Living & Working in the Field of Dreams
Living in Sturbridge now and publishing this magazine, talk of the Brimfield antique shows surrounds me. For locals it is a love-hate relationship similar to what I experienced living in the Berkshires and owning an inn in an area famous for “Tanglewood,” the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Both are well-known and highly-regarded experiences that attract people from all over the world, stimulate the local economy, and drive locals insane and off the roads until the tourists leave town and traffic subsides.
In preparation for our annual Guide to Brimfield, I reached out to the children of Gordon Reid, Sr., the man with a vision who saw an empty field along a barren stretch of land on the outskirts of a town known for its preservation of early New England American history, and used it to launch what is today widely considered to be the biggest outdoor antiques & collectibles show in the country.
Gordon Reid, a second-generation auctioneer who died in late 1974, is described in a 1975 article about Brimfield in Blair & Ketchum’s Country Journal magazine as a “modest, obliging man with an easy smile and a soft voice.” The author and photographer of the article, Fred M. Dole, who today works with Gordon’s daughters and the J&J Promotions Show, describes Reid as a true visionary who in 1959 heard about station-wagon-tailgate sales taking place in Connecticut, and decided to bring this new type of flea market to a huge field he owned in Brimfield.
“There was no way of proving whether it would take hold or not, but we decided to have our first show in September 1959. We spent the entire year scouring dealers through personal contact, not just through ads in the paper. We drove thousands of miles; I can’t estimate the number of people we called on. We had a nice reception; most of them knew us from the auction business. Some frowned on our idea. Others wished us luck but wouldn’t join us at first. Eventually they did, once the flea market had proven itself. Now, they’re some of the best boosters. We wound up with just over seventy dealers through that personal contact. It could never have been done through advertising alone.”
About 300 people attended the first Gordon Reid Antiques Flea Market, which he put on with the help of his wife, Madelyn, and their daughters Jill and Judy, and Judy’s husband, Jake. A son, Gordon Jr., was in the Air Force during that time. On the heels of what was considered a success, shows in May and September were scheduled for 1960, thus starting what became a twice-annual event until 1970, when a third show in July was added to the schedule. By 1974, the number of dealers had increased to 700 and the buyers to nearly 10,000. The rest, as they stay, is Brimfield history.
Today, “Brimfield” is comprised of 21 different fields and show venues, and over 5,000 dealers and vendors. Held over a six-day period of time, three times a year annually in May, July, and September, the shows attract over 30,000 visitors from around the world to Brimfield, Massachusetts.
Reid’s vision, and his legacy of introducing the concept of an outdoor flea market to the United States, is one that lives on in the enduring popularity of the Brimfield experience 55 years later. To read the complete 1975 article on Gordon Reid by Fred Dole, and to find information on the upcoming 2015 Brimfield shows, please visit our new web site at www.GuidetoBrimfield.com.
If you are planning to attend Brimfield this May, please stop by to meet us at our booth at the Heart-O-The-Mart show on Wednesday and Thursday.