Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Map of Paris by Vince Szilagyi

One of my favorite jobs at the shop is trying to determine the origins and history behind the maps and prints in our inventory. Recently we acquired a wonderful map of Paris that took me on quite a journey to figure out its bizarre and interesting history.

This is the wonderful and bright folding map of Paris we recently acquired from a collector. The first thing I do when dating maps of Paris is look at the size of the city itself. For much of its modern history, Paris was a much smaller city surrounded by a ring of well-to-do suburbs like Montmartre and Issy. Then in 1860 as part of Georges-Eugene Haussmann's famous plan to redesign Paris, Emperor Napoleon III annexed these suburbs and dramatically increased the size of the city. This map shows Paris with its pre-1860 borders, with some of Haussmann's early improvements like the Bois de Boulogne Park.

Everything about this map’s depiction of Paris, from its boundaries to its railroads, places it between 1856 and 1860, except for one. This map also includes the Eiffel Tower, which was not designed, let alone built until the late 1880s! An explanation for this strange historical juxtaposition can be found with a little digging. It is most likely the lithographic stone that was used to produce this map was originally made to show the changes in the city of Paris Haussman had completed in the late 1850s. However, when city of Paris annexed the surrounding suburbs this map became severely out of date, as it now only showed a fraction of the city's size and attractions. This stone was probably shelved and a new one created that showed the new extent of the city. Most old lithographic stones that were obsolete were eventually redrawn or recycle into something new.

However, this old stone likely got a new life thanks to the 1889 World's Fair in Paris. The 1889 World’s Fair was hugely popular and millions of people flooded into Paris to join the festivities. This also created a huge market for maps of Paris that these travelers could use. It was this demand that could have brought new life to the old 1850's lithographic stone we mentioned earlier. Seeking to capitalize on the new demand for Parisian maps, the British publishing company of Charles Smith & Son most likely bought the old 1850s lithographic stone of Paris and simply updated it by adding in the fairgrounds and the Eiffel Tower. Evidence supporting this addition is the fact that while all the other Parisian attractions shown on this map are outlined in heavy black and have light red and green coloring, the Eiffel Tower and fairgrounds are in a very light outline and have no color. This would seem to suggest that these were added to the map at a different time than the rest of the attractions.

Further supporting this idea is the fact that the Tower depicted on the map looks slightly, but noticeably different from how it appears in real life. Smith & Son most likely based their depiction of the Tower off of the numerous sketches of how the yet unfinished tower was supposed to look, rather than waiting for it to actually be completed. This sort of situation was not wholly unusual in 19th century mapmaking, but it certainly resulted in a wonderfully weird map that I personally had never seen before.


  1. Hello - here are two earlier versions of the map (without Eiffel Tower). One of them includes the grounds of the 1878 World Fair, which may have been the original incentive behind the production of the map. It does show Haussmann's Paris, with boulevards, Opera, etc.

  2. I believe this map was first issued in 1867 for the Exposition Universelle by Leconte, engraved by a Hilaire Guesnu. That is the earliest example we have been able to unearth, and differs markedly in printing style from all other editions, suggesting primacy. Afterwards the plates passed to Dufour and Garnier Freres, who updated and reissued them as chromolithographs. There appears to have been at least one edition published before the 1878 Exposition, but the next major example was issued for that event. Afterwards, an example, yours, was issued for the 1889 Exposition. Following the development of the Paris Metro in 1900, this plan was co-opted as Metro Map and subsequent editions can be dated via the evolution of the Metro system. Also around this time Garnier lost control of the plates, and the map began to be issued, with minor changes, by a host of publishers until about 1950.