Our 'Must-See' Musee: The French Postal Museum.
Some girls go to Paris for the Eiffel Tower. Me? I went for the Musee de La Poste, or French Postal Museum. When I tell you this three story monument to mail made my heart flutter, I am not -- and it bears repeating -- not being overdramatic. I could have spent all day in this museum.
I could have moved into this museum. Hell, I took a photograph of probably every third thing that interested me and I still had hundreds of mail-themed holiday snaps. Without further ado, let's talk a wander through the halls of this fantastic establishment and explore some early French postal history, and contemporary art inspired by post! All those goodies and more await the letter loving nerd.
'La boule de Moulins'
During the War of 1870 55 of these iron 'boules de Moulins' or 'Moulins balls' were launched into the Seine. With Prussians surrounding the City there were many friends and loved-ones eager to write and hear from friends, the need for postal ingenuity sprang up. An invention to help convey mail into Paris, these contraptions were made in Moulins, France and filled with letters, then chucked in the seine with hopes of arriving in Paris.
Unfortunately, 'best laid plans' and all that...the Moulins balls were not useful as many became stuck in the frozen and muddy Seine with none of the letters reaching their intended readers. However, you might be intrigued to know that the last believed Moulins ball was recovered in the 1980s!
While letter writing enjoyed a boom in popularity during lockdowns, it was not lost on many of us writers whether or not we should have been exchanging letters if there was a possible COVID case in the home. Some folks waited two weeks to write, others wrote with the hope that the time in transit would serve as a quarantine, and even some postal services fumigated and quarantined questionable mail. As with most things, however, this was not the first instance of this question in history.
At the Musee de le Poste this contraption sits unassumingly on a shelf beside a decoration of various postal transportation methods. For fans of "Matilda" it looks very much like Trunchbull's torture chamber with its sharp, iron teeth. Called a "rastel", or "une pince a purifer" ("the purifying clip"), this device was used in the 18th and 19th Centuries as a means of disinfecting letters!
Prior to the 17th Century, according the Musee de la Poste and the Public Health Museum, the disinfection of letters was mostly through submersion. Some sources seem to indicate various concoctions of vinegar etc. This made reading the letters difficult as ink would run and become illegible. The "rastel" was invented and used to poke holes in an even pattern allowing for letters to be fumigated, or held over the smoke of a fire made with herbs and chemicals to lessen the possibility of disease transmission.
No, you're not looking at a display of Wes Anderson props but rather an array of historic french letterboxes. One of my favorite things to do on this visit to Paris was play "spot the postbox". Brilliantly yellow, the "Dejoie" took on its infamous banana yellow color in 1962 after they were introduced to replace the robins egg blue "Mougeotte" in 1950.
The "Mougeotte" featured ceramic plates which the post man would be able to adjust to let locals know collection times and frequency. Some postboxes had up to three collection times a day!
A Dress for All Occasions:
Readers of Flea Market Love Letters will know I am known for my love of all things letter -- and yes, that extends to my wardrobe! When I saw this art piece from 1947 made up of 2,000 individual stamps I was mesmerized.
As stunning to behold in person as in photographs it's evident that even some of the stamps were used to transport letters. This is a storybook dress made up of stories itself!
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