Spring marks the start of the flea market season in New England, and none is more spectacular than the Brimfield Antique Flea Market, an epic sale that goes on three times a year for six days and is one of the world’s largest antique fairs. As a mixed-media-artist-slash-hoarder, I feel it’s my duty to not only go and add to my healthy stash of vintage ephemera and other incredible bits of old stuff, but to bring it to you as well—literally and figuratively. Read all the way through to get to the literal part, because you won’t want to miss it.
To avoid the huge morning rush, one must rise before dawn and get on the Massachusetts Turnpike painfully early. This is the sacrifice one must make to avoid the hour-plus traffic tie-up that occurs around mid-morning in the small town of Brimfield, Massachusetts. This market, which has been featured on numerous television shows, such as “Flea Market Flip,” is so big it’s impossible to see everything in one day. But if that’s all the time you have, you do the best you can.
The rewards for a before-sunrise schlep include a good parking spot, a short line for hot apple cider donuts right out of the fryer, and maybe a couple of hours of relative calm until the crowds descend.
My mission this time was to find props for Cloth Paper Scissors photo shoots, and to amass some great ephemera to use as downloads for you, our amazing readers. We now offer free monthly downloads on the Cloth Paper Scissors blog, so check back often for some amazing bits you can use in your artwork. One of my first stops was in a tent I hadn’t been to before, but I was immediately drawn to substantial piles of vintage book pages featuring 19th century fashion illustrations. I could feel my pulse speed up, so I knew I was in a good place, and I couldn’t resist getting several of these sheets.
But look what else I found: fantastic clipboards made from old book covers. I like to recycle vintage covers into covers for handmade journals, but I absolutely love this idea. One of the best things about coming to a place like Brimfield is that you never know what great inspiration you’ll find. Some vendors have tents that are beautifully decorated, and they usually don’t mind if you take photos—always ask first, of course.
I headed over to one of my favorite tents, one that holds a number of vendors who offer my kind of stuff, like old textiles, photos, books, games, and, of course, ephemera. I spotted a familiar face: Claire Kimball, who usually sells at the show with her husband, Bruce. We are soul sisters in our love of collecting beautiful bits of old stuff, and she has such an eye for unique finds.
I couldn’t resist a number of items: vintage lotto cards, mother-of-pearl buttons, drawing pencils, game pieces. And then I spotted something completely amazing. The Kimballs used to own a men’s clothing store in Massachusetts, a store that had been in their family for several generations. Among the items they held onto was a box of tie fabric swatches from the 1960s. You know I had to have that. Had to. Have that. Can you blame me? The great thing about creating mixed-media art is that sometimes a scrap of something is all that’s needed. So these were perfect.
Brimfield is always filled with plenty of pricey eye candy: antique furniture, rare posters, architectural salvage, and decorative pottery. I think I stopped breathing when I spied this tabletop book press—I have never seen something so extraordinary in my life. Price tag: $1,100. Way beyond my budget, but so wonderful to look at.
I also spied this gorgeous typewriter—how amazing would that look in a studio?
You’ll also find tons of oddities here, bizarre items with puzzling origins and baffling purposes. These giant animals formed an unusual zoo, and no doubt some of them found a home by the end of the day.
Okay, back to reality. Brimfield is heaven for ephemera lovers, and you can find an incredible variety of affordable paper goods from the 19th and 20th centuries. One tent had an overwhelming array of vintage papers, including never-used packaging, book plates, books filled with stock receipts, and so much more. These botanical bookplates are just stunning and would look amazing in a collage or assemblage, or covering a handmade book.
And who could resist vintage seed packets? I mean, look at the artwork and typography. Just stunning.
By the way, Brimfield is just as much about mid-century modern as it is antiques—take, for instance, these incredible Vera tea towels in mint condition. Extraordinary artwork.
On this trip I lucked into a few antique ledgers, which I can never pass up if the price is right. The combination of lovely handwriting in pen and ink and aged paper gets me every time. Knowing I had snagged some great bargains made it a little easier to lug around an extra 10 pounds of old, heavy books.
As we conclude our virtual tour of Brimfield, I’ll now begin the literal portion. We’re giving away six vintage ephemera packs that include some finds from this trip: ledger pages, game pieces, vintage lotto cards, buttons, some of that tie fabric, and more! Visit the Cloth Paper Scissors Facebook page to learn how you can enter to win.
For some tips on how to shop and navigate a flea market like a pro, check out this blog post!