Here’s a quick preview of The Brimfield Antiques Show, which begins next week. To share your experiences at this amazing antiques event, please use the Comments box below.
In September 1959, an auctioneer in Brimfield, Massachusetts, opened his backyard to 67 exhibitors and launched Gordon Reid’s Famous Antiques Show. Reid’s neighbors gradually caught on to the idea—today, The Brimfield Antiques Show is the largest open-air antiques market in the world.
Held three times a year (May 11-16, July 13-18, and September 7-12 in 2010, rain or shine), the event covers more than 20 fields over a mile-long stretch on both sides of I-20. Each field is run by an individual promoter and keeps its own operating days and hours. Around 5,000 vendors and 130,000 visitors are expected for the upcoming spring show.
“We’ve continued to respect our father’s wishes of selling antiques and old collectibles,” Mathieu says. “We sell no reproductions or new merchandise in our field. People come from all over the world to our show. They know they’re going to find great quality antiques.
“This is our 51st show,” she adds. “We were the original and only show for several years. This year our show is on May 14 and 15. Those are the only two days when all the major shows are open at the same time. Those are the prime days.”
Brimfield visitors often say they buy things at the show they didn’t even know they wanted. Mathieu says people visiting her field have taken home everything from an old English phone booth to Wyatt Earp’s gun. If you’re looking for something specific at Brimfield, you may want to visit the Brimfield Exchange website to search for dealers specializing in such collectibles categories as scientific instruments, the Civil War, breweriana, decoys, Victorian furniture, jewelry and gemstones, lithographs and engravings, coins, photographica, quilts, ceramics, comics, and vintage clothing.
Back when Reid started his antiques show more than 50 years ago, the dealers essentially sold their wares out of the backs of their station wagons. These days, most of the vendors operate out of large tents with plenty of browsing space.
The show’s facilities have also kept pace with its massive popularity: There are food and drink booths throughout the show route—the centrally located New England Motel also has a large and popular food court—and all the fields come equipped with clean and comfortable portable restroom facilities. Some dealers take checks and credit cards, and ATMs are available along Route 20.
Getting to the show, however, presents a challenge, as the town of Brimfield offers no local public transportation options. Parking is available at varying prices, and all lots offer handicapped parking spaces. The major routes leading into Brimfield are I-84, I-90, and I-91. Maps and directions can also be found at the Brimfield Exchange website.
Local lodging is typically booked months or even years in advance, but the Brimfield Show website offers suggestions for lodging in towns located within about 30 minutes of the site.
Clay Smith, a Connecticut-based vintage and antique toy dealer who has set up shop at Brimfield in Hertan’s field for the past three years, advises new visitors to bring a cart to haul their purchases back to their car. He also says that hiring a porter is an option. Although individual dealers don’t offer shipping, there are shipping services in town.
A number of the fields charge admission of $5 or more, especially on opening day, but most do not. Admission fees are also typically waived later in the day.
Of course, visitors are advised to wear comfortable walking shoes and several layers of clothing in preparation for New England’s notoriously unpredictable weather. “We jokingly tell people to bring everything from bathing suits to fur coats,” Mathieu says.
Text by Brad Quinn; Images courtesy Brian Herzog
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