brimfield 2011: oddities & off-the-wall finds

by Grace Bonney

One of the reasons I love Brimfield is the wealth of truly spectacular finds. Sure, the prices can be insane, and you have to elbow-out aggressive buyers, but the selection is worth the hassle. I’ve never seen a show where you can find such high-quality pieces nestled up against truly crazy, off-the-wall objects. Today I’m focusing on those nutty, whacky and head-scratch-inducing items that made me laugh and pull out my camera during our trip. From tooth color charts and antique eyeglass-lens collections to taxidermy animals and old political memorabilia, these were 20+ of my favorites. Whether they creep you out or make you smile, it’s always fun to find unique pieces that might just be the perfect thing for someone’s home. xo, grace

There’s more Brimfield coverage here (what we bought), here (recreation trend), here (textiles), here (equestrian trend), here (lighting) and here (leather).

Image above: This taxidermy fox was both beautiful and haunting. Its pose was so intense that I felt like it was going to jump off the table and stalk me down the aisles.

Image above: These glass chunks were beautiful (the color was so striking) on their own, but elevated with these little metal stands, they immediately took on the feel of modern sculpture.

Image above: I LOVE old signs. This arrow would be amazing for an outdoor space or something large-scale like a restaurant or bar.

Image above: The infamous tooth chart. This terrified most people I saw who walked past it, but I thought it was hilarious.

CLICK HERE for 20 more oddities from Brimfield after the jump!

Image above: Kate and Amy loved these metallic lettered tags. Originally intended for use on cattle straps, they seemed like the perfect building block for some customized home project.

Image above: I love old political memorabilia. And I’ll take this crazy old fan over a ubiquitous JFK plate any day . . .

Image above: I can’t quite tell what to make of this, other than I both wanted to laugh and punch whoever made this when I looked at it.

Image above: We saw someone buy these groovy LOVE letters and take them home. I am so jealous of her. These were awesome.

Image above: This “read your hand” machine would be so fun to have in a living room. Such a great conversation starter.

Image above: Amazing old eyeglass-lens case full of lenses and tester glasses.

Image above: I loved this collection of bobby sock-era sweaters and stuffed toys. Whacky and totally fun.

Image above: Does anyone know what these are? Colorful bowling pins? Fabric or thread spools? I have no idea, but I love them.

Image above: Another “I have no idea what this is” piece but I love it. Planter? Tiered stand?

Image above: A pair of stuffed birds posed to look like they were chatting.

Image above: I promise I won’t make any jokes about weight and honesty. I’ll just say I really loved all the industrial scales I saw at Brimfield.

Image above: I’m not sure if these are fishing-related weights or surveyor’s/architect’s tools, but they were so beautiful to see hanging together. Anyone know what they are?

Image above: I’m a sucker for anything that reminds me of a nautical measuring device . . .

Image above: Tiny antique Chihuahua photo? Awesome. I wanted this so badly, but it was almost $400. Cute, but not that cute.

Image above: I wasn’t sure what to make of this metal sculpture, but it made such a nice statement in this booth. Light and airy but still bold.

Image above: Again, not sure what this is, but it’s so pretty . . .

Image above: This little squirrel was so cute.

Image above: Someone took an old fireplace part and turned it into a whacky mirror contraption.

Image above: Glove molds have come and gone in terms of trendiness, but they’re still fun to see en masse like this.

Suggested For You


  • The hanging things with the pointed ends are plumb-bob or a plummet. They are used as a vertical reference line(or plumb) in construction. I think they may also used in surveying. Not sure about that though.

  • I think the hanging things are called plumb lines. You hang them down to make sure what you’re building is straight up and down. I think.

  • hands down my favorite category at brimfield! the pointed metal objects are plumb bobs and used to assure construction is ‘plumb’ or even on the vertical. and the top photo looks like fence or balustrade post tops that have been painted

  • The pic with the “fishing weights/architect tools”…they’re antique levels, but I’m not quite sure how they work :)

  • Great rando finds! I adore that squirrel. Those pointy weights look like they’d be used in a Foucault’s Pendulum (so memorably featured on the last season of LOST!). They do look beautiful grouped together!

  • The picture labeled as “fishing-related weights or surveyors/architects tools” are actually called plumb bobs and are suspended from a string and used as a vertical plumb line. They are commonly used in construction/surveying.

  • The weights on strings are plumb lines- used to get a perfect vertical line. My dad used his when we were hanging the Exquisite Book show. They are nice looking!

  • The tooth chart is just sets of teeth that have not yet been mounted in a denture. They’re really common in the world of dentistry – odd that they would show up for sale at an antique flea market!

  • Thanks for the tours of Brimfield, this is the first year in a while I have been uanble to make my girlfriend trip there. The picture above of the architectual tools are actually plumbs, used to measure a point below another. You hang them form a string and once it settles, it shows you the exact point under what you are measuring. Mostly used for hanging things on ceilings. Take care, Laura

  • How much was the taxidermied fox? It would have come home with us, much to my partner’s chagrin. We came the last day and missed all this cool stuff.

