Flea market havens

Visit these shopping happenings for great bargains

Autier Allen-Craft decorates her home with flea market finds. “You never know what you’ll come across,” says the Norwalk, Connecticut-based counselor. Her latest discoveries were antique lead crystal relish jars for $2 each. “I’ve seen these for more than $10 each,” says Craft, who has also purchased wood furniture, oil paintings and a variety of knickknacks during her flea market trips.

While no one knows exactly how many flea markets there are in the United States, there are 4,000 flea markets located between Kansas and Texas alone, according to The Official Directory to U.S. Flea Markets, edited by Kitty Werner (House of Collectibles, $9.95). Brimfield, Massachusetts, is said to have the most, with more than 20 operating at a time. They come in all shapes and sizes, and you can find a wide array of items, from children’s toys to large pieces of furniture. There are weekly, monthly and seasonal markets. Most are open on weekends. Some are free, while others charge $10 and up.

Use guides such as The Confident Collector: U.S. Flea Market Directory by Albert LaFarge (Avon Books, $6.99) or your local newspaper to find one near you. Also, pick your destination the night before, list the items you want, arrive early and expect to stay at least half a day, particularly at larger markets. “I always carry a map, especially if I’m going to hit more than one flea market in a day,” says Craft.

If you’re on a collectibles hunt, do some research. Craft always consults books on antiques before shopping. Price Guide to Flea Market Treasures by Harry L. Rinker (Krause Publications, $19.95) lists the value of various items. There’s also The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buying and Selling Collectibles by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D. (Alpha Books, $16.95). Research will also help you spot fakes and copies. According to experts, American-made pottery, such as Roseville and Rookwood, early Homer Laughlin and Flow Blue china, cookie jars, English bone china and ceramics made in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia are hot items. Old cookbooks and toys from the ’60s and ’70s are also popular collectibles.

For the best buys, Ellen T. Schroy, co-author with Don Johnson of Warman’s Flea Market Price Guide (Krause Publications, July 1999; $19.95), says you should “get books on nearly everything, from salt and pepper shakers to Barbie dolls. These can tell you what to look for when buying these items.” Also, try these suggestions before your next flea market spree:

  • Window shop. Go to flea markets to track sales, see what people are buying and check out what dealers are selling. Locate flea markets in your state at www.fleamarketguide.com
  • Compare prices. “If you find something you like, don’t be afraid to bargain,” notes Craft. But, Rinker says, consider three prices, “a bargain price, a negotiable price and a ridiculous price.” If the item is already a bargain, don’t haggle. And if something is ridiculously overpriced, Rinker points out, you’re probably not going to get the bargain you want.
  • Decide what type of collector you are. “If you
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