The Original Round Top Antiques Fair (ORTAF), held at the Big Red Barn Event Center, is the direct descendant of the first weekend show hosted by Emma Lee Turney 50 years ago. Now, as then, authentic antiques are the foundation of the show.
“When our customers—whether they’re sophisticated collectors or first-time buyers—walk through our doors, they will find authentic, quality merchandise at a fair price sold by professionals who are experts in what they sell,” said promoter Susan Franks, who co-owns ORTAF with her husband Bo. “This show was built on quality antiques—and I remain true to those roots.”
The Franks purchased what became the Original Round Top Antiques Fair from Turney in 2005. By this time the show had moved to the Big Red Barn Event Center.
Editor’s note: We talked to several about their memories.
“When I got ready to purchase a show, I set my sights on Round Top in general—and ORTAF specifically—because of the energy and excitement of the dealers and customers,” Susan, who was reared in Brenham and now lives in Bastrop, said. “On our opening day, people begin lining up at 7 a.m. so they’ll be first to get inside and see what’s new. There’s a crackle and pop in the air that I’ve not experienced elsewhere.”
Susan attributes the excitement to the unique combination of one-of-a-kind shopping and socializing.
“It’s a festival of common interests that only happens twice a year,” Susan said. “Dealers can’t wait to share what they know, and buyers can’t wait to share what they’ve found with their friends. There’s a whole lot of ‘show and tell’ that takes place in an atmosphere that is pure fun.”
“Round Top means so many things to so many people, but its foundation will always be quality antiques.” –Susan Franks
The merchandise in the ORTAF’s exhibit spaces—the Big Red Barn, the Annex and the Continental Tent(specializing in European antiques)—reflects quality found in the most elite markets.
“The Continental Tent often leaves people speechless because it’s simply one of the finest offerings of European antiques presented in the United States,” Susan said. The tent, which emphasizes furniture and art, houses dealers with merchandise from England, France, Germany, Wales and Scandinavia.
Despite the high-quality merchandise and learned dealers at ORTAF, there is no pretense or intimidation. According to Susan, no question is silly. Dealers happily answer whether or not the ensuing conversation results in a sale.
“When I started collecting antiques, I read books and asked questions,” Susan said. “The dealers understand that’s how their customers—and potential customers—learn. Every serious collector started out as a beginner.”
In the 12 years the Franks have owned the show, its offerings expanded beyond early American country to include European antiques and an eclectic mix of authentic items shoppers will be hard pressed to find other places. For instance, an addition to last spring’s show was a dealer who specialized in restored antique boat motors and enjoyed great success.
“If in my travels I see a dealer with something we don’t currently offer, I invite them to participate in our show,” Franks said. “But—and this is a big but—only after I personally vet them and their merchandise.”
Her vetting process includes reviewing photos of the dealers’ merchandise, reviewing a list of shows where they exhibit and personally interviewing them. All the ORTAF dealers also sign a contract guaranteeing that all of their merchandise is antique or vintage.
“While there is a place in the market for reproductions and new merchandise, there’s not a place for misrepresentation,” Franks said. “Buyers should be made aware of what they’re buying. To that end we ensure our dealers stand behind the authenticity of their merchandise.”
She estimates that one out of 10 dealers who apply to ORTAF are allowed to participate. Although Franks has high standards for the show’s dealers, she also has great respect for them.
“The best advice I ever received was: ‘Respect your dealers—because if you don’t they won’t stay,’” said Franks, who is a former dealer herself. “I’m straightforward and treat everyone fairly—and promote the heck out of our show.”
Straight-shooting must work because many of her dealers have been with ORTAF for decades. Nancy Krause of Nancy’s Antiques in Brenham, who exhibits at ORTAF today, was an exhibitor at the first show in 1968.
With more than 200 dealers on-site, there is something for everyone.
“Our dealers also offer merchandise at a wide variety of price points for a wide variety of shoppers from young first-time homeowners to sophisticated lifelong collectors,” Franks said. “The prices are fair for the quality.”
While trends change, antiques, by definition, have stood the test of time.
“Distinctive lines, classic design, rich wood, superlative construction, aged paint and patinas that are intrinsic in antiques have a place in every decor,” Franks said. “In my opinion, a home showcases a mixture of objects that the owners love. A home reflects the owners’ tastes and experiences.”
Antiques also bring a sense of history to any space.
“Every antique has at least two stories: the one of the families who owned it previously and the one of how the current owner acquired it,” Franks said. “I love antiques because of the stories they hold and the conversations they start.”
In an era that values instant gratification and disposability, antiques offer an oasis of permanence and quality.
“Buy what you love from people you have confidence in,” Franks said. “When you invest in quality and timeless design, you’re bringing something into your home that you can build your life around for generations to come.”
Original Round Top Antiques Fair
at the Big Red Barn Event Center
(5 miles north of the Round Top Square)
475 Texas Hwy. 237 S.
Carmine, TX 78932
a.k.a. Big Red Barn
The Original Round Top Antiques Fair (ORTAF) is also known as Big Red Barn because the show’s home is the iconic Big Red Barn Event Center. Don’t be confused. Just look for the big, red barn and its accompanying big, red barn-shaped sign.
by Lorie A. Woodward
photos courtesy of Original Round Top Antiques Fair