My afternoon adventure for the day was the Marché aux Timbres et aux Cartes Téléphoniques, a market that specializes in stamps and vintage postcards. Back in Chicago, my room has white walls, so throughout these past ten weeks, I’ve been searching for art prints from various museums to add some color to my life. I’m not sure if the vintage postcards that I bought will make it onto the wall, but they’re just cool in general, so it was worth the effort to find them.
The market is located at the end of the Champs-Élysées, near the Grand and Petit Palais, in a little park. Every Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, from morning to afternoon, vendors set up tents and little card holders and laminated sheets of stamps, postcards, and old letters. Because I went after class, there weren’t many sellers left, but one was selling postcards of Paris from the early 20th century. My original intention was to pick up three or four, but I left with seven. Funny how these things happen.
I was mainly on the hunt for street scenes and snapshots of daily life, which in retrospect, doesn’t really make sense. Tourists nowadays buy postcards with glossy images or collages of famous monuments, and it was the same thing back in the day. The tradition of sending a hello on a card with the Arc de Triomphe on the back is an enduring one. However, there were some surprises. There was a whole slew of cards that featured wild animals. Most of them were from the Natural Science Museum and had a clear caption that gave the animal’s name. There was even one of an okapi! I didn’t buy that one, even though okapis are one of my favorite animals ever, but for other postcard hunters out there, keep an eye out!
What I eventually settled on was the following: L’Hôtel de Ville with Notre Dame in the far distance; a busy Gare de Lyon complete with horse drawn carriages and crowds; a color panorama featuring seven bridges, the Eiffel Tower, and Les Invalides (in color!); bikers in a park; a drawing of a warped, crooked Eiffel Tower; well-dressed men congregating in front of La Bourse; and a bird’s-eye view of Avenue de L’Opéra. The last one is a particular favorite. On Friday, we took a walking tour of the area to study Haussmannization. The street is beautiful, and from the steps of the Palais Garnier, one of the two opera houses in the city, the Louvre is visible in the background. In the postcard of the Avenue de L’Opéra, you have that view and a shift in time with early automobiles replacing horses and carriages.
Five out of my seven postcards have been sent to actual people. Handwritten script, postmarks, stamps, addresses – it’s all there. Dates include 1933, September of 1912, 1928, and March 21st of 1910 (sent to Italy!). The handwriting is hard to read, and everything is in French, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering who wrote these cards and who received them. And how did they get into the hands of this postcard vendor in the first place? Are they even genuine? (I’m going to assume yes; it wasn’t exactly a touristy locale.)
Over the summer, I catalogued cards and letters from the 1970s from a Dutch family in small town Indiana. It took a while to sort through all the writing and remember everyone’s name, but by the end of it, I could tell you who was married to who, who got sick, who had a holiday party, who had a bad crop of beans in their vegetable garden one summer – all from their correspondance. With the postcards, I only have a couple of sentences, but I still like the idea of having a piece of someone’s story in my hands, a snapshot crystalized in the casual scrawl of a pen. Not to mention, the old photography and ink and wash drawings are pretty stellar.