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Space Capsules, Vintage Electronics For Sale! MIT's Flea Market Has Finds You Wouldn't Believe

Sep 28, 2016 08:16 AM EDT
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For hobbyists of rare and vintage electronics, summers at the Massachusetts Instution of Technology (MIT) must be paradise. Swapfest, a kind of flea market in a small parking lot in campus, gathers together buyers and sellers of everything high-tech and obscure from massive telescopes to antique radios.

According to a report from Phys Org, Swapfest began 30 years as a fundraiser for radio clubs. The event is held from April to October, at the third Sunday of each month. While it started as a small fundraising event, now hundreds of shoppers flock to the site to browse the goods.

"You can pretty much find all things nerdly," Steve Finberg, an MIT alumnus and longtime organizer, said. He is also an engineer at an MIT-affiliated research lab. "The flea is where you go to buy the stuff you didn't know you needed."

Those who come expecting ordinary items on sale will likely get shocked, but not disappointed. An actual charter explicitly prohibits this market from becoming just another flea market; both amateur and professional sellers are told that typical items like furniture and clothes are considered taboo here.

Instead, the weird and wonderful are plentiful. Antique radio equipment, gigantic telescopes and - one time - a NASA space capsule are only the tip of the iceberg at Swapfest. The abundance of rare electronics is influenced by the university and the neighborhood surrounding it.

"It's the high-tech community in Boston that makes it unique," Finberg explained. "People will bring surplus runs from production at some facility which dumped a project, and you'll find resistors that cost big bucks being sold for a dime apiece."

According to MIT's The Tech back in 2012, not only is the Swapfest a good place to spot obscure items on sale, but the bazaar is also a pleasant way to pass the time with a peaceful atmosphere and a sense of community with the visitors and vendors.

The next Swapfest is on October 16, 2016, according to the MIT Radio Society website.

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