Guide Tour of Postal Museum, Paris, France

The Postal Museum (Musée de La Poste) is the museum of the French postal operator La Poste. The Musée de La Poste is a place for the presentation, conservation and dissemination of postal heritage. It is centered on Writing, History and Culture. From seven-league boots to the heroes of the Aéropostale, via the panorama of 150 years of postage stamps in France, the collections of the Musée de La Poste tell a story, not only that of a company but also that of the France on a daily basis.

Its collections have the Musée de France label under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture. The museum preserves and exhibits over more than 1000 m², the historical, artistic, philatelic and scientific heritage made up of pieces from collections as diverse as the first maps of post routes, postmen’s uniforms, artists’ models, stamps -poste, popular objects and finally a large collection of mail art and mail art.

The idea of a postal museum was first published by philatelist Arthur Maury after scale models of postal rail transportation were exhibited at the Exposition Universelle of 1889 in Paris. In 1936, Eugène Vaillé, a civil servant at the French posts’ library, convinced Minister of Posts, Telegraphs and Telephones Georges Mandel to relaunch the project. By 1937, establishment in the Choiseul-Praslin hôtel was studied.

Although the economic crisis of the 1930s and World War II prevented any actual opening, a semi-postal stamp was issued on 6 July 1939 and a ruling council was instituted in 1943 with Vaillé as president. After the war, finance and an inventory by Vaillé of the postal archives permitted the inauguration in 1946.

The Musée postal de France (Postal Museum of France) opened on 4 June 1946 at the Choiseul-Praslin hôtel, in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. Its first collections were exhibited on 600 square metres and postage stamps constituted the main part. To help in managing the museum, an association was founded in 1947: the Société des amis du musée de La Poste.

Not large enough, the Choiseul-Praslin hôtel was replaced by a new building of 1,500 square meters. It was built between 1969 and 1972 and was decorated with a front wall designed by André Chatelin. The building is located near the Montparnasse station, in the 15th arrondissement of Paris. The inauguration took place on 18 December 1973. The current museum has been located at 34 boulevard de Vaugirard since 1973. The museum was closed for redevelopment from 2014 to November 2019.

The current building of the Musée de La Poste, designed by the architect André Chatelin, winner of the Grand Prix de Rome, was inaugurated in 1973. It is part of the architectural current of brutalism which has its origins in the modern movement. The facade is adorned with panels in relief made by the sculptor Robert Juvin from molded concrete made with white cement and aggregates of Loire sand and quartz. These panels evoke the engraving of a stamp in intaglio represented on a very large scale. This façade, which can also be seen from inside the building, inspired the new logo of the Musée de La Poste, which takes up its faceted appearance.

A company museum, the Musée de La Poste has received the designation “Museum of France”. It holds collections of unsuspected magnitude: more than a million philatelic items, more than 200,000 images, 37,000 works and objects illustrating the history and trades of La Poste from the Middle Ages to the present day, 30,000 printed works and 800 magazine titles, plus a fund of mail art and contemporary art.

Historical collections
The postal history collections are rich in approximately 37,000 works, objects and iconographic documents illustrating the history and trades of the post office in France from the 17th century to the present day but also, insofar as the “PTT” – postal, telegraphs, telecommunications – have long been grouped together, the Chappe telegraph, the electric telegraph and the telephone.

Philatelic collections
The philatelic collections constitute more than 70% of the funds of the museum of La Poste, the latter being the beneficiary and the manager for the State of the compulsory deposit of the archives of manufacture of the postage stamps French, Andorra and the communities of Outre -Sea, including issues of stamps from the TAAF, the French Southern and Antarctic Lands.

Printed and Documentary Resource Center
The printed and documentary resource center of the Musée de La Poste makes more than 30,000 references available to all those who carry out research in postal history or philately. Schedules, access, consultation methods… all the information is here.

The Mail Art, Contemporary Arts and Art Brut Fund
Since the 1990s, the museum has developed a collection of contemporary art which brings together more than 5,000 pieces of “Mail Art” (individual mailings, stamps and plates of artists’ stamps) or “posted art” (envelopes decorated), all having passed through the Post Office. 3000 matches come from a donation from the artist and publisher Michel Champendal.

