Here in Nashville we have a fantastic flea market on the fourth weekend of each month at the State Fairgrounds. There are buildings and sheds, aisles and aisles of junk – new junk, old junk, and collectable junk, even a few genuine antique items if you look hard enough.
Flea markets are a love/hate thing. Some people love ‘em and some people hate ‘em. Do you wonder why it is called a flea market? Well, in the olden days, it seems that the merchandise from open markets was sometimes infested.
The first time that I went, I loved it. In fact, I liked it so much I went back the next day. Some of my best junk was purchased from flea markets. I used to collect depression glass. Depression glass, for the benefit of you flea market novices, is pink or green glass dishes that were popular back in the depression era. Because it is old, the only place to get real depression glass is at flea markets, antique shops, garage sales, and second hand places.
I also like hand-crafted wooden items, which are great for country decorating. Fleas markets are handicraft heaven. Crafts are plentiful and crafters are often willing to cut you a deal. One of my all-time, very best flea market finds is a wooden bread bowl that was a steal for a mere $2.75. Another favorite flea market item was a wooden bench with a hinged lid for storage. I got a good deal near closing time when dealers will sometimes sell a bit cheaper.
Another item often available at rock bottom prices is antique linens. These are frequently embellished with hand-done needlework. The prices are nearly always low. Cross-stitched tea towels, pillowcases, and other hand-decorated items can be found. It amazes me that people will walk right by tables of linens without even stopping to look through them. I have a gorgeous wall hanging that was probably once a dresser scarf.
My latest weakness is for quilts. They are so beautiful and have such interesting names: Flying Geese, Log Cabin, Nine Square, to name a few. I love the traditional patterns the best, though there are many pretty new patterns too. Old quilts are very expensive and often a treasured family heirloom. New quilts are, in my opinion, just as beautiful and come in sizes large enough for modern beds.
Flea markets have stuff for everyone. Tools, rugs, clothing, toys, furniture – it is really difficult to describe the variety. My son likes baseball cards and is always looking for collectibles. Flea markets have all types of collectibles: books, post cards, jewelry, knives, magazines, you name it. Collectibles are highly speculative if you are thinking about making a profit. But if you just love memorabilia, fooling with it can be a great hobby.
My daughter wanted a Tiffany lamp and could not find one that she could afford. At the flea market she found a dealer who made the glass shades himself. At first he wanted too much money, but using flea market savvy, I suggested she make a cash offer of the amount she could afford to pay. It worked! A good thing to remember is: HAVE CASH. It is always easier to negotiate with cold cash than with a plastic credit card.
Part of the fun is the search, of course. You never know what you will find at a flea market. I have an old bench with the initials “HJ” carved in it. I love speculating on the past history of the bench and wondering who “HJ” could be.
Not every trip will produce a treasure, but nearly every trip will produce memories. Flea markets are more than places to shop — they are folk museums and collections of nostalgia. If I can take home a memory to enjoy, I think that’s a pretty good deal
Copyright 1999 Sheila Moss
Column edited for brevity
Do you like flea markets and old, used things, or would you rather buy new and forget the hassle?