It’s hard to leave empty-handed after a visit to the Round Top Antiques Fair.
photography by Evarist O'Neill
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You’ve probably seen those whimsical bumper stickers boldly proclaiming, “I brake for yard sales,” right? Well, that’s me. I also brake for estate sales, auctions, thrift stores, consignment shops, and flea markets — anytime, anywhere there’s the promise of an undiscovered treasure.
Inspired by the hit PBS television show, Market Warriors, which features four zealous treasure hunters unearthing antiques and collectibles at flea markets around the country, I took my own passion on the road this past April, traveling to the storied Round Top Antiques Fair in Round Top, Texas.
Located almost exactly halfway between Austin and Houston in east Texas, Round Top is the smallest incorporated town in the state (with a population of less than a hundred), but it casts a huge shadow in the world of antiques in America. Hosting one of the country’s top fairs twice annually, Round Top is an antique collector’s dream come true. The only thing that matches this experience, in my opinion, is the famous Brimfield antiques fair up East, held three times a year in central Massachusetts. And given the fact that a car is almost a must for long-distance antique shopping, Round Top is a lot closer to Memphis than New England.
Martha Stewart Living magazine ran an article this past March on Round Top, calling it “a dizzying maze,” and a fair of “epic proportion — and fun.” To be clear, the event known collectively as “Round Top” is an extravaganza taking place over the course of ten days or so, twice a year (once in the spring and once in the fall), made up of multiple, separate shows put together in free-standing barns, homes, fields, and front porches, and strung out for miles and miles along Highway 237 through Round Top and other nearby towns. I was given a figure of 3,500 vendors for each event, which I cannot confirm, but doesn’t seem impossible to believe.
To be sure, Round Top can be overwhelming, but maps are freely available, and before you jump in, I suggest you first ride around to get the lay of the land and make sense of all that the area has to offer. Dealers come to Round Top from all over the country (last spring, I bought a piece of porcelain from a vendor from upstate New York, for instance), and their wares range from extremely high-end Continental antiques to colorful collectibles to all sorts of everyday junk that can, with imagination, be refinished, refurbished, or repurposed. In other words treasures, trash, and everything in between.
Shoppers will find mounds of linens and silver plate pieces, hordes of industrial salvage and vintage advertising items, and piles of rustic, country-style furniture and artifacts. The Marburger Farm Antique Show with over 350 dealers on 43 acres is upscale, and one of the most eagerly anticipated individual events. Then there is the Big Red Barn, an iconic and much-loved venue at Round Top. Other large, popular shows include La Bahia, the Arbor, and Blue Hills. Most shows are free, though a few do charge modest admission fees.
I am told the fall event in Round Top is the mirror image of the spring one, although the weather is definitely different and, farther south than Memphis, September and October can still be hot, hot, hot. To beat the heat, buyers can be seen walking around with “to go” cups of margaritas and tubes of sunscreen.
The dates for the opening of the various shows for this fall’s Round Top Antiques Fair vary over the period between September 20th and October 6th. You can check out the details at the local Chamber of Commerce’s website roundtop.org, and press the tab on antique shows.
Now back to the spring fair last April and my adventures, to give you a tiny taste of what Round Top is all about. My husband and I met up with our friends Missy Melville (an antiques dealer from Dallas) and Pam Randon from New Canaan, Connecticut, as well as Eileen Adams and Cyndy Taylor from Memphis. Pam was looking to score some antique chairs for her eighteenth-century home, while Eileen and Cyndy were buying for their two booths — one in Sheffield Antiques Mall in Collierville and the newer one in Market Central on Cooper (both named T’DA Antiques and Accessories.) The weather was off and on rainy, and everyone wore their rubber Wellington boots to brave the mud and carried water bottles and large bags.