Antique Postcards: Bringing Home Paris History
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Paris offers no shortage of souvenirs—but today many of them are mass-produced in China. But if you are in the market for something authentic, you can buy unique, made-in-France objects that are often 100 years old or more, for the cost of one euro. They are easy to find, easy to pack, unbreakable, and have many uses.
Consider the vintage postcard. Flea markets, bouquinistes and second-hand bookshops carry them. Prices usually start at one euro, although the more sought-after subjects cost much more.
The least expensive ones are those with common tourist images: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre. But you will also find photographs of less-well-known sites or monuments, including pictures from the expositions of 1889 or 1900, or photographs taken during the Paris flood of 1910. Unusual views, such as those of the construction of the Paris Métro, are considered collectors’ items and tend to be more expensive.
This probably sounds hopelessly old-fashioned in the era of Facebook and cellphone cameras, but look around you at the mass-produced souvenirs. Many of them incorporate images from vintage postcards on notebooks, on trays, on boxes. Here’s your chance to create your own one-of-a-kind keepsake.
Where to find them
The flea markets of Clignancourt and Vanves include many dealers who sell old postcards; and most of them have a one-euro box of Paris postcards. There is also the Marché aux Vieux Papiers, held every Wednesday from 9am-6pm just to the east of Paris on the avenue Galliéni in the suburb of Saint-Mandé.
Getting there: Métro: Saint-Mandé-Tourelle
Bouquinistes and second-hand book dealers usually have a few, too, and there is at least one dealer, Citic Collections, who offers them in the Passage des Panoramas in the 2nd arrondissement.
Getting there: Métro: Grands Boulevards
But perhaps the most central and convenient place to look is the Marché aux Timbres et aux Cartes Téléphoniques, the stamp and card market held in the park beside the Champs-Elysées. The market is held Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to late afternoon.
Getting there: Métro: Franklin Roosevelt
What do with them
The fun begins when you are still in Paris. Choose a street scene or an unusual building, and see if you can find its modern incarnation for a before-and-after photo op. We found this postcard of a large department store called Dufayel, taken from the Montmartre hill and went in search of the original. The dome is gone, but the building is still very much there. Photographing the scene today from the same vantage point involved a delightful walk through Square Louise Michel park and botanical gardens, and the discovery of an interesting part of Montmartre devoted to fabric shops.
Vintage postcards can start you on adventures, or even act as conversation openers. We once showed one to a friend who lives in Paris and asked if he could identify the location. We were sitting in a restaurant at the time, and before we knew it, the waitress and the two fellows at the next table were weighing in with their ideas.
When you get home, scan in your favorite postcards to create digital files. You can create your own computer screen “wallpaper” or a screensaver slideshow with several images.
You can also decorate your walls inexpensively by framing printed enlargements. Or frame the originals with a wide mat around them (the frame should be at least 8 x 11 inches). Sepia or black-and-white photographs look particularly distinctive this way. Make a series, all the same size, and hang them in a row.
Hobby and craft shops sell boxes and trays that allow you to insert an image under glass—or you may have a piece of furniture with a glass top, under which you can place the postcards.
And don’t forget, you can simply use them as they were intended: find postcards that have never been used to send to friends and family. Indeed, these days, when communications are quick, and quickly forgotten, people really prize an old-fashioned postcard and the fact that you took the time to send it.
Philippa Campsie, with her husband Norman Ball, writes the blog Parisian Fields. The blog covers everything from Paris history to today’s street scenes. Philippa’s most recent story published by BonjourParis was Paris Piquant: Boutiques with Spices, Mustards and Oils.
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