Brimfield is a town of about 4,000 in south-central Massachusetts that morphs into the epicenter of antiques trading three times a year. It is an otherwise unassuming small town, but it periodically hosts an event of such size, influence, and prestige that it makes the place internationally famous, attracting interior designers, antiques collectors, and dealers from all around when the shows are underway.
The Brimfield extravaganza began as an open-air auction in 1959. With the town largely strung along Route 20—the historic east-west artery crossing Massachusetts, New York, and points west—and situated just off the Mass Pike, it’s a location that proved convenient to buyers and sellers alike. Based on the first auction’s success, several neighbors turned their yards and fields into coinciding show venues, renting stall and/or tent space to antiques dealers at auction time. In 53 years, the show has grown to mind-boggling proportions, with roughly 5,000 dealers hawking their wares along a one-mile stretch on both sides of Route 20.
“You simply never know what you’re going to find,” says Gloucester antiques dealer Roger Pheulpin. “It is so big, the possibilities are endless.” For the uninitiated, a visit can be overwhelming, even unpleasantly crowded. But for adventurous collectors, flea marketers, bargain hunters, and connoisseurs of stuff of all stripes, Brimfield is Mecca. “If you’re a first-time visitor, don’t try to get into a show opening that day,” advises Pheulpin, who has sold his silver, redware, and ceramics at the show for several decades.
The last show for 2012 will take place September 4-9; 2013 dates are May 14-19, July 9-14, and September 3-8. “The summer show tends to be the least-heavily attended,” says Pheulpin. “It’s easier to get more of the lay of the land at that time.”
For Pheulpin, any show is worth a look. “The purists say the spring show is best,” he says. “People bring stuff they’ve squirreled away over the winter, and they’re getting ready for the summer shows. In my opinion, all the shows are worthwhile. If you can only go to one, you should pick the show that suits your schedule.” brimfieldshow.com.
1. Without comfortable shoes, Brimfield is a no-go.
2. You will find parking, but be prepared to pay up to $10 for an afternoon, depending on the length of the walk. Food and beverages are available, as are frequently placed Porta-Potties.
3. Visitors in wheelchairs and scooters may find the crowds and the terrain difficult.
4. A place to stay close by in Brimfield or Sturbridge requires forethought, resources, and planning. There are chain hotels and motels in nearby Auburn (the next exit on the Mass. Pike). Reservations are highly suggested.
5. Fakes and frauds have been made and sold since the concept of antiques began. E Caveat Emptor. Brimfield is an ideal outing to make in the company of a knowledgeable friend.
1. If you have your heart set on one specific item, this may not be your scene. Wander around Brimfield with a mind open to the unexpected, and be prepared to be delighted by sheer volume and variety. With time, you will learn where your favorite dealers tend to lurk, but know that a glorious surprise could be waiting just around the next muddy bend.
2. Bargaining is fine; some dealers even enjoy haggling over the cost of an item. But rudeness, hostility, or ill will never sweetens the deal. Antiques dealers take their wares to multiple shows; they are, after all, small businesspeople trying to turn a profit. You can ask whether they can do better with a price, but use common-sense courtesy.