Brimfield Antique Show

The Brimfield Antique Show, a tri-annual event, begins September 4th in Brimfield, MA. The show is known across the country and frequented by collectors, bargain hunters and many interior designers and dealers looking for great material. I recently had a conversation with my friend Amy Lombard who is a seasoned Brimfield veteran, and I asked her for some advice on attending and buying at the show. She had such great insights and useful information that I thought I would share it.

LPDM: How often do you attend Brimfield?
AL: I go once a year. I go to the May show, when the dealers bring their best stuff and the show is apparently the biggest. The July and Sept shows aren’t nearly as good.

LPDM: What is your favorite thing about this particular fair?
AL: I love the excitement of seeing what the dealers bring. Many of them have museum-quality pieces. Ask lots of questions. If you can’t figure out why a bowl is priced at $12,000, ask the dealer, and he’ll tell you all about it. I also love meeting people from all over the country who attend the show.

LPDM: Describe for me your first visit there.
AL: I went with my friend Amy Zapton who I was working with at Domino magazine. She had a Brimfield article tacked to her bulletin board. She’d never been to a show either and right then and there we planned to go. We booked a hotel. It was expensive–and a pretty bad hotel. That’s what happens to hotel rates in the area during show time. I drove to Massachusetts from New York City and got stuck in horrible Connecticut traffic. We got into town at about 1 am. We slept about 5 hours before leaving for the show fields. The minute we got to the show I thought, AHA! This is what it’s all about. It was brilliant!

LPDM: What important lesson did you learn in your first visit to Brimfield?
AL: Get to the shows early in the week. And arrive at the field at the crack of dawn right when the gates open. That’s when the dealers and serious collectors are there. The inventory is vastly different at 5 am as opposed to 7 am. For shows that start later in the day, buy your tickets hours before it starts so you don’t have to
line up with everyone else to buy a ticket when it is time to go in.

LPDM: What is your plan of attack when you go?
AL: I like Hertan’s and J and J Auction Acres. Those are my two favorite shows. I find out in advance which day those shows are running and I plan my trip around that.

LPDM: Do you look for the very things you collect when you go or are you open to new objects?
AL: My eyes are wide open for everything. Variety makes for a fun collection. A few years ago I bought a table-top size barn model from the early 1800’s. It’s from the Hudson River Valley and was made with the tiniest nails. I certainly wasn’t looking for such a piece, but now it’s a favorite.

LPDM: Tell me a bit more about the transacting itself. Do you negotiate with the dealers?
AL: It’s best to get to the shows early in the week–and early in the day. The catch is, though, that at that point the dealers aren’t really up for negotiating. They have the whole show ahead of them. So you can knock some money off the price, but not too much. Something else that affects pricing, and apologies in advance to my friends who work at these companies: Places like Ralph Lauren and Anthropologie send teams to the shows to buy furnishings for their stores. These teams arrive at a dealer’s booth with a checkbook and buy them out–no negotiating for price. Their buying power is pretty scary. Plus, they’ve got great eyes so they’re always going for the coolest stuff. I love to watch what these teams are buying. Last year, I saw a Ralph Lauren fellow buy probably 20 captain’s wheels from a dealer. Maybe they were for a store in Japan? Ralph did that look in the US about 15 years ago.

But otherwise, all transactions are done in cash. Bring lots and lots of it! It’s the best antique shopping you’ll do all year. The first year I went I didn’t bring nearly
enough, and I kept stopping at the cash machine. This machine is plunked down in the middle of a field, and charges about $5 for every $200 withdrawal. Harsh.

LPDM: How would you describe the other Brimfield attendees – professionals, general public?
AL: I’ve told you about the Ralph and Anthropologie teams. Then, there are the folks who are eBay sellers. That population has grown. They’re in it to buy, flip, and make money. Then there are the dealers who are buying to create inventory for their stores. I’ve found them to be lovely and fun to chat with. The balance is people like me–there to have fun and buy things to live with and enjoy.

LPDM: Have you ever made a purchase there that you regret?
AL: Sure. I love samplers. There are so many fakes out there, because real ones are super expensive. I knowingly bought a fake, thinking it was rather pretty. Funny, but when I look at it, all I can think is, I AM A FAKE. It was not the end of the world–it was a $250 lesson, which I can certainly live with.

LPDM: What was your best find ever at Brimfield?
AL: I found a Mobo horse. This is a large child’s riding toy. It was made in England in the 30’s out of metal. I use it as an end table next to a sofa. Not a precious or rare piece, but utterly charming.

LPDM: Is there anything else I should know about Brimfield etiquette?
AL: Just some bits of advice, in no particular order:
Bring a station wagon–shipping pieces home is expensive.
The show can be competitive, so enjoy watching the drama. You have to laugh when folks arrive at the dawn shows wearing headlamps so they don’t miss a thing.
Stop at Ted’s Restaurant in Meriden, CT (outside Hartford) on the way to the show. They serve steamed hamburgers made from a custom device from the 40’s. A grand meal for $6.
Talk to other collectors when you are dropping items off at your car in the parking lot. That’s where you can get all the good show gossip.
Book your hotel early–like 4 mos out. Rooms sell out fast. Go for a hotel in Sturbridge–it is close to the fields.
Massachusetts in May can be funny, so bring the right clothes. Fields in the early morning are wet and freezing. Then by noon, the sun is blazing and it is quite hot. The experience requires a bit of physical stamina–I’m not kidding!
Go with a friend! Nothing is more fun than seeking out treasures with a pal.

Thanks, Amy. This was really helpful and fun to hear about — I will aim to go to the May ’08 show and will let you know how it goes.