trifle and, of course, to buy antiques.

"Today, I'm just wide open," Wells said. "I'm looking, and if I see anything really interesting, I'll buy."

There was lots that was interesting because, as antique shows go, the D.C. fair, sponsored by Sha-Dor, is known for its furniture, art, quilts, decoys, pewter, silver, glass, brass and other objects.

There were heavy armoires the size of trucks, as well as delicate china poodles in miniature. One dealer offered an English walnut writing table for $7,800. Another had on display a French bronze ash tray in the shape of a housefly -- yours for $100.

Even among armoires, one stood out -- a gleaming French art nouveau model. "This is one of the most magnificent pieces I've ever seen," said Frank Farbenbloom, the show manager. "But, it is big. Somebody said that if I put a 'W' on the front, it could be a Winnebago."

Silver pepper shakers. Howdy Doody lapel buttons. A cream-colored $169 telephone similar to one used by movie star Mary Pickford. Oriental rugs in subdued maroons and teal blues.

Barbara Applegate of the District, an administrative assistant at Woodward & Lothrop, arrived at the show with a canvas bag looped over one arm, with "I'm Persnickety" written in red across the front of the bag. She was fairly certain she could find silver frames for her parents' wedding pictures, and she headed off in that pursuit.

Shirley McDaniel of Camp Springs, Md., a registered nurse, was there hunting for a garnet ring. "It's my birthstone," she said. "I'm just always looking, and someday I'll find the right one."

Looking for a sapphire ring and an oak dresser was Andrea Broadhurst of the District, who works for the American Geophysical Union. "I've just recently taken up an interest in antiques," she said.

Dealer James La Mena of Philadelphia hoped to find a buyer for a $35,000, 5 1/2-carat, "internally flawless" diamond ring.

Judith Summers, another dealer, offered vintage European posters, including a 1920 advertisement for French cigarette papers, done by artist Cappiello, with a picture of an elephant, selling for $300.

"What do you do with it? You frame it. People put them in their dining rooms, bedrooms, dens. Lawyers -- lawyers are putting them in their offices. And, doctors. And, wine posters are going in kitchens. I've sold to opera buffs. Senator John W. Warner R-Va. -- he buys all my horsey prints. They're pretty well all gone now, because he just came in and bought three of them."

Another dealer, Bob Watson of Galesville, Md., showed off an $8,250 Belgian desk.

"I bought it from a man in Scotland who told me there were 14 secret chambers in it. When I first got it home, I couldn't even find 10. But, I sat in front of it for a half-hour each day for a couple of weeks, and I found 21.