Hillsville Flea Market, 2014

Hillsville, Virginia is a sleepy little mountain town just north of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the North Carolina state line.  Way back in the 1970s the local VFW decided to do a gun show on Labor Day as a fund raiser.  The event grew and grew until it became one of the biggest flea markets in the Southeast.

The last time I went was two years ago,  and I vowed that was the last time for me.  It was too big and too filled with crafts and junk.  The presence of guns everywhere was a bit disconcerting.

But for some reason I thought I’d give it another try.  Quite unbelievably, it was a nice experience.  I think that the biggest difference was that the show has gotten smaller.  But not just that; the antique and vintage sellers have stayed while the crafty people were not as prevalent.  It was no longer an overwhelming day where even a fast shopper like me could not cover it all.

I’ve written several times about how many flea markets and antique shows have gotten smaller, so this was not a surprise.  I had noticed a gradual contraction of this venue since 2009.  I’ve also noticed this at the Metrolina, which is a flea market held in Charlotte.  And the Boston Globe recently ran an article about how the great Brimfield is on the decline. (Thanks to Carrie for the link.)

One of the major problems at places like Brimfield and Metrolina is the influx of stuff that looks old, but that is not.  I think Harry L. Rinker nailed it in the Globe article when he said, “It’s not a collectors’ market anymore, it’s a decorators’ market.”   Many people who are decorating a house care only about the look, not the pedigree, of an item.

Interestingly, I did not see a whole lot of that type of thing at Hillsville.  Maybe the difference is that Hillsville is a more rural area, with the shoppers coming from all over the Southeast, where as Metrolina and Brimfield serve a more urban, and thus trendy, clientele.

So I saw some really nice things, and even bought a few of them.  Today, I’ll give a brief tour of what did not make the cut.

My photo is poor, but this is the best vintage Nativity I’ve ever seen.  The condition was excellent, the lithography top-notch, the price tag appropriately high.

Surely, I thought, there is a hat in this pile for me.  Unfortunately there was not.

This dealer had the scarf motherload, and at $1 each she was selling them by the bag full.  There were hundreds of them, and I bet she made her booth rent on these alone.

This is the funniest sun hat ever.  The flowers did not look original to the hat, so I passed on it.

I loved this scissors and pin cushion necklace so much.  Is there a name for these?

This was a nice rack of vintage clothes, but notice the 1920s dress in front.  It has been shortened, and stitched with a machine at the hem.  Still, at least it was not cut and could be restored to original length.  That longer piece behind the dress is actually part of it, and is like an apron.

I really do wish I had gotten a better photo of this one.  It is a 1920s costume made of crepe paper petals attached to a muslin background.  It was adorable.

I wonder if one can get satellite radio on that thing.

I almost bought this for me to wear.  Cashmere, and simply gorgeous.

I saw lots of wonderful old feedsacks.

Old dog prints always get my attention.

Aren’t these a trip?  (Get it, a trip!)

I’ll be slowly but surely sharing all the great things that I did buy.


Filed under Shopping

19 responses to “Hillsville Flea Market, 2014

  1. I can’t answer your question about the crane sewing scissors (unless putting them on a ribbon with the strawberry pin cushion makes them a “chatelaine,”) but my mother’s 1930s – 1940s sewing basket, decorated with Chinese beads and a tassel, certainly had a pair. I didn’t know there were any other kind of sewing scissors until the 1970s!
    One of my students asked a question I’ll pass on to you: When the pincushion is shaped like a tomato, why is the attached emery bag (for sharpening needles) always a strawberry? Why not a smaller tomato?


  2. Beth Pfaff

    I am not surprised at the lower attendance at antique shows and flea markets. This younger generation in their 20’s and 30’s (which includes my children) have little or no interest in vintage or antique items. Unless it comes from Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel, they are not interested. I am seeing members of this age bracket spending their money on expensive vacations, electronic gadgets, cars, etc. Unfortunately they are missing a lot, since most old items have interesting backgrounds and provide a little slice of history.


    • cardboard.suitcase

      A counterpoint to your statement generalizing young adults: Look to the multiple Etsy shops and pop-up antique shows in urban areas and you’ll find great demographics of collectors and sellers who happen to be in their 20’s and 30’s (plus the oh-so many blogs documenting their fervor!). I think many young people (including myself) do enjoy the quality, uniqueness, and history found in antiques, but the medium for exchange may be changing than what you have known. The internet and local shops/bazaars (as well as estate/garage/yard sales) provide great access to items, whereas large, organized shows tend to attract high-sellers catering to high-paying folks (in my experience). With less years for savings growth and financial pressures of young adults being what they are, there is less disposable income and less room for paying for high-priced antiques and associated travel costs. Why take a trip when you can browse online or stop in a local thrift or antique store and find the same quality treasures?


    • Interesting points from both of you.


  3. I would have gone for the sewing scissors/pincushion combo, and my husband definitely would have picked up the radio hat magazine! (It would have been framed by now…)


  4. Claudia

    Look forward to seeing what you bought. I, like you, vowed not to go back a few years ago but thought I would try it this year. Alas I couldn’t make it so I will live vicariously thru your adventure


    • Claudia, I think part of the key is to go just on Friday, and be there when it opens at 8. I skipped the market that is on the top of the hill because it tends to be junkier and I’ve never found a thing there. I went to the areas I knew had vintage first, and was rewarded. I’ll never, ever go to that place again on Saturday. It’s just too crazy.


  5. QueensGirl

    I went to Brimfield for the first time a couple of years ago, and was surprised by how much was really geared towards decorators; grain sack-upholstered Provencal chairs and fake industrial furniture were particularly popular. Out-of-the way junky fleas are a serendipitous find, and so much more fun to explore than heavily curated decorator shops posing as flea markets! I love your flea market pictures, will remember to take some to share on my next outing.


    • You description reminds me of the Scott’s Market that is held once a month in Atlanta. I’ve found some great things there, but it is mainly just as you described with the grain sacks… And the vintage areas get preshopped by other vendors, though I’m sure that is true of all markets.


  6. Christina

    Sweet 20’s costume. Well preserved considering its age. Those petals curling as if autumn is round the corner. I have seen the sewing scissors and pin cushion combo called a fob.


  7. I also would call the pin cushion/sewing scissors a chatelaine and would echo cardboard suitcase’s comment that young people are interested in vintage and would have to say that my experience is that many woman my own age (mid-40’s) are about the decorator look while my daughter’s twenty-something friends are my most enthusiastic supporters of my vintage outfits and vintage collections.
    That paper dress is amazing and reminds me of a Hallowe’en costume my mother made for me when I was around six using crepe paper and gold medallion stickers. I seem to remember that she followed instructions by Dennison (makers of crepe paper and stickers) and sewed it on her sewing machine.


  8. I haven’t ever been to Brimfield, but I read that same article last week and was also struck by the statement about it being less about collecting now and more about decorating. It seems to me that vintage (and so-called “vintage style”) are still really popular. I, personally, love the idea of vintage (things and clothing) being not just collected and worn on special occasions, but put to use on a daily basis as much as is feasible.

    I love that flower petal costume and would have had a hard time leaving it there! I can’t wait to see what you did bring home.


  9. If I were a vintage seller, I would have bought the petal dress, or at least asked about the price which I did not get. As for me, I knew it would be a problem to store properly, and I was not will to buy its own $30 acid-free box!


  10. Phyl D.

    Taking a few moments to randomly surf through some of your older posts this morning…and smiled when I got to the photo of the June 1949 issue of Radio-Electronics magazine to see that the model on the cover is actually future actress, Hope Lange. Sweet!

    Liked by 1 person

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