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Archive for the ‘public works and services’ Category

The postcard became a widely popular item during the Universal Exhibition of 1889 when a card representing the Eiffel Tower was sold at 300,000 copies.

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A postcard shop near the Louvre

The first postcard made its official appearance in 1869 Austria. The French adopted the idea as an emergency measure one year later, during the Siege of Paris, when mail was sent and received via air balloons and the weight of the envelopes became an issue. In 1872, a law validated the use of the postcard as a permissible means of postal communication. This was not yet the case in some other countries and the French cards contained a warning.

Until 1875, the postcard remained a monopoly of the postal administration. After this date, national or private cards were published with a free side which could contain pictures.

While artistic pictures of Paris monuments and impressive boulevards were among the bestsellers, others were bought and sent: the pictures of Paris without makeup. The one below, titled Rue Mouffetard on a Sunday Morning offers the sight of working-class Parisians enjoying the fresh air that had been denied to them during the weekdays. Sunday in Paris was not,  as the Anglo-Saxons tourists expected, spent in church and prayers. The people of Paris were out for fun.

 

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These are not elegant Parisians taking air in open carriages on the Champs Elyseés as you would expect on a postcard from Paris

 

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Someone had found this picture of a lounging middle-class couple of enough interest to purchase it and stick a stamp on it

 

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Curios sold too: At 55-inch width, this was the smallest house in Paris

 

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Shops with character were liked as well

 

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A rag lady was mailed by someone interested in the small entrepreneurs of Paris

 

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But it was no surprise to anyone that seductive ladies figured on the cartes postales de Paris

 

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Even the top courtesans of the Belle Epoque found themselves in the mailbag. Here is the dancer Otéro whose breasts inspired the cupolas of the famous Hotel Negresco in Nice

 

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The postman himself had his purchasers. It seems that everything, even the most ordinary, was of interest to our ancestors

 

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The advertising columns have been an integral part of the Paris boulevard landscape. They hide a story

In The French Art of Drinking without Getting Drunk, we read that Parisians consumed large quantities of drink in public places. It follows that they had to frequently part with excess liquid. Before 1834, they could avail themselves of the services of self-appointed street hygienists who, clad in a leather apron, paced the public places offering a pail. However, money wasted on the men in leather aprons could be better spent on more drinking, and, besides, the pee-man himself could be lounging in some café and drinking away his earnings. Most men simply relieved themselves where the need overtook them and the city stank.

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An early public urinal in alloy

Around 1770, an order was issued to homeowners to install wooden barrels at street corners to serve as urinals. These were useful, but they lacked sophistication and, often, they lacked altogether. In 1834, the Paris City Hall introduced the first public urinals. Unlike the barrels and the men with pails, they were always there, and they were free. The expense of caring for 478 public conveniences proved to be ruinous to the city budget; they needed to generate some income. In 1839, a new design was introduced: an advertising column with the urinal inside. It was a superb idea. By 1868, street columns appeared that served only for advertising and they have been a part of the Parisian street furniture to this day.

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A successful new version added advertising

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The columns generated so much income that their dual function was abandoned and the urinal design developed separately. This one served five men at once

 

The website Vintage Everyday offers a diverting gallery of the Parisian pissotières in all their surprising variety.

 

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mont de piete

Excerpt from Europe Viewed Through American Spectacles (1873) by Charles C. Fulton:

Mont-de-Piété is one of the most important and extensive establishments connected with the city government of Paris. It is a municipal pawnbroker establishment for the relief and protection of the poor, and, indeed, of all classes who may by either poverty or misfortune be compelled to borrow money on their personal effects. That the extent of this establishment may be understood, it is only necessary to state that it has two principal offices in opposite section of the city, twenty auxiliary offices in different wards or arrondissements, and has three hundred officers connected with it.

The average number of articles pledged daily is three thousand, but no pledges are received from anyone unless they are known to be householders, or produce a passport or papers en règle, showing who they are and that the property they offer is their own. The privilege of loaning money on deposits is enjoyed exclusively by this establishment: hence thieves have but little opportunity of disposing of their plunder. Out of two millions of articles pledged per annum, the average number delivered to the police on suspicion of theft is three hundred and ninety-one, representing loans to the amount of eight thousand nine hundred francs. Thus this establishment, instead of encouraging theft, leads to detection, punishment, and restoration of stolen goods.

