Parma Antique Fair
A NOVICE GUIDE TO PARMA ANTIQUE FAIR
PARMA FAIR DATES 2019
Mercanteinfiera Primavera (Spring) 2019 – Parma, 2 -10 March – (Open exclusively to the trade on Thursday the 28th of February and Friday the 1st of March at 8:00 am.)
Mercanteinfiera Autunno (Autumn) 2019 – Parma, 5 – 13 October – (Open exclusively to the trade on Thursday the 3rd and Friday the 4th of October at 8:00 am)
Being such an important event in any international antique dealer or interior designer’s calendar I thought I should dedicate a page to the holy grail of European antique fairs on my website. A place which holds a very special place in my heart as this is where I consider my journey into the world of antiques began.
Covering an area of just under one and a quarter square miles the place is big. Within its perimeters, amongst food, technology and automotive events is the home of Mercanteinfiera, literally translated into English, the “merchant at the fair”. Probably the biggest international European event dedicated to objects, furniture, works of art of the distant and not so distant past.
The first time I visited the show was way back in September 1999 where I was dispatched by my then employer to help organise the collection and safe transportation of our clients purchases. Makes me feel a little old but I have not missed one event since. You could say I am a veteran!
Born in 1982 from an idea by a guy with a passion called Stefano Spagnoli, the event in those distant days was held in the “Parco Ducale”, the local park and was host to approximately 100 exhibitors.
From this humble beginning, fast forward 35 years and you now have an event which hosts over one thousand dealers and hundreds of individual stands.
If a piece of furniture by Gio Ponti is your bag or you are after that elusive 18th century farmhouse table or Neapolitan canterano you should head to Mercanteinfiera.
Held twice a year, (up to a few years ago it incorporated two extra smaller antique fairs, Bagarre in June and Emporium in January) one at end of September, called Primavera or Springtime in English and beginning of October, the Autunno or Autumn, to reflect the seasons.
It attracts over 50000 visitors every year, an eclectic mix of interior designers, antique dealers and general public with an interest in everything antique.
The actual area where the Parma Antique Fair is held is pretty vast, with a little choo choo electric train taking visitors from one pavillion to another, although this service only seems to be available during the days reserved to the general public. Traders are made of sterner stuff!
The Padiglioni, halls or pavilions in English, are numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6
Pavilion 3, 5 and 6 are where the ones dedicated to the antique fair. The others are usually empty during this event except hall 1 where you will often find a sideshow, showcasing vintage cars and motorcycles and stands selling spare parts, posters and toys vintage toys and comics. Well worth a look in the unlikely event you find yourself with spare time on your hands or a place for your friend that tagged along for a ride to spend a couple of hours.
Each hall is very well organised, with rows being marked by letters and stands being individually numbered.
HALL 3: Here you will find mainly 16th/17th/18th and 19th century antiques. Many dealers in this hall hail from Naples so if that is the look you are searching it is a good place to start from.
HALL 5: Again, mainly 16th to 19th century artefacts, interspersed with garden furniture, statues, stone fountains. A word of warning, whatever the seller spins you, most of the stone fountains are fakes. Very good 20th century reproductions.
Although there are a couple of bars in each building serving sandwiches and drinks, in this hall you will also find the only restaurant available during dealer days. It is located at the back end of the pavilion, up a flight of stairs which is located next to the little tobacco and newspaper shop. It is not actually that bad. A sit down buffet affair which can be enjoyed for 30 euros ahead (seems to go up every year by a few euros) including unlimited amounts of cheap but quaffable local wine. The food is not bad either. Certainly good enough to keep you going till the evening when you will be able to patronise one of the many excellent restaurants in the town centre.
HALL 6: As you walk in from hall 5 the theme starts changing. You can still find older pieces, specially in first couple of rows, but as you delve deeper into the building you start being confronted with stands selling vintage LV luggage, “modernariato”, 20th century lighting and furniture, 1960’s juke boxes and industrial furniture. Finally as you hit the end wall, here is a great place to find that second hand watch or piece of jewellery. It you are after a 1960’s Rolex submariner or a second hand Panerai this is your heaven.
