Sunday, September 26, 2010

Brimfield in Back Bay: Fun at the NABB Street Sale

For months I debated about whether to spend $100 to get a booth with a table at the annual NABB (Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay) Street Sale, which took place yesterday at the corner of Dartmouth and Newbury Streets. I have plenty of stuff I'm ready to part with, but it's all fairly good stuff, worth money to someone. I'm too lazy to photograph and measure it all and list it on eBay. Because then, assuming I'm lucky, I'd have to scrounge for boxes and packing materials before staggering to the post office, muttering curses all the way. The street sale seemed like an easy solution.

However, I was also too lazy to send a check to NABB, so I contented myself with shopping instead of selling.

Last year's fair was rained out at least twice, and was ultimately canceled. But today was hot and brilliantly sunny. I'd forgotten both a hat and sunblock, but I had fun and scored some finds.

The sidewalk was packed with shoppers and a motley array of booths. While there were a few established dealers selling antiques, rugs, and plants, most of the sellers seemed to be folks from the neighborhood. Many had that virtuous, domestic air that only comes after time spent reorganizing cupboards and jewelry boxes.



If you were looking for a big, colorful Buddha, you were in the right place:


I shelled out $3 for a fake Egyptian plaster plaque, after I emailed a photo of three of them to my husband, who naturally picked the heaviest one. They were all ugly, if you ask me, but he finds this stuff useful as teaching aids. As the dealer wrapped my item, he told me he'd gotten it from his niece, who had lived in Egypt for years, "working for the government." When I took the cast out of the bag, I saw the ancient TJ Maxx sticker on the back. At least it had once been $19.99. 

I had better luck with a dealer selling small antiques, glassware, and silver. I snagged this coin-silver master butter knife, with the coolest ball-shaped finial. And the pierced lily-patterned sterling server is from around 1903. 


After very little haggling, I paid about $100 for both. This required not one but two trips to the Boylston Street ATM because I never carry much cash and I'd only gotten passionate about the jelly server after I'd paid up for the knife. 

After I brought them home and cooed over them for awhile, I went online to do research. It's been a few years since I bought any silver. Unemployment and frivolous Victorian tableware don't harmonize together. But these pieces were too great to pass up. Buying them felt wonderful! (Much more wonderful than writing a check for a booth.) But I usually focus on Gorham and Whiting flatware, and I didn't know exactly what I had here.

It took some digging to determine that I am the proud owner of an International Silver "Frontenac" pierced jelly-cake server. I can tell pickle forks from sardine servers, and olive spoons from horseradish spoons, but there are still dozens of mysteries in 19th-century flatware for me. (How did I manage without a jelly-cake server all this time, you ask? No idea. I'm sure you have at least two.)

After I identified it, I quickly learned that Replacements has a couple of these selling for six times what I paid. Now, nobody in her right mind buys from Replacements; their prices are ridiculous. Instead, divide their prices by two, or perhaps three, to arrive at a real-world price. I still scored.

The butter knife is made by George B. Sharp, an Irish silversmith who worked in Philadelphia in the mid 19th century. It wasn't too hard to figure this out: His flatware often features skinny, three-dimensional handles with geometric tips. His pieces are distinctive, top quality, and hard to find. I'd coveted a spoon on eBay years ago but couldn't possibly afford it. I found only one piece with a similar ball motif online yesterday — asparagus tongs. Don't they look like elegant birthing equipment? 

Asparagus tongs, or delivery forceps for a duchess

The tongs are much bigger and more complex than my butter knife, and sell for nearly $500. So I can assume that my little piece, too, is worth at least a bit more than I paid. 

I love my old silver and use it often. I rarely sell any of it. It's just nice to know that, as I blow wads of cash I may need for the mortgage someday, antique silver is actually a pretty decent investment if you can get it at the right price.

I can't wait for the next NABB Street Sale. Same time, next year?

1 comment:

Dave Daniels said...

We were on the same corner at the same time yesterday! I saw those Buddhas and wondered who would buy them this side of Chinatown? Nice score on the silver you got.