  • That fox would drive my dog crazy! She growls at the tv whenever an animal makes an appearance! I think I would have had to give in and buy one of those aqua glass pieces on the stands. So pretty.

  • My grandfather is a collector of antique tools, and has a string of plumb bobs hanging across a window in his log cabin. It’s a cool display, and always a nice memory to hear him explain their use.

  • You were close on the colourful bowling pin guess. They’re skittles: I know because they were in a Noddy book I read once as a kid from my war-bride neighbour’s amazing retro UK comic stash.

  • The metal piece with the birds and leaves is actually a candle holder. Candles go in the flowers that are coming out of the piece (wow, that’s really hard to describe). You can often see them in Mexican decor.

    Also, I think it’s funny that almost everyone before me commented on the plumb bobs.

  • I think the “Colorful bowling pins” are table legs. Turn them upside down, and the flat part mounts to the underside of a table top.

  • The mirror arrangement is the top of an old wood stove, the smaller opening is for the stove pipe, the larger one was the actual opening for putting in wood. Very clever. And you have already heard about the plum bobs. Love the old arrow sign.

  • I’m pretty sure the colorful “bowling pins” are pins for skittles. Skittles is a lawn bowling game – we used to play growing up in Somerset. You can still find sets at a lot of old pubs in the west of England.

  • As the first comment suggested, the photo of the hanging metal weights are plumb-bobs, used for establishing vertical reference lines and often for centering surveying equipment directly above a point. They are also totally beautiful – my dad has some of his grandfather’s old carpentry tools and there are a few lovely antique brass plumb-bobs in the collection.

  • We call them plumb-lines in England, though I think I might prefer plumb-bobs. I have about 5, collected over several years so seeing that picture was a kick in the teeth, dam I’m jealous.
    I’d never polish mine, they’re all dull black and it really shows up the graphic shapes.

  • This is why I love antique shops! So many quirky rarities and oddities.

    I think the “stuffed animals” are the targets for a carnival game? You throw a softball at them to knock them down/

  • my father is a land surveyor and i snagged a few plumb bobs this year (after seeing them last year) for a father’s day gift. i only wish i had more money as the nicest (antique) ones were running around $100!

  • Friends don’t let friends buy old taxidermy! Taxidermy used to be (and still is in some places) kept pest free by applying liquid arsenic to the tanned skins. The arsenic eventually crystalizes and works its way through the skins onto the bases and external parts of the mount. Newer taxidermy is likely safer–but it’s not always clear how old a mount is, and unfortunately, the better old taxidermy looks, the more toxic it is likely to be! It’s best to look and admore, but skip the purchase!

  • Heidi is right! I wanted to see if anyone else knew what the tooth chart was…my dad makes dentures and does implant work for a living-I grew up around many of those teeth. :) There are so many because on repairs, or just partial dentures, you want to match the tooth you’re adding to the others already there. :)
    Weird this shows up at a sale.

  • Love the variety of quirkiness here! Today I purchased some old RR gages from the early 1900’s – they’re so industrial/cool with bold graphic numbers…..Mine is marked General Electric Schenectady, NY and manufactured by the Ashcroft Mfg Co. Couldn’t resist! Wish I could see all of those up close ’cause I betcha there are some in that photographic of nautical-looking things. Memorial Day weekend is The Randolph Market in Chicago- CAN’T WAIT for the season of hunting and gathering!!

  • Taxidermy = unnecessary and tragic. These poor animals deserve better than to be the latest “style” find. There is absolutely nothing “quirky” as to how these creatures become our latest found objects. Although the lives of these animals clearly mean nothing to those who possess them as taxidermy objects, their lives actually meant something to them. Sad.

  • Like Julie I too find it strange that taxidermy is having a revival. Really, whats chic or cute about dead animals? I know all sorts of antique scientific/biology equipment is all the rage, but please people, leave taxidermi where it belongs, in the smoking rooms of the past, where men needed to show their strenght by displaying the animals they had killed for sport.

  • Grace, Thanks for the tour! Loved it! The metal stand (under the pic of what others call Skittle pins) was probably a tie display rack in, say, a department store. Not sure from the angle but it looks like others I have seen.

  • I disagree with Julie, Lisen, and Daisy–while I have some ethical issues with killing for sport and modern taxidermy, in a case such as this, the alternative is that taxidermy pieces get thrown away or fall into disrepair. Personally, I think reusing vintage/antique taxidermy and giving it new life in your home is more respectful to the life of the animal than allowing it to decay. I feel the same way about vintage furs–better to get maximum use out of an object, particularly when a living thing was killed, than to trash it.

  • Taxidermy has been a trend for some time now–Paxton Gate shops are probably responsible for a good deal of it. And they dress their taxidermied critters in costumes.

  • haha don’t buy the tooth chart! funny looking, that’s actually still standard use. it’d b like buying a regular old mechanic’s wrench :P

  • Going to Brimfield next week in search of the glass chunks (among other things!)…Grace, do you remember which field/dealer sold them?

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