What’s your favourite niche museum in Paris? Are you a literature buff like Emiglia of Tomato Kumato, in love with writers’ home museums, like the Maison de Victor Hugo or the Maison de Balzac? Are you like Tricia of Patricia Parisienne, an opera singer whose passions are on display at places like the Musée de la Musique?
More than just bragging about how cultured my beloved entourage is, this post is homage to the most wonderfully-specialised and obscure of Parisian museums. Of course, the city is home to huge, world-class and renowned art and history institutions, from the Musée d’Orsay to the Muséum National de l’Histoire Naturelle to the Louvre. But the specificity of some of Paris’ tiny museums is remarkable.
There is a Musée de l’Eventail devoted only to fans, a Musée du Parfum and a Musée du Fumeur. There is a Musée des Arts Forains only about carnivals, a Musée des Automates, a Musée de la Contrefaçon and a Musée de la Poupée. But one of the least-known niche museums is the Musée du Compagnonnage, or Museum of French Trade Guilds.
We tend to forgot how much guilds, trade memberships and small groups of artisans used to shape and foster industry before globalisation and the booms of the industrial age. But if you were a maker, a designer or a merchant in France before industrialisation, guilds were everything. Careers, innovation, training and distribution revolved around these local networks, and makers were protected by their trade communities in times of suffering, before insurance was a viable option.
This little museum is free to enter and located in a charming corner of the 6th arrondissement, a couple of minutes’ walk from Mabillon metro and opposite the Marché Saint-Germain. Paris is made all the richer by its niche museums, and the Musée du Compagnonnage is a key example of one.