The crush at the opening of the Atlantique City Indoor Antique and Collectibles Market in mid-March has been likened to the New York marathon, the Oklahoma land grab and the running of the bulls at Pamplona in Spain.
At 9 a.m. on Saturday, March 16, hundreds and hundreds of collectors and dealers, some who have bought their tickets by mail and others who must pay at the door, will charge the battery of doors of Atlantic City's Convention Center on the Boardwalk to get first pick of the wares set out by over 1,100 dealers for the two-day sale. They come from 43 states, Canada, England, Scotland, France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, Japan and South America. This immense 325,000-square-foot marketplace is set up in two huge adjoining halls and an upstairs balcony, in a place made famous by Miss America pageants and political conventions.
According to show promoter Norman Shaut, covering the entire show only once requires a walk of 12.1 miles. Most people walk up and down the aisles again and again contemplating purchases or checking for what they might have missed.
It is a phenomenon, and not for the faint of heart, though not everyone attacks this show in a frenzy. More than a third of those who come make it a weekend excursion. They buy a two-day advance ticket for $16. (One-day tickets are $10 on Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and $8 on Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Mr. Shaut advertises fare-saver deals with airlines from 512 cities, and discount hotel, motel and campground accommodations. Some do the show in a day, riding a casino bus with full-fare refund upon arrival, a service available from many areas throughout the East. The majority come by car and take advantage of the free parking at some of the hotels, with casino validation.
Mr. Shaut never releases attendance figures and the place is so big it is hard to guess. It's crowded, but there's room to move around and no long lines after the initial crush.
Some collectors go through the show with tunnel vision and are after their specialty -- perhaps sheet music, or 19th century photographs, marbles, art deco glassware, Bakelite jewelry or figural salt and peppers. They have Atlantique City down to a system, and have probably been corresponding with the dealers they met last year so they know where to find them.
Others need the aid of the Computographic Tracking Service that Mr. Shaut instituted at his first show six years ago and has enlarged and improved. Step up to one of the two Computographic Locator Booths, name your category from the 700 listed, and you receive a printout that lists the names and locations of the dealers who are likely to have what you are looking for.
The Computographic Index is a reflection of collecting interests in the 1990s. Cultural anthropologists will have a field day with it. The categories begin with advertising, which includes such sub-specialties as biscuit tins, cigar store figures, TV premiums and trade cards. It ends with miscellaneous, which goes from ancient objects to zeppelins and in between lists bookends, fast food, telephones and writing implements. (No clothes hangers, snowdomes or clothespins -- yet.)
The biggest category is pottery and porcelain; the second, glass. China is listed by factory, pattern, or form: Dedham is a factory; Fiesta is a pattern; steins are a form. Glass goes from Akro-Agate to Webb, with cup plates, historical flasks, salt dishes and syrup jugs all listed separately.
Animals are separated into cats, cows, dogs, elephants, frogs, horses, owls, pigs and turtles. Other breeds can probably be found under Steiff, in the toy section. Toys are organized by type, material and manufacturer. Blocks, candy containers, jigsaw puzzles, iron, tin, celluloid, Dinky, Fisher Price, Lehmann, and Schoenhut are some of the categories.