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A guide to scouring the flea markets

Whether it is bright-colored fiestaware of the 1930s, woebegone teddy bears or kewpie dolls, vintage clothes, household castoffs, or an antique birch stepback cupboard made in Pennsylvania in 1840 and priced at $28,000, one thing is certain: The range of goods and prices in flea markets is staggering. And, as one dealer explained, ``great bargains may be fewer, but the rewards are still out there for the patient, plodding person.''

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you patiently plod along: Eat a good breakfast and prepare a snack lunch for midday in case it is miles to the nearest food supply. Get there early. Carry a canteen of water, since water fountains are few and far between. Wear a hat, sunglasses and comfortable walking shoes. Bring a big folding bag for your purchases. Ask for information about the products, because you'll find many dealers to be very knowledgeable and more than willing to share what they know. And don't be afraid to make an offer. Look at everything in a space, not just what's out front. Knowing how to look with ``I spy'' penetration is part of the game. Examine pieces very carefully before you buy, not only to discover any flaws, but to make sure they are what you think they are. Today, there are a number of guides to flea markets and swap meets, and these are advertised in regular antique publications such as the Newtown Bee, the Antique Trader, and Antique Weekly. One national directory, which sells for $3 per copy, is called Fleamarket U.S.A., by Charles and Dorothy Clark, 2156 Cotton Patch Lane, Milton, Fla., 32570. Dozens of local newsletters, newspapers, and directories exist to promote the flea market and swap meet trade. As Ronald S. Barlow, a California dealer and author, points out, ``Swap meets and flea markets have become so institutionalized that many of them are now listed in the regular yellow pages of local telephone books.'' The world's largest flea market takes place in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., where thousands of buyers at a time can look over the antiques, collectibles, handicrafts, and other assorted treasures offered by more than 2,000 space holders. The little town of Brimfield, Mass., draws thousands of dealers to its huge flea market weekends, which take place three times a year in May, July, and September. The next two-day event began yesterday at Antique Acres in Brimfield. A brochure about the the Brimfield flea market is available from J&J Promotions, Route 20, Brimfield, Mass., 01010. A great source of Americana is Renninger's huge (more than 800 dealers) indoor/outdoor ``antiques and collectibles market'' in two locations in Pennsylvania.

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Renninger's No. 1 in Adamstown, Pa., holds sales every Sunday the year round, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the No. 2 location, in Kutztown, holds sales every Saturday throughout the year, during the same hours. A brochure about the markets is available from Renninger's, Box 107, Adamstown, Pa. 19501.

-- M. H.

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