The Musée de La Poste offers the visitor more than 1000 objects and works exhibited on three levels, offering a wide variety of multimedia experiences. The Musée de La Poste offers a wide variety of multimedia experiences based on its iconographic and photographic resources: screenings of extracts from archive and fiction films, dissemination of extracts from oral testimonies, touch screens and objects to touch (with description in Braille).

Permanent exhibitions present objects connected with correspondence, transport of the mail, work of the postmen and philatelic and marcophilic items. The permanent exhibition presents a selection of some one thousand items from the collections, to which is added a set of five thousand stamps making up the impressive panorama of postage stamps created in France since 1849. In 1999, a room was created to exhibit the 3,500 postage stamps of France in chronological and topical order.

The permanent exhibition at the Musée de La Poste is organized into three areas of three hundred and fifty square meters each. The visit begins with level 4, but each tray has a theme, everyone can browse the collections in the order of their choice according to the time they have and their areas of interest.

Level 4 presents the evolution of the postal service since antiquity, level 3 is dedicated to the trades of La Poste and the less visible part – industrial in particular – of its activities, while level 2 is dedicated to postage stamps. and artistic creation inspired by the postal universe. Temporary exhibitions on the same topics take place regularly on the ground floor of the museum.

4th floor – The conquest of the territory
This first stage recounts the epic of the French post office from the Ancien Régime to the present day, emphasizing how technological progress has made it possible to go ever further and faster in the conquest of the territory. Whether on horseback, in traveling railway carriages invented in the 19th century or in the holds of Aéropostale planes, mail has always had to be transmitted at all costs. A need that we see in particular at work during the siege of Paris (1870-1871) with the use of new transport to pass the mail under the nose and beard of the Prussians: balloons, carrier pigeons, without forgetting the improbable “boules de Moulins” immersed in the Seine.

The exhibition ends with an evocation of the new means of communication imagined from the end of the 18th century: the optical telegraph invented by Claude Chappe, then the electric telegraph, the telephone, the Minitel… The museum’s collections are rich with thirty-seven thousand objects illustrating the history of the post office in France, from the Ancien Régime to the present day: paintings, lithographs, front pages of illustrated newspapers, letters, the oldest of which date back to the Middle Ages., photographs, unusual objects, travel accessories and model vehicles.

3rd floor – Postmen and trades
The activities and therefore the professions of La Poste multiplied from the 19th century while La Poste, which became a public service, accompanied the economic development of the country. This floor allows you to discover them, not only the postman or the counter clerk, well known to the French, but also other professions such as operating agents, brigades of financial services and postal check centers, small Parisian telegraphers, employees mail search services, Santa’s secretaries… An interactive terminal even offers an introduction to postal slang!

The Museum has a fund of four thousand five hundred objects testifying to the postal trades of yesterday and today: machines, tools and work clothes, furniture, signs and other signage elements, advertising products, decorative art objects, games and toys, writing materials, historical souvenirs (decorations, emblems, flags), etc.

2nd floor – La Poste, art and stamps
This space has been designed as an art gallery exhibiting the philatelic and artistic collections in rotation: preparatory drawings, punches, elements of stereotypes, artists’ proofs, etc. A stamp project can take various forms: a drawing, but also a painting, a sculpture, a photograph, a collage… More historical, a panorama of postage stamps presents all the stamps issued in France since 1849, with their production chain to discover through windows to look at, objects to touch, drawers to open… Videos explain the techniques employed from the beginnings of stamps in the 19th century to the present day.

In terms of postal art, the collections house works by renowned artists, such as Pierre Alechinsky, Ben, Alexander Calder, César, Marcel Duchamp, Yves Klein, Claude Viallat. Part of the plateau is also devoted to postal art and mail art, art forms born in the 19th century. Stamps, postcards, parcels or envelopes are sources of inspiration for artists. They also diverted craft objects, such as mailboxes, mailbag canvases or sorting bins.