Saturday, March 12, 2011

The 48th Annual Chiselers Market

If you've ever seen a picture of the Tampa skyline, you've probably seen the minarets of the University of Tampa.
This Moorish style building was originally the Tampa Bay Hotel, built in 1891 by Henry B. Plant. The 500 room building is now home to the University of Tampa and the Henry B. Plant Museum.

For over 52 years, a non-profit volunteer group has worked to restore this beautiful building. This group of dedicated workers call themselves The Chiselers due to the 'chiseling' that had to be performed in the late 1950's to remove paint and mortar from the hotel's fireplace tiles. One of the ways the Chiselers raise money is their annual Chiselers Market. Today was the first time my friend Linda and I had ever attended the Chiselers sale.

Items are collected via donations throughout the year and the market is held one day only from 9am to 3pm. Maps are available as you enter the sale (people line up before daylight for the bargains). Since this was our first time, it was hard to know where to start. Items are divided into different rooms or areas for books, jewelry, furniture, art, collectibles, china, crystal and silver, plants and a room called the 'bargain center.' There's also a silent auction for special items.

To say that you have to be willing to fight a crowd would be an understatement. We made our first mistake by not deciding which area was really the most important for us to check immediately. Linda has been looking for small end or occasional tables so we should have visited the furniture section first. Instead, we headed there much later and groaned at all of the nice tables with SOLD written over the $5, $10 and $15 price tags. Bummer. And those were just the items that had sold but hadn't been picked up yet. Oh, well, live and learn.

I had the best luck in the 'bargain center,' scoring a set of 1960's cocktail forks (in the original box) for .50, a small handpainted (and signed) tole tray for .50 and a Nora Fenton hand decorated bowl for $1. Linda and I both found goodies in the book room. I bought a beautiful coffee table book of the history of the White House Christmas cards (signed by the author) for $5 and Linda found several books and some sheet music from My Fair Lady with a lovely rendering of Audrey Hepburn on the front cover.

All of the jostling made us really hungry so we stopped mid-morning and went out to one of the verandas where the Chiselers had yummy muffins, turnovers and brownies. We treated ourselves to brownies. Many people stay for lunch -- the specialty is the Chiselers' pimento cheese sandwiches.

We know that some of our friends were planning to go but it's hard finding anyone in that crowd. We did see our buddy, Danny, standing in the line outside (before the sale started) as we passed in the car to find a parking space but we don't think he saw us. (Hey, Danny, we honked at you!) Needless to say, after looking in all of the sale areas, we were both tired from all of the neck craning and elbowing but it was a fun experience for a great cause.

The Chiselers are a great group and were very nice to chat with. Besides all of their hard work preparing for this sale, they also worked the booths.  Over the years, they've raised over $4 million to restore this historic Florida landmark. They have a website here if you're interested in finding out more about them.


  1. It was cool and overwhelming at the same time. Great weather. I have Audrey Hepburn posted in my office as we speak. You were very kind, I noticed, about some of the crowd--not mentioning manners or what size some of the people were. And people, next time, leave your kids and strollers at home!

  2. Yes, I was kinder than I needed to be about the crowd. People can get so pushy and it would be pretty easy to find yourself knocked to the floor. :P