Past Perfect

Style Editor Clinton Smith is enchanted by antiquing in Parma, Italy

Crowds flock to Parma, Italy, for its delectable cuisine, particularly for the area’s famous meats and cheeses—think Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano-Reggiano. But twice a year, visitors gather for Mercanteinfiera, a massive antiques show that is the oldest and largest in all of Europe. More than 1,000 exhibitors and dealers showcase their finds, and the most recent spring show that I attended in March (only the second one since the pandemic began) had more than 51,000 visitors.

My trip to Italy was a bit of a circuitous one. I was originally supposed to attend the fair in March 2020, and my bags were literally packed when coronavirus shut down most of Europe and, of course, the show was canceled. Fast-forward two years later, and I can attest that it was well worth the wait, and Mercanteinfiera exceeded all of my expectations.

The setup of the show is not too dissimilar to Atlanta’s own Scott Antique Markets, except that the convention halls are much, much larger, there are more of them and the merchandise comes from all across Europe.

I was most amazed by the sheer variety and amount of goods for sale, with some pieces in pristine, tip-top condition, while others will require restoration and refurbishment. The array of items lures buyers that include dealers, designers and those who just have a passion for antiques.

During my two days shopping (I could have stayed longer!), I was guided by Toma Clark Haines (opposite, bottom left), whose company, The Antiques Diva & Co., leads year-round antique buying tours in eight countries in Europe and six in Asia. Not only does her company guide clients through fairs such as this one, but they customize trips and provide access to warehouses, antiques stores and other secret sources to shop for antiques off the beaten path. With all of that experience, Clark Haines herself is still allured by Mercanteinfiera.

“I love the fact that there are truly pieces that have been pulled out of palazzos and villas,” says Clark Haines, who is based in Venice. “What I like about the fair is that I can go to museums in Venice or on the mainland and see furniture that, when I walk into Mercanteinfiera, the items that I’ve seen in these beautiful decorative museums are actually for sale at an accessible price point. That’s what probably first enchanted me about the fair.”

I immediately had a similar passion for the show, and was often drawn to architectural antiques, such as stone mantels, and even wood panels that one could use to re-create an entire room or ceiling with vintage charm and patina. The best part of the fair? Knowing that there’s another one scheduled this year, where a million new discoveries await!

The next Mercanteinfiera is October 1–9; design professionals can attend September 29–30. For more information, visit And for more details on the services provided by The Antiques Diva & Co., visit