When most people think of Parma, Italy they think of cheese and ham. But antique-lovers should re-evaluate and think of Parma as a twice-a-year destination for antiques, served up with an exceptionally good side of food! That’s because twice a year, in the spring and fall, the Mercanteinfiera – the largest antique show in Italy and one of the largest antique shows in Europe – is held in Parma. Thanks to the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with the Fiere di Parma, the show promoter, I was invited to attend the Mercanteinfiera in October 2016 along with a group of antique dealers and interior designers.
The Mercanteinfiera is held in Parma, Italy at the Parma Exhibition Center, just outside the town center. The show features approximately 1000 dealers selling antiques and vintage goods. The Mercanteinfiera spans nine days, this year from October 1-9. In addition, there are two preview days for professionals.
I attended during the preview days which are the days in which the dealers are setting up. It was chaotic, with furniture and large decorative objects being moved around, and boxes and packing materials littering the aisles, but provided first crack at the antiques.
Expert tip: Don’t wear open toe shoes during the preview days! I did, and found myself distracted, making sure I didn’t get my feet run over by a dolly, or stepped-on by people carrying things.
Since jewelry is my specialty, how I rate any show is based primarily on how strong the selection of jewelry is. The Mercanteinfiera had a very good selection of jewelry, but unlike many shows in the United States, is not a jewelry-heavy show.
Expert tip: jewelry was concentrated in one hall. So check the map of the show if you have a specialty. There was some jewelry scattered throughout the show, however, so it’s worth hunting, and my biggest bargains were found in the booths of the generalist dealers.
Strengths: as was to be expected, there was a lot of Italian jewelry, especially coral, micromosaics, pietra dura, and heavy gold link chains and bracelets. What was particularly interesting to me was jewelry by Italian modernists, many of whom I was unfamiliar with, so it was a good learning experience.
Prices: prices were in the mid-to-high range. As a dealer who is firmly in the middle of the antique “food chain”, I found it challenging, but not impossible, to buy, and I’m very happy with the items that I found. Dealers higher up on the food chain would find more items to buy, and collectors would have a great selection. Here are a few of my favorite purchases (click on photos to enlarge and roll over them to see captions):
Other Antiques at the Mercanteinfiera
While I primarily attend antique shows to buy jewelry, I also love looking at furniture, art, and decorative arts.
I found the Mercanteinfiera to be particularly strong in light fixtures, from elaborate traditional chandeliers to Venetian glass souffles, to modernist sputnick-style fixtures (click on photos to enlarge and roll over photos for captions).
There were lots of smalls. I was particularly taken by some enamel and silver cases, lots of gilt wood, religious objets, miniatures, toys, and even some ancient Roman glass. And, much to my surprise, there was a lot of ivory, something rarely seen in the US due to the ban (click on images to enlarge).
There was lots of furniture, both modernist and traditional. And for food-obsessed collectors, there was one dealer specializing in Berkel salumi slicers!
And there was a special section for garden antiques at the rear of the center pavilion of the show.
Car Show and Art Exhibits
In association with the Mercanteinfiera antique show, the Mercanteinauto vintage auto show is held in a neighboring hall of the Exhibition center, the first weekend of the show. If you love vintage cars, or are traveling with a vintage car lover, this is an added attraction.
In addition, Artparma was holding a contemporary art fair in an adjacent hall.
During the trip I had a little time to explore the town of Parma and I found it to be un-touristy, with even main attractions like the Duomo and the Baptistry delightfully uncrowded. (click on photos to enlarge and roll over them to see captions)
Parma is justly famous for food: think Parmesan cheese and prosciutto di Parma. In addition, October is truffle season and many restaurants will be serving truffles with their food. One evening I got to try a Parmesan specialty, Ox Eye, a heavenly dish of fried eggs with shaved black truffles.
Our group had a lovely dinner at Cantina Lamoretti, a vineyard located a little outside of town that not only produces their own wine, but also Parmesan cheese and Prosciutto di Parma. Sipping wine while in the shadow of Castello di Torrechiara was a perfect way to end a day of intense antiquing!
Luckily for me, shortly before I went on my trip the New York Times had 36 Hours in Parma featured in their travel section. Following the recommendation of the Times, I had lunch at F.I.S.H., a restaurant that, no surprise, specializes in seafood. I had a wonderful Gran Crudo platter of raw fish, with two types of crudo, three types of tartare, and two types of raw shrimp, an incredible bargain at 22 euros.
Even the food at the Mercanteinfiera was good! Most antique shows in the US held in large exhibition centers are notorious for having mediocre food. But the Mercanteinfiera had good food at multiple venues, and vendors selling cheese, ham and other local specialties.
Tip: even though Parma is not heavily touristed, it is a lively town, and if you are going to dine at a recommended restaurant on a Saturday night, make a reservation or you won’t get a seat.
The Mercanteinfiera is held in Parma, Italy at the Parma Exhibition Center, just outside the town center. The show features approximately 1000 dealers selling antique and vintage goods.
The Mercanteinfiera spans nine days, this year from October 1-9. In advance of these dates, there are two preview days for professionals.
Expert tip: Wear comfortable shoes! The show takes place in four large halls of an exhibition center and you’ll be doing a lot of walking, especially during preview days, as you’ll want to make several passes through the halls in order to see all the dealers as they set up (I walked the entire show three times). According to the step counter on my smart phone, I walked 5-7 miles per day at the show.
Transit: a taxi from the center of town to the antique fair will cost approximately 12-15 euros.
I attended in October, and while I’m sure that the March show is equally wonderful for antiques, October has the advantage of beautiful weather and truffles!