Television impresario Ed Sullivan liked to introduce his 1960s Sunday evening program as a “really big show.” But even the man who introduced the Beatles to America would be astounded at the sheer size and variety of any of these sprawling antiques fairs. I plan trips around them; here are my top five picks. These venues open up two or three times a year, usually in the middle of nowhere. Well known among collectors, designers, pickers, and junkers, each show covers hundreds of acres with offerings from thousands of dealers.
An open-air show is not the place to find a rare piece of Limbert furniture or a Grueby tile, although practiced eyes might spot unsigned examples. Rather, think of these long-established mega fairs as a cornucopia of eclectic, mostly 19th- and 20th-century furniture and ephemera. In addition to vintage furniture, inevitably you’ll find hand-woven and hand-hooked rugs, architectural salvage, wicker and baskets; fine china, silver, and Depression glass; vintage pottery and textiles; mechanical devices like typewriters, toasters, and table fans; plus folk art, posters, and paintings. You also might indulge a passion for mid-century jewelry and vintage clothing, musical instruments, hand tools, yarn, or hand-decorated Christmas ornaments. There will be plenty of junk to sift through, too.
Home to thousands of dealers, this town 60 miles west of Philadelphia is an antiques destination any time of year. It’s also the site of multi-day “extravaganzas” every summer, an outdoor Sunday market year round, plus dozens of auctions, including Lancaster County’s famous mud sales. Most of the action takes place along Rt. 272 between Reading and Lancaster. Adamstown Extravaganza Weekends: April 28–May 1; June 23–26; Sept. 22–25; antiquescapital.com
The grand-daddy of all outdoor venues since 1959, Brimfield is quite possibly the largest open-air antiques show in the world. Last September, more than 20,000 dealers lined the broad fields on either side of Rt. 20 in this small town two hours west of Boston. The scale is vast: plan to spend at least a couple of days to take advantage of early-bird shopping and last-minute deals. Brimfield Antique Show: May 10–15; July 12–17; Sept. 6–11; brimfieldshow.org
This lesser-known show takes place each August. Over 2,000 vendors are strung out along a stretch of Rt. 20 about 40 miles east of Syracuse—not coincidentally, the home of Gustav Stickley’s original factory. You will find Arts & Crafts furniture, although it may need work. For connoisseurs, there’s also a three-day antiques weekend with 150 dealers June 3–5. Madison–Bouckville Antique Week: Aug. 15–21; madison-bouckville.com
Mount Dora, FL
This historic winter-resort town north of Orlando has three annual “extravaganzas.” Held in November, January, and February, shows attract about 1,500 dealers. Take in the Morse Museum of American Art in nearby Winter Park (morsemuseum.org), home to a comprehensive collection of the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Mount Dora Extravaganza: Nov. 19–20; renningers.net/index.php/main-locations/mount-dora
Round Top, TX
Approaching its 50th year, this Texas-size “show” is more than 60 events in towns around the historic German settlement of Round Top (pop. 90). The main shopping corridor is a 20-mile stretch of Texas 237 midway between Austin and Houston. “Preview” shows extend the buying frenzy to two weeks. If you have limited time, don’t miss the largest shows, Marburger Farm (roundtop-marburger.com) and the Original Round Top Antiques Fair (rountoptexasantiques.com): March 28–April 3; Sept. 26–Oct. 1.
How To Shop:
- The pros—interior designers, antiques dealers, and avid collectors—plan their arrival down to the minute. “You have to get there exactly when the dealers you buy from open,” says interior designer Carisa Mahnken, a long-time Brimfield shopper. After some early buying, she’ll walk several rows quickly. Most of her shopping is finished an hour after she arrives.
- Wear comfortable shoes, dress casually, and, for the best deals, bring cash.
- Bargain, but don’t lowball. If something speaks to you, don’t procrastinate; it will likely be gone if you come back half an hour later. (You can ask the dealer to hold it for you after you’ve paid for it or arranged for a deposit.)
- If you’re not first to arrive, come late, even on the last day. That puts you in a position
to bargain with a dealer for a desirable item that hasn’t yet found a buyer.