Experiencing the Brimfield Antique Show

Part III of our series on “Killer Stuff and Tons of Money” – Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-Market America

The third part of our interview series with Maureen Stanton poses the question:

“How would you summarize the Brimfield Antique Show for someone who’s never gone or heard of the show but is looking for something fun to do that is also educational?”

Brimfield–or the Rosebowl in Pasadena, or First Monday Trade Days in Texas, the three largest outdoor antiques shows and flea markets—is like an ad hoc, hands-on, outdoor Smithsonian display of American culture and history.

There’s just so much to absorb and appreciate at an event like Brimfield. There’s the history of all sorts of fascinating objects, like opium bottles; there’s nostalgia when you encounter some long lost thing from your childhood that you’d all but forgotten; there’s an aesthetic smorgasbord of stuff—interesting things to look at, beautiful or odd or unique things [assorted Brimfield pictures]. There’s treasure to be sought and found if you have a good eye and some knowledge. There are great bargains on quality merchandise like furniture and home décor. And it’s a lot of fun to participate because flea markets and antique shows are interactive; you engage with dealers, who are typically not your mainstream folks but are a bit more eccentric or maverick, but also quite knowledgeable.

Flea markets like Brimfield are the antithesis of shopping at Wal-Mart or Target. They hearken back to the Greek agora, the famous outdoor pavilions for trading and shopping. At Brimfield, you might talk to Ken Woodbury who has been selling antique phonographs for over 30 years, and he’ll play you a little song on his wind-up record player and tell you some of the history. Or in New York City at the Green Flea Market you might talk to Michael Sheafe, who knows everything about the history of toasters. Or at Brimfield, someone like Curt Avery, who’ll bend your ear talking about whale oil lamps or marbles or yellow ware or six board blanket-chests or any of the cool objects he has for sale.