The Parisian signs are an evocation of the atmosphere of the streets of Paris, some of them are exhibited at the Carnavalet museum.
A renovation thanks to a crowfunding campaign
In September 2019, the Carnavalet museum, then closed for renovation, launched a crowdfunding campaign to restore the signs of Parisian businesses presented in its rooms since 1914. The collection of signs in the Musée Carnavalet – Histoire de Paris is a tasty evocation of the atmosphere of the streets of the capital. At the time when street numbers did not exist, signs were landmarks in Paris, with an astonishing and colorful freedom of tone and inventiveness. The merchants attracted the attention of the barge by the cry but also by the image, which explains the beauty and ingenuity of the signs where griffins, mermaids and black cats rub shoulders.
On the walls of Paris, venerable signs with blunt engravings, with faded patterns in faded colors, evoke businesses that have now disappeared. The oldest, indicating an inn located in the Latin Quarter, dates from the 14th century. Removed and replaced by a copy cast on the original, it is kept at the Carnavalet History Museum in Paris.
Opulent symbols of success.
Carnavalet museum exhibits numerous examples in a dedicated space, the Galerie Georges Cain, known as the Salle des SIGNES. The omnipresence of signs ended during the second half of the 18th century with the generalization of numbering. Having become superfluous for housing, they are disappearing from dwellings. Nevertheless, traders attached to tradition perpetuated the custom of banners announcing the vocation of their stalls. Most often, these are elements hung on posterns, of heterogeneous shapes, designed in various materials, wrought iron, carved wood, cardboard-stone, sheet metal, painted canvas, stone. Their configuration changed at the end of the 18th century in order to reduce nuisances such as the creaking of the panels in the wind. The signs are now pressed against the facades. The widening of the streets following the major works of Haussmann favored a return to grace of large-scale brands among merchants, opulent symbols of their success.
Paris as it was in the 16th century
One of the most famous pieces is undoubtedly the sign of the Montmartre cabaret Le Chat Noir, a bastion of many artists and a symbol of bohemian life in the 19th century. Located at the beginning of the visit, a model will certainly attract your attention: it represents Paris as it was in the 16th century. The perimeter of the city was then reduced to the single island of the city, surrounded by walls; the gates of Paris were closed during the night. We can observe that the bridges were surmounted by houses, rather precarious habitats when we know that during the floods of the river, the waters systematically tore out one of the bridges, thus destroying many dwellings and taking many lives. A few floating mills were moored to the piers of the bridges, thus taking advantage of the strength of the Seine. They were destroyed in the 18th century because they hindered navigation. We also notice the absence of a public square and the tightly packed houses, the narrow streets… Even the square in front of Notre Dame was small. At that time, the island of the city had 18 churches, today only two remain : Notre Dame and the Sainte Chapelle.