Banking on the Brooklyn Flea

Entering the Brooklyn Flea this weekend was a little like putting money in the bank. For the first time the popular urban market was held in the lobby of the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank. With a little luck and a sharp eye, the value of your flea finds could beat the interest rate paid by banks these days.

The grand lobby provided a superb space for the market. While you can’t beat the PR value of having the flea here for both the space and the event, I started to feel the space was outshining the market, however. There certainly seemed to be some spots that were considerably more visible than others and in my view the center hall could have benefited from having some dealers with more refined booths selling larger items with higher prices. The grandness of the space made a number of the items, like Valentines cards and salt-n-pepper shakers seem out-of-place. If the flea were a geographically fixed in this space, which it is not, certainly there’s room to grow the market to include a wider-range of items, particularly on the upper end.

That’s not to diminish what’s there, or to say there isn’t anything of quality there. This weekend I noticed a classical/empire piano stool priced at $79, a great brass ship’s clock, some vintage typewriters, unique lighting creations and a handmade wooden boxcar trunk. I left with a vintage sweater, the first article of clothing I ever bought from anywhere that wasn’t a department store.

If you’ve been to the show you know that Clinton Hill Clocks has the best looking booth in the place—and it was right in front. This week the items he had stocked included vintage promotional items in the form of a Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower, and paintings by Robert Goldstrom who has become known as the painter of this,  the most prominent building in Brooklyn.

Lon BlackLon Black was set up with his large assortment of postcards. Saying postcards of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank are difficult to find, he was offering some enlargements of some of the images. I have a feeling that while in some sense it is already the symbol of Brooklyn (like the Statue of Liberty is for New York or Empire State Building is for Manhattan), the recent restoration is going to solidify that status. Lon’s extensive knowledge in postcard history has made his booth a fixture in the flea. Hardly any request in particular cards could challenge him, no matter whether it is related to a specific period, or a specific location. Even better, a lot of postcards are still un-used. People including me are buying to send them away!

One of the thick glass and iron bank tables in the middle of the central hall was covered with an interesting display of vintage Valentine cards. Somewhere this week I read bout the increasing collectability of vintage Valentine cards, unfortunately I can’t recall the source just now. It’s interesting how this branch of ephemera has climbed its way up the collecting ladder. I noticed exhibits of cards recently at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Winterthur. Interestingly those are holiday cards, and the piece I read indicated they didn’t sell as well as valentine cards.

The box car chest I mentioned earlier was offered by Susan Walker who travels to the flea from Rhode Island. By the time I arrived back at the apartment, an email from Susan had arrived in the inbox containing a link to her blog at The $175.00 asking price seems to be more than reasonable and we thought it was of such a quality it could easily be twice that, especially during the next Americana week when everything in big antiques shows may have a price tag of five digits.

Dealers in the Brooklyn Flea weren’t limited to the main floor, they were also on the mezzanine, in storage areas and in the vault. Making our way to the far reaches of the lower level, we met an enterprising carpet dealer named Zach Zaman, the second generation of the carpet business. Like other young entrepreneurs, Zach embraced new technologies to reach out his customer base. With lineage from Afghanistan, he possesses great knowledge in hand-woven carpets from the region. We asked the prices of several carpets, all imported from Iran, and they were some of the lowest prices I’ve seen on rugs of this quality. It’s definitely worthwhile to go through the entire show!  His inventory include a large selection of carpets which can suit both the higher and lower end of the market, so bring your own request to him if you don’t find a nice one that suits your need.

Finally, while playing with the typewriters and wondering whether I had use for one, Donna Brady pointed out her artistic lighting creations which included a microphone turned into a lantern that was part of a larger creation she did for a recording studio or record company, I can’t remember which. If you’re wondering, one of the typewriters was priced at $125 and the other at around $300. She said ribbons were still available for both. Just then, I felt a forgotten desire to hear a bell at the end of a sentence. I wonder if word can be set up to have that feature?

The Brooklyn Flea will be in the Williamsburgh Savings bank through March 12, 2010.

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