The Mont-de-Piété is under the authority of the Minister of the Interior and the Prefect of the Seine and is managed by a Director, appointed by the former. It has a Council or Board of Managers, consisting of three members of the City Council, three citizens of Paris, and three members of three Council of Public Assistance. The number of officers employed in its management is over three hundred, and they are kept busy for twelve or fourteen hours per day.

Everything that is brought to be pledged is carefully appraised, and the amount loaned is four-fifths of the value of gold and silver articles, and two-thirds of the value of other effects, provided no loan at the two central offices exceeds ten thousand francs, and at the branch establishments five hundred francs. From this, it will be seen it is not used entirely by the extremely poor, but all classes at times avail themselves of its advantages to enable them to ride over temporary difficulties.

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The pledges of the previous day are brought every morning to the central establishments or the two storehouses and it would be difficult to find in the whole of Paris a scene of more stirring business activity. The system with which the whole business is managed is wonderful, there being one department where borrowers are enabled to refund by installments the sums advanced: even one franc is received.

Whilst the work of redeeming pledges is constantly in progress in one part of the establishment, another is crowded with men, women, and children with bundles to offer for small advances, which continues from nine o’clock in the morning until four o’clock in the afternoon. In another section, an auction is daily held for the sale of forfeited pledges, which have not been redeemed within the time specified. After a year, or rather fourteen months, the effects, if the duplicate be not renewed by paying the interest due upon it, are thus sold, and the auction room is a scene for a painter. Here all the old-clothes establishments are represented, and at times the bidding is very lively, nothing being sold and no bids received for less sum than the amount advanced.

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Hôpital_de_la_Salpêtrière

Source: Paris from the Earliest Period to the Present Day by William Walton, published in 1899

The immense army of the helpless and sickly poor—paupers, paralytics, scrofulous, consumptive, idiotic, cancerous—demands a complex machinery from the State or the municipal administration. For a multitude of these unfortunates the words of Victor Hugo are true: They begin in the hospital, and end in the hospice.” “The child comes into the world in a Maternité, and, later, if life has not been generous to him, he finishes his days in one of the asylums for the aged, at Bicêtre, at the Salpêtrière, at Debrousse, at Brévannes, at Ivry, after having more than once paid his tribute to sickness in the wards of some hospital! And still more, at intervals, during certain difficult hours, he has been obliged to ask aid of the Bureau de Bienfaisance, so that, during the whole of his life, this unlucky one has been the pensioner of the Assistance Publique.”

Very fortunate are those who succeed in obtaining a bed at the hospice in which to end their days; the number of applicants each year exceeds by three or four thousand the number of vacancies. The crippled and incurable paupers, for whom all labor is impossible, are admitted without regard to age; the octogenarians, cancerous, blind, and epileptic, and the sick transferred from the hospitals to the hospices, are always eligible; but the slightest misdemeanor recorded on their civil papers, even though atoned for by a long life of honesty, is fatal to the hopes of the unfortunate aged;—for them there is no asylum but the Dépôt de Mendicité. The most celebrated of these hospices of Paris are the Bicêtre and the Salpêtrière; the former at Gentilly, about a kilomètre from the southern fortifications, and the latter on the Boulevard d’Hôpital. The Bicêtre especially, under the ancient régime, represented everything that was abhorrent in a mediæval hospital, asylum, and jail combined; it was “at once a prison, a dépôt de mendicité, an asylum for the aged, a special hospital, a lunatic asylum, a political Bastille, an establishment for receiving sick children.”

It is organized in two great divisions—a hospice for old men, and an asylum for the deranged; but the latter includes an infirmary for idiot, epileptic, and feeble-minded children. The buildings of the hospice proper are arranged around four rectangular courts, planted with trees and gardens, in which the aged inmates sun themselves, and when it rains they take refuge under arcades known as the Allée des Bronchite and the Rue de Rivoli de Bicêtre. For a considerable distance around the establishment these pensioners may be seen in fine weather taking the air; they have this privilege for the whole of the day on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, and from eleven o’clock in the morning to four in the afternoon on the remaining days of the week.

All the sounder ones, to the number of some four hundred, are obliged to work at one of the many useful trades practised in the various ateliers, and they gain, for their own use, from forty centimes to a franc a day, money which goes to provide them with various small creature comforts. Those who are not strong enough, or capable enough, to work in the ateliers are obliged to pick vegetables for the culinary department, for which they receive no pay;—from this obligation no one is free excepting the octogenarians, the sickly, and the active workers. The administration also encourages the enterprise of those who wish to work on their own account; it provides them with a locality and facilities, for which they pay a monthly rental of from twenty centimes to one franc twenty centimes a month. Some of these petty industries are very curious and ingenious.

