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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.

mont-de-piete

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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Paris City Hall

The American columnist Charles Carrol Fulton, visited Paris in the summer of 1873. In a series of letters for The Baltimore American he faithfully reported his impressions. With a transparent enthusiasm, he described the beauty and amenities of Paris and his admiration for the efficient way in which the city was run:

It may be of interest to our City Fathers to know in what way the means for carrying on the expensive city government of Paris are obtained. Everything that is brought into Paris in the shape of food for sale must pay an octroi, or entrance duty, at the gates of the city, or, if by boats, at the wharf before it is landed. The receipts from this source last year amounted to 102,286,000 francs, or $20,448,000; market dues, $2,000,000; weights and measures, $21,020; supply of water, 1,028,000; slaughter houses, $600,000; rents of stands in the public ways, 90,060; dues on burials, $140,000; sales of lands in cemeteries, $139,000; taxes for pawing, lighting, etc., $2,100,000; trade-licenses, $3,500,000; dog tax $90,000; sale of night-soil, $132,000: total receipts, $39,556,410.

Among the items of expenditure are, interest of debt and sinking-fund, $9,214,000; expenses of collections, salaries etc., $1,689,000; primary institutions, $1,100,000; public worship, $36,000; national guard and military service, $576,300; repairs of public buildings, $ 346,000; assistance to the poor, including hospitals, $4,469,200; promenades and works of art, $653,340; public schools, 123,200; public festivals, $152,000; the police department, $3,124,000; new public works, $4,924,000; lighting streets, $783,416,000.

One of the public buildings, victims of fire during the Commune uprising in 1871, the Hotel de Ville was fully restored in 1882.

It will thus be seen that, notwithstanding the tribulations through which Paris has passed [the Siege of Paris by the Prussian army and the Commune uprising in 1871], she spent last year nearly $5,000,000 on new public improvements, whilst the receipts exceeded the whole expenses of the city by nearly $150,000. Poor Baltimore, with its “rings” and political hunkers, spends literally nothing on public improvements, and runs deeper in debt every year (*). The city government of Paris is a model for the world, and if we must continue to keep the incompetents in control, do send them over here to learn something.

(*) It is sad that not much has been learned in budget-balancing, both in the US and the EU, since this article was written.

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