Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

The Big Flea Market in Oronoco

For many years, when I lived in Providence and Boston, I got up before dawn every Sunday morning from April to October to head off to the weekly flea market in Norton Massachusetts. This was great fun for me, like those hunter and fisher types getting up in the middle of the night to head off to the woods. I did much better on very little sleep then, too. I loved going to the flea market. For what was really very little money I found old magazines and strange old books and vintage clothing and all sorts of appealing old cultural detritus. Also, at that time I was amassing my basic collection of Fiestaware.

Minnesota has no comparable weekly flea market, so when I moved here I switched to estate sales and the occasional big markets held at various locations throughout the state. The most fun of all is the annual Oronoco Gold Rush Days, when the whole town of Oronoco (just north of Rochester, on a branch of the Zumbro river) turns into a big flea market. Actually there are two competing Gold Rush Days flea markets. The professional organizers of the flea market had some sort of dispute with the town about 20 years ago and moved their flea market to the county fair grounds in Rochester (billing themselves as the "original" Gold Rush Days) and now the Oronoco flea market is run by the town itself as a fundraiser for the various town services and organizations (the fire department, the first responders, that sort of thing).

It's hard to pinpoint why, but a big whole-town flea market run by volunteers for civic organizations just feels different than a flea market run by professionals. The mood seems happier, and my experience is that the deals are better. All morning long you hear buyers and sellers asking each other "Where are you from?". Compare this to my experiences at the huge Brimfield flea market in Massachusetts, a week-long series of markets that draws people from around the country. All day long, over and over, you overhear sellers bitterly complaining that nobody is buying and buyers resentfully complaining that the prices are way too high ("It's like New York City prices" said a disgruntled gentleman next to me once, as he slammed something down on a table and stormed away) and yet everybody seems to be walking around with many purchases. There is an air of dealer desperation at the Brimfield flea market, rather than garage sale fun. But not at Oronoco. oh no.

The Oronoco flea market is technically Saturday and Sunday, but it has extended earlier to Friday. This year, having very few vacation days because of starting a new job, I switched workdays from Friday to Saturday so that I could go. Also, Friday was predicted to be beautiful, and Saturday was supposed to be rainy. So I wrote my officemates that I needed to add to my stock of vintage ties and old magazines (I bring in old magazines -- 30s through 50s -- for our visitor's table by the front desk, so that it looks as if we haven't cleared away our stock of reading matter in 60 years) and I'd be out on Friday.

As it turns out, Friday was indeed beautiful and Saturday -- and Sunday -- weren't just rainy but disastrously rainy. Oronoco is right in the area of the state that was hit hard this weekend with a stalled rainstorm and terrible flooding (one nearby town reported 17 inches of rain over Saturday and Sunday, which handily beats the state record). There were six deaths and much damage, with six counties declared disaster areas and many roads washed out. A flea market is bad enough in regular old rain. This probably cancelled things. Even the Renaissance Festival, which isn't even in the worst-hit area of the state, closed down on Sunday and sent everyone home. So I'm pretty sad and sorry for the folks running the flea market, and all the dealers who came from far away and set up their wares. It must have been quite a disappointment.

But in the meantime, Friday was just great. It was, as I say, a beautiful day. I was up at 4am and I got to Oronoco just at dawn. I got to watch the market come alive. It was a precious day all told.

At the market, I got some pretty rare 1930s dinnerware items (a Vistosa teapot and an octagonal pitcher) and 4 1940s ties (for a dollar each) and a bunch of 1950s magazines (True Story and Look and Colliers and Photoplay, also for a dollar each) and some plates of unknown provenance with hunting dogs pictured on them for a young friend of mine who will love them. From two separate dealers I bought piles of old comic books (early 70s, mostly Archie) for a quarter each -- the comics were what they call "reading copies" which don't sell well on eBay but my friends Anna and Lolo and Smack love them anyway. And I bought an amazing 1930s photo postcard for my country music collecting brother (for a bit more than I usually pay for a postcard, but it will be a great gift -- two glamorous women playing guitars, one playing a small woman's guitar on its side like a dobro), and an advertising letter opener for my friend Doug, and some odd old deterioriating books that I will cut up to make post cards (believe me, these particular books have no other value or interest). And a 1940s linen tablecloth with Mexican themes for my small kitchen table, plus an odd old dishtowel with images of hunting around the edges and a picture of a random (definitely non-hunting) dog in the middle on a pale blue background. And something extrememly rare but of no value: The impossible to find cobalt blue glass Shirley temple child's mug (that goes with the much easier to find Shirley Temple small pitcher and relatively easier to find matching cereal bowl), except that the decal is completely and untraceably worn off; I think it's cool. Plus more that I'm probably forgetting -- oh, some postcards, and a 1920s elementary school hygiene textbook with useful information and quizzes about things like why it's important to wash your hair. And a 1967 girl scout calendar for a friend who was a girl scout in 1967. And an amazing book with 65 full page color illustrations (they look like watercolors) about the weeds of Canada (it's an old library copy, which collectors don't want but I certainly do, as a gift for my friend Arnold). It was a great haul, and nothing I mention here cost me very much. I'm something of a piker, really.

Except I did buy one thing for much more than I usually spend, but I really wanted it and I always bring a secret stash of money from a special gift-money hiding place in case I find something like this. It's a large hardcover book from 1923 that's actually a catalog from the Pittsburgh Plate Glass company. It contains articles about the history and making of paint and glass, and many pages of full-color paint color samples, and some glorious illustrations, black & white and color, of how you can use stained glass and Pittsburgh paints in your home or store. It post-dates the actual Craftsman era, but it seems to be largely Craftsman influenced. That's the sort of oddity I find at Oronoco, if I get there first thing on the first day.

I miss the days of regular flea markets, but sometimes I still have a good time in my acquisitive mode.

[Update: Oh yeah, plus: A Harker Hotoven Casserole, late 30s or early 40s: red decoration on the edges, decal of a stylized cottage and flowers in bright colors. Plus some sheet music for a dollar each. Plus two cowboy song songbooks from the late 30s, for a dollar each, for my brother. Plus a chartreuse plastic salad fork and spoon set that goes with a salad set from the early 50s I have that's part of a set of Rhythm dinnerware I put together for my niece, for when she's in a position to take possession.]
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