Dealer days, which only allow access to buyers from the trade, are always held on the Thursday and Friday prior to the exhibition, officially opening on the Saturday to anybody with an interest in all things old.
The most frenetic day is certainly the Thursday morning, when everybody tries to get in first to have first dibs on the antiques being offloaded from the trucks lining up outside the halls. Although you might get first pick if you happen to be in the right place at the right time, be prepared to haggle hard. Being the first morning the sellers are always going to try and maximise profits by asking top dollar for their wares. Little tip here. From experience, the best prices are actually to be had on the Saturday morning once the Parma Antique Fair opens up to the public. By then most of the buyers have left and the dealers are getting worried about having to reload the stand on to the truck for the journey home. So, if that credenza you loved on the first day was out of your price range at 5000 euros, if still available a couple of days later you might be able to buy it for just over half the price. If you want a bargain, this is the time to go, specially if the piece you are after is big and bulky.
USEFUL TO KNOW ABOUT THE PARMA ANTIQUE FAIR:
My preference would always be Bologna G. Marconi airport. It is situated approximately 50 minutes drive from Parma and the motorway is just off the airport terminal. Handy if you are hiring a car. You can also obtain a private hire transfer for approximately 150 euros.
For those that enjoy public transport and mingling with the locals it means a taxi or bus run to Bologna station to hop on to the very frequent trains to Parma central station.
Bologna airport has direct links with London, three times a day with BA plus Easyjet and Ryanair.
Second best would be Milano Linate, or, if you really must Milano Malpensa. The latter being a couple of hours drive to Parma.
Quite a few dealers seem to visit the flea market in Paris prior to attending the fair. An option for people who do not like flying could be the train. There are a couple of fast daytime TGV’s connecting Paris with Turin. You would have to change here for a train to Parma. You also have a night train by a company called Thello. It leaves Paris in the evening and you arrive in Milan early morning. It offers a sleeping car and restaurant. I have done it a few times and it is fun.
There are plenty of hotels in Parma. From five star to B&B.
I have been staying in the same hotel for the past twenty years, the Starhotel Du Park. It seems to be the one most international dealers favour. A great place to meet old friends year after year. My senior status gets me the offer of a discount which is also extended to my clients.
The bedrooms are getting a bit tired and the promise of renovation is hanging in the air. The place is a bit like an old slipper. You know it is getting old but you are averse to throw it away as it is comfortable and well worn in.
Others worth considering are the 5 star Hotel Pacchiosi, plenty of character but slightly out of the town centre, the Stendhal in the old town and the Villa Ducale very close to the Parma Antique Fair.
WHERE TO EAT
Here you are spoilt for choice! They say Parma is the centre of the culinary world and there are lots of really good restaurants. You would be hard pushed to find a really bad experience here.
I have eaten in most of them and for me, year after year, I tend to go back to the ones I have enjoyed the most. In no particular order, the Trattoria Corrieri at one end of the formal scale, La Greppia somewhere in the middle and Parizzi a great place for an elegant night out. For Pizza I would recommend Il Corsaro in the town centre.
I think this just about covers most points that somebody who has never been would probably ask. If there are any questions you might have about the show you are welcome to drop me a line.
Of course I would be more then happy to discuss the opportunity of working together. Be it just someone to pick you up from the airport and showing you around the Parma Antique Fair for the first couple of days, translating and bartaring on your behalf or combining the fair with what the Australians would call a “walkabout”. A little tour of some of the cities I mention on my website, which offer great buying opportunities.
Finally I would like to mention that there is currently an offer (2018) available for any bonafide antique dealer or interior designer who has never attended the fair. It includes free travel, including air fare and hotel accommodation. Inbox me for further details.