Last month I went down to Round Top, Texas to see the spectacle that is the Round Top Antiques Fair! I grew up going to antique malls with my mom after school in Missouri. Intentionally or not, she has definitely instilled the same curiosity and passion for antiques in me, and it's become something we bond over these days. We found out about this epically-proportioned fair from our family friends, the Shults. It's since become a yearly tradition for my mom and her bestie. This was my second year going. My mom and I coupled with Mrs. Shults and her daughter, and together we spent an entire 3 days at Round Top from dawn to dusk walking through antiques in barns and tents and malls. Truly, all day on our feet. For those interested in going down themselves, here's my account.
Round Top Antiques Fair started in a dance hall 50 years ago and has since grown exponentially year after year. The sprawling mass of booths can be so overwhelming, so I have made my own quick guide to the best of the best spots to hit at Round Top (featured to the right here). "The Fields" describes the many outdoor tents and barns surrounding the various venues—this is mostly a lot of junk but every so often you can find a treasure. Excess is also outside and sells a lot of industrial or architectural salvage being repurposed in artistic ways. The remaining three are shows in themselves, charging admission for entry. Carmine is a little stuffy, but we like to hit that one up because they do a good old fashioned Texas BBQ lunch that will have you needing a nap after. The Compound is a newer show with a bunch of great dealers, one in particular had the most amazing collection of mid-century furniture. And finally, Red Barn is the creme de la creme at Round Top, with exclusively primitive antiques—very pricey. It's neat to go there because a lot of what people are showing I could picture in a museum.
And these are only what is registered with the Round Top Antiques Show! In addition to what I've highlighted from the program, there are now dozens of structures going up along the road—interior design companies and other antique shops. Most famously, HGTV's Chip and Joanna have a space in Warranton now. (are you getting overwhelmed yet?)
Marburger Farms is our main event.
We like Marburger the best at Round Top because they have a great selection of vendors that show a wide variety of antiques displayed in creative ways and for affordable prices. Most of the booths are tightly curated, with complex, and often themed, displays. Their are vendors sell everything from silver, taxidermy, glass, mid-century, Americana, textiles, European tile, ceramics, you name it.
A lot of the dealers have been going year after year, so everyone has their favorites. Our favorite is the Pijnapples, an elderly husband and wife duo who always have a great selection of tramp art for affordable prices. If you aren't familiar the term "tramp art", allow me to get all art historian for a moment: Tramp art is a form of folk art found all over the world ranging from the 1870s to 1940s . The pieces are made from old cigar boxes or shipping crates that are carved and whittled (usually with a simple tool like a pocket knife) into various forms, most commonly boxes and frames. The zig-zag, layered carving technique is called “Crown of Thorns”. You can see some examples in the images below. I love the textural, sculptural quality to them, and their interesting history. The four of us all collect tramp art, so we briskly walked (not ran) straight to the Pijnapples as soon as the show opened to scoop up a large portion of their pieces.
After that we meander through the rows of dealers and point out interesting displays or pieces to each other—like a massive eye-spy game. I like looking for color inspiration, pattern, and innovative ways the dealers display their booths. Some of them have themes and are meticulously staged, others are a heaping pile of stuff that you have to weed through for a gem. It's a visual feast!
I think what makes antiquing so fun—9 hours a day for three whole days kind of fun, is that each of these objects for sale has such a unique story. Often times we get curious about why an object is crafted the way it is and ask the dealer "What IS this? What was it for?". You can spend 30 minutes just looking at different barn lanterns to compare the various latches designed to reach inside to light the candle.
For example: I used to never blink twice as stuffy, expensive silver booths, but one day at Marburger my mom said, oh I want to look at this booth. And we found, tucked in one of the cases, the most dainty serving spoon in the shape of a heart. We asked the vendor what it was for and he said serving bon bons! Because, you know, serving with anything else would simply be barbaric! Just looking at the cutlery in these booths—it's like looking into a portal to what the pageantry if dinning was like 50 years ago. It's like a weird form of reverse ethnography.
So it's not so much about buying things as much as it is just being curious about the things, the people who made them, and why they are designed the way they are.
The BBQ isn't bad either ;)