28 May The World’s Biggest Antiques Market

A couple weeks ago, Jill and I traveled┬áto the nation’s biggest antiques market, held in Brimfield, MA. It lasts six days and occurs outside in former cow pastures, under hundreds and hundreds of tents put up by thousands of vendors over hundreds of acres. Understand that Jill and I are antique fanatics. We’d been wanting to go to the legendary Brimfield show ever since we’d first heard about it over ten years ago. Our friend Scott, an antiques expert, gave us tips on how to manage the visit. If you don’t get advice or do some research in advance, you will miss the hot spots and easily get overwhelmed.

The way Brimfield works is this: two or more “shows” open every day. There are 23 shows. If you’re there for the opening of a particular show, you’ll get the best pick of stuff. The longer the show has been opened, the less good stuff you’ll find there. The challenge for us was threefold: we were on a budget, we were traveling in the camper van with both dogs (so we had no room to carry junk), and we weren’t really in the market for collecting more antiques (see “lightening our load” ) .

Jill and I love to shop and neither of us is good at resisting a bargain. But we were on our best behavior. Then we found an amazing oil painting for $1400 — way over our budget — and we were were swept away, like racing down a snowy hill on a toboggan. We really wanted that painting. But we didn’t need that painting. And we couldn’t afford that painting. We talked about it, pondered our options, and then, at last, we decided against it. This was a notable feat of self-control on our part.

Now liberated from a tremendous temptation, we were steeled to resist any other. We focused on small stuff. Jill found a Occupation-era Steiff kitten. Then we found a small antique Chinese carpet. And then we came upon a quirky unfinished oil painting that we felt we had to have. Everything we bought was relatively cheap–that is, a good bit below retail price. You’ve got to carry cash at a show like this. You’ve got to bargain. And you’ve got to be willing to walk away.

By the end of the day, we had been on our feet for 10 hours. Since we were exhausted and out of money, it made no sense to stay for another day, as we had planned. Some people stay for all six days–and bring big trucks to haul away their finds. We saw rows and rows of panel trucks and vans brought by dealers from all over the country. That cool old tea set you’ll find in an antique shop in, say, Atlanta probably came from Brimfield.