Studying an ad for an upcoming antique show, you may notice that there's two opening times-a regular opening time with admission usually running $5-10, and an early- admission, or preview-party opening time costing much more. At one of the fancy New York shows, I understand there was a preview even before the preview. It was called Barbra time. It seems they let Barbra Streisand in before everyone else; so she could shop without being distracted, or, to her defense, mobbed. Needless to say, that did not go over well with those paying big bucks for the regular preview party. I doubt that show will have a Barbra time again.
Don't waste your money on early show admissions. Shows are not like tag sales where I encourage you to be one of the first ones through the door. Most discoveries are made, dealer to dealer, while being unloaded from trucks and vans during set-up. It's not uncommon for a great "find" to exchange hands two or three times before the early admission doors open. This buying advantage has proved to be a curse to show dealers when it comes to selling. In recent years, gates, sales, and profits are down. Some show promoters-mostly at outdoor shows-have tried to fight this phenomena by forbidding any dealer to unpack before the opening bell rings. This creates chaos. People scramble like brides-to-be at a Filenes $200 wedding dress sale. These are the kind of shows I suggest you seek out. Although your chances of finding that great under-priced treasure are still low, its more fun when you think you have a chance.
While regular shows may not offer great bargain hunting, they still can be good places to buy. Quality indoor show promoters often hand pick dealers, usually of a certain type, from all over the country. There, you can find a wide variety of items to choose from and employ a skill you already have-comparative shopping. Outdoor shows are fun because they're usually inexpensive and offer a great day for walking, eating hot dogs, and enjoying the sun. When attending shows, bring cash, credit cards, proper ID, and a check book. Bring your own business cards too. With any purchase get a receipt describing age, condition, origin, and provenance-if any. Collect dealer cards while at shows. If a booth appeals to you, keep in contact with the dealer. Visit them at their shop or home. Developing a good personal relationship with a trusted dealer is the best way to find "fresh" antiques at the right price. For the best buying opportunities at antique shows-GET THERE LATE. If it's a two day show, go the second day. Make sure you arrive several hours before closing.
Contrarions - those who do exactly the opposite of everybody else, often meet with success. Attendance is sparse near the end of shows. This will give you the opportunity to meet personally with the dealers. If they had a bad show, and you'll be able to read that in their eyes, they may be willing to offer you a significant discount to meet their bills. If they had a good show, they may be in a generous mood. Remember this: more than money, dealers showing amongst their peers, are concerned about pride. Wheeling out a slant front desk, or a painting, or getting out their packing materials and wrapping up a porcelain pot, while other dealers sit in chairs idling, would give any man or woman a sense of satisfaction. By arriving at antique shows late, and employing common sense and good bargaining skills, you can use this to your advantage.