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paris sewers

At some point in the future, I projected to write about the Paris sewers, popular with the Victorian tourists,  but Gemma at the charming and informative website Les Musees de Paris (Paris Museums) had done it yesterday and you can read her post here. Enjoy!

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In Paris in the Winter: Not to be desired, published during the cold days last year, we could read the complaints of an American traveler written in 1854. In 1899, nearly half a century later, little had changed.  With the high prices of wood and coal, and drafty dwellings, Paris remained inhospitable in the cold months and, for the poorest, a charitable bowl of soup was the only warmth they could expect:

The Parisian winter is an institution of which no good can be said. The tremendous, arctic cold of the United States is almost unknown, as is also the beautiful, clear, frosty weather; in their stead come an almost endless succession of gray, misty, unutterably damp days, with a searching, raw cold that penetrates even to the dividing asunder of bone and marrow. The dearness of fuel, and the totally inadequate heating arrangements in most houses, add to the cruel discomfort of this season, in which the poor always suffer greatly. The number of unemployed is always large, and among them are frequently to be found those accustomed to the comforts and refinements of life. A recent article in a Parisian journal describing the charitable distribution of hot soups by the organization of the Bouchée de pain [mouthful of bread] cites the instance of a lady among these applicants, so well dressed that the attendant thought it right to say to her: “Have you come through simple curiosity, madame? In that case, you should not diminish the portion of those who are hungry.” The lady answered simply: “I am hungry.” It appeared that she was an artist, had exhibited twice in the Salon, and yet was reduced to this necessity. This charitable organization is distinguished from most others by the fact that it asks no questions and imposes no conditions on those who come to it for aid. Consequently, its various points of distribution are crowded with long lines of the shivering and famished, and the smallest offering from the charitable is thankfully received.

Paris from the Earliest Period to the Present Day; Volume 1, by William Walton, text published in 1899

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facteurFrom the book Paris from the Earliest Period to the Present Day by William Walton, Philadelphia, 1899:

The arrangements for mailing and receiving letters in Paris are, in general, very satisfactory,—the branch post-offices are over a hundred in number, and they will receive not only letters and mailable packages, but telegrams. They do a very large business, and are generally thronged all day in the popular quarters,—the registry department being greatly in favor. At night, they are recognizable by their blue lanterns, and there are also, since 1894, auxiliary offices in certain shops designated by blue signs. The letter-boxes, set in the wall of the building, so that letters and packages may be mailed from the street, are usually four in number, one each for Paris, the departments, foreign mail, and for printed matter. Stamps may be bought and letters mailed also in very many of the small tobacco-shops, in public buildings, and in the dépôts of the railways and the tramways of the suburbs. There are eight collections and distributions a day, on work-days, and five on Sundays and fête-days; the facteur, or carrier, has discharged his duty when he has left the mail with the concierge of the building, and its final delivery rests entirely with the latter functionary. These facteurs, who are generally intelligent and conscientious, wear the inevitable uniform of all French officials, and carry their mail in an absurd stiff little leathern box, suspended in front of their stomachs by a strap around their necks. Their distributing matter never seems to exceed the capacity of this box,—ranging in quantity from a third to a tenth of the ordinary burden of a New York letter-carrier.

A more rapid method of distribution, for which a higher rate is charged, is by means of the pneumatic tubes which traverse the city, mostly through the égouts, and which have their termini in the branch post-offices. Envelopes or enclosures sent by this medium must contain neither valuable objects nor hard and resisting bodies. The service of colis postaux, so called although there is no necessary connection with the post, and which corresponds nearly with the American express system, is, for Paris, in the hands of a director to whom it is a concession by the Administration des Postes, and for the departments and the colonies in those of the railway companies and the subsidized maritime companies. The inevitable conflict with the workings of the octroi interferes very seriously with the promptness and efficacy of this service, and in the summer of 1898 the complaints of the despoiled patrons were unusually loud and deep. In their search for contraband articles, the octroi inspectors open a large number of these packages received from the departments and containing in very many cases consignments of wine, game, patés, and other delicacies,—the closing up of these numerous cases is left to the employees of the railways, and the result has been a perfect pillage. In vain do the consignees protest—the companies interpose the interminable delays of corporations, and justice is not to be had.

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