In our pages and in my columns I write a lot about the Brimfield Antique Shows, mostly because the shows are in our ‘backyard’ here in Sturbridge where our office is located, and because our publication has produced the Brimfield Show Guides for the better part of 20 years so we are intimately familiar with this long-running show. In this issue, however, I would like to say a few words about and introduce you to “Round Top,” a series of shows, like Brimfield, that takes place twice a year in Round Top and surrounding towns in Central Texas.
Antique show historians put the start of Brimfield as 1959 in Gordon Reid’s field in Brimfield, MA, making it the longest continuously-running outdoor antiques and collectibles show in the U.S. The Round Top shows share a similar backstory. The Original Round Top Antiques Fair was started in 1968 by Emma Lee Turney, who established a two-day “country antiques show with unsurpassed standards of excellence” and called it the Round Top Antiques Fair.
“Emma Lee was a purist,” said Charlie Ham, who attended the earliest shows as a shopper and later, along with his mother, became one of Turney’s dealers. “For her it was fine American, including early Texas antiques, or nothing. Round Top was a purists’ show.”
“It has been a challenge—and a great pleasure—to sponsor, manage, produce and host this country show. . . Taking the risks, setting the standards of excellence in country show and the loyalty found in both patrons and dealers has made every minute of time and every penny of every dollar invested worth it. . . .” – Emma Lee Turney, Denim and Diamonds: The Story of Emma Lee Turney’s Round Top Antiques Fair (1998).
Similar to the evolution of Brimfield, Round Top’s popularity soon led to multiple shows a year and new venues adding to the show’s allure. In 1969, Turney decided to make the show a semiannual event and soon after added a tent to hold more dealers, and later the Carmine Dance Hall. From then on, the overall show grew exponentially every six months as new shows in neighboring towns were added.
As other venues staked a claim on easily accessible State Highway 237, diverting traffic away from the Rifle Hall, Turney made a move. She purchased land near the junction of FM 458 and Highway 237 five miles north of Round Top and built the Big Red Barn, then and now home to the Original Round Top Antiques Fair, and later started the Round Top Folk Art Fair and Creative Market, now Round Top Vintage Market, which specialized in fine arts and crafts.
Today, the Round Top shows, held in the spring and fall, consist of as many as 4,000 dealers and over 150,000 shoppers from around the nation and other countries. It’s been called the country’s largest antiques festival, both for the square footage of shopping space and the square mileage it occupies, with almost 100 venues set up from Carmine to Warrenton, most along an 11-mile stretch of State Highway 237. Other venues can be found in Burton and Fayetteville, all within a 20-mile radius of Round Top in Fayette County.
Merchandise here ranges from high-end European furniture and fine art from around the globe that can cost thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars, to flea-market bargains that will get you change back from a $20 bill. There is an eclectic mix of styles: Americana, Texana, midcentury modern, French country, classic European, and contemporary, to name a few. Shoppers can find decor, jewelry, clothing, vintage signs, stylish Western boots and hats, one-of-a-kind collectibles, and unusual collections spilling from tents, trailers, barns, air-conditioned buildings, and historic properties.
“Round Top is extraordinary in that it provides an escapism many are seeking, regardless of their bank account,” says Tracy Blacketer, show manager of the Marburger Farm show, just south of Round Top.
If you get the chance to shop Round Top, please be sure to visit our friends at Cole’s Antique Show in Round Top, featuring over 250 established dealers, and La Bahia Antique Show in Burton, TX with a venue featuring over 90 dealers. Fall shows will be held from October 13-30 at different times and dates based on venue. A good show calendar and schedule can be found here: https://antiqueweekend.com/calendar/2023-fall/
More about the history of the Round Top shows can be found here: www.roundtop.com/antiques-show/round-top-antiques-show-history/