Three times each year, antique dealers and bargain hunters descend on the small town of Brimfield, Massachusetts, for the Brimfield Antique Flea Markets. Open for business Tuesday through Sunday for one week in May, July, and September, the Brimfield Antique Flea Markets showcase more than 20 fields full of dealers. You will find items like sewing patterns from the 1960s, old farming tools, glassware, jewelry, vintage clothing, furniture, artwork, woodwork, metalwork, and many other curiosities.
Brimfield (as it is known in the antique circle) is not only about buying and selling -- it’s an adventure in and of itself. Dealers and shoppers come together at this holy grail of antiquing, where you will meet people from all over the world. It’s about the people, the finds, the food, and the music; it’s a little bit about the competition, and a lot about the camaraderie of the thrill of hunt. You never know what glorious treasure you will find buried in an old crate.
If you’re a novice antique seeker, know that the dealers are always willing to share their copious knowledge of their goods. The atmosphere is almost carnival-like, with caravans of gypsy tents and stands set up next to RVs, tents, and sleeper vans. Many vendors stay on-site for the week, keeping close to their precious goods.
Here are nine things to know before you go.
1. Enjoy The Hunt
Armineh Stepanians, a vintage and antique jewelry dealer and owner of VintageBlingEtc, is a 30-year Brimfield veteran.
Stepanians quipped, “You never know what you will find there. I bought a ring for $17; I had a feeling it was a great piece of jewelry. When I had it independently appraised, it was estimated to be worth $450. Sometimes vendors don’t know what they are selling, and you don't always know what you are buying.”
During her 30 years of Brimfield shopping, things have changed quite a bit. Years ago, she said, you had to rely on your expertise to determine the value of an item. Now that most people have smartphones, buyers and sellers have quality information in the palm of their hand.
It is the hunt for that elusive pot of gold that will keep bringing you back. For some, antiquing is a way of life. They buy and sell, with an eye for a great deal, and they love the rush of a fabulous find.
2. The Fields Are Independently Owned And Operated
Each of the approximately 20 different fields is independently owned and operated. Most, not all, are open in conjunction with the dates of the Brimfield Antique Flea Markets. However, some fields are only open for one, two, or three days. May’s Antique Market, for example, is only open three of the six days. You’ll need to plan your trip carefully if you have a particular field you wish to visit. The Brimfield Antique Show Fields page will offer some guidance in planning your adventure.
You will find that some vendors will set up at one field for a day or two and then in a different field for the remainder of the show. Moving to different fields helps to maximize their exposure.
Some fields charge a small entrance fee ($5 or less), but usually only on the first day.
3. The Dealers Come From Everywhere
Many dealers at Brimfield come from New England, but others come from other regions of the United States, Canada, or even Europe. You will find professional and amateur dealers with tents chock-full of treasures.
Many dealers only sell at Brimfield. They collect antiques and bric-a-brac all year to be able to have amazing finds to sell specifically at the three shows. If you find a dealer who sells items that you like, be sure to get their contact information; you might never find their booth again.
4. Shop Early For The Best Selection
If you are on the hunt for something specific, like that perfect mid-century modern kitchen table and chairs or the missing piece of your Fiestaware collection, you should shop on opening day.
To pinpoint a specific item, be there very early. Many dealers open at 6 a.m. You will find that the opening Tuesday is crowded in the morning. Dealers are putting the finishing touches on their displays while shoppers who want first pick are in the parking lot, coffee in hand, watching the sun rise.
5. Shop Late For The Best Deals
If you are a picker or are looking for a bargain, shopping on Sunday would be best for you. The dealers start to pack up after lunch, and many will be happy to sell you an item for a little less than they were willing to on Tuesday. The thought of hauling large items back to storage is not that appealing.
On Sunday afternoon, the crowds thin out, making it an opportune time to get to know the dealers you like. Many will keep an eye out for a special item you want as they search the planet for items to add to their stock.
Sunday is also a good time to come with cash, since it puts you on the better end of the bargaining table.
6. Cash Is King
Some dealers, the full-time businesses, will accept credit cards. A few dealers will accept local checks. Many will only accept cash. There are several ATMs around the fields with a $200 maximum transaction plus fees.
You will find so many items that strike you that it is almost impossible to leave empty-handed. Whether you are looking for something specific or just waiting to see what speaks to you, Stepanians suggests, “shop with a budget, since it’s very easy to go overboard.”
Shop with cash if you can. Your negotiation position is better if you have cash in hand. It is a more attractive transaction for the dealer than paying the credit card fees.
7. Park Strategically
There is parking available farther away from the fields. It is less expensive, but you’ll have to walk -- a lot! One of the best parking lots is in the field along Route 20, just as you enter the Brimfield Antique Flea Markets area from the highway. The field parking fee varies by day but is around $10, which may be the best bargain of the day. It is important to keep your feet happy.
Wear comfortable, I-can-walk-all-day shoes.
8. There Are Plenty Of Dining Options
There are lots of dining options near the New England Motel & Antiques Market. You will find food carts and permanent kitchens conveniently located near all of the action. All you have to do is follow your nose. The aroma of fried dough permeates the air. You will find everything from submarine sandwiches to full-course takeaway meals.
There are plenty of picnic benches and cozy spots of grass where you can sit and munch away while people-watching. Music from a live band gives lunch the feeling of a lawn party, with new friends proudly displaying their morning treasures.
9. Pickup Is Easy
The fields are dotted with dirt roads that allow the vendors access to their sites. They’re also convenient if you need to pick up a large piece of furniture. If you feel adventurous, you can navigate your vehicle over the bumpy, stone-covered roads that are clogged with dealers and buyers to pick up your treasure. This is a better option if you pick up your item later in the day. You most likely will not be allowed to drive your vehicle in the field at the height of shopping hours.
Alternatively, you can hire a porter to carry your item to your car -- for a fee, of course. This will save you driving about trying to find the dealer you purchased your item from.
Pro Tip: A few things you should pack are water, a snack, a bag to carry your small purchases, a measuring tape if you are looking for a specifically sized item, and your sense of adventure. Happy hunting!