“Stand back, we’ll open it out on the floor.”
As a huge fan of Paris, old Paris, ancient Paris, you can imagine my excitement as a rare and enormous map of the city was being unfurled before me. It was a revolutionary 1734 map of Paris known as “Turgot’s monumental plan of Paris”, commissioned by former mayor Michel-Etienne Turgot and made by cartographer Louis Bretez.
For the first time, Paris was displayed in perspective, meaning all the buildings looked three dimensional. Notre Dame stood proud, you can see the details in the bridge arches, Paris looked stunning.
I was inside the Librairie Loeb Larocque antique map and book shop, as part of our 24-hour exploration of the 13th arrondissement, and I was transfixed.
The owners of the shop, Pierre Joppen and Béatrice Loeb, stood at either end of the map, holding its heavy weight in their arms. And I was taking pictures and videos, which you can see below.
Right before this moment, I interviewed Pierre about his shop. Here’s an abridged transcript of our conversation from The Earful Tower podcast. Practical information about how to visit the shop is at the end of the page.
Q&A with the owner of the Paris map shop
What is about maps for you, that made you want to essentially devote your life to them?
Well there are a lot of things, for me personally, I was originally a graphic designer. So, what I really like is the aesthetics of the maps from the 16th till the 18th century as these early maps had a lot of artistic points of view. You can imagine the maps of Africa, Australia – they were empty on the inside, so the publishers had the artist, at the time, to fill up the empty spaces with a lot of decorations and a lot of cartouches.
I also like to travel and you can really travel on the maps. I mean, you can look at the place names, you can see the development of areas over certain periods of time. That’s what collectors often find in maps, they like to collect maps of all parts of the world.
Recently, we have discovered, like a lot of people, the pictorial maps, and these are the maps that have been made in the last 100 years. Often they can be political, I’ll show you an example of the invasion of the Russians
The one you’re talking about – the invasion by Russia, I glimpsed it before, that’s where Russia is a big octopus.
Yes, Russia is shown as the octopus…
With its tentacles surrounding the nearby countries.
Yeah, well with the pictorial maps you will see little illustrations of people and animals on maps, on the older maps were just filled with place names.
Is there a piece here and I suspect the big one over your shoulder, that you’re most excited about?
Yes, it’s the biggest one we have inhouse and surely one of the most exciting maps of Paris. It’s the most famous map made from Paris in the 18th century. I’m happy to show you the map, basically what I would like to show you is how this map by Turgot, has all the buildings in perspective and that was really something amazing and I think never surpassed by other map makers.
It looks enormous, it’s rolled up, it’s got ornate wooden, there’s a lot going on seeing it just wrapped up. How big is it?
The size is 3×4 meters in total. It’s actually what we call a wall map and typically more maps existed all over the centuries, not only maps in books but they had them on the wall and then they were pasted on canvas and with wooden rollers so that you could hang them on the wall.
Besides it being large and having this different perspective, is it also a really unique piece? Are there many of them? Is it one of a kind?
It’s very special in the way it was made but actually the town of Paris used it as a gift, an official gift to kings, to important visitors, to show a picture of Paris. So, it’s not very rare because Paris was a big city and obviously a lot of important travellers came to Paris and they went home with a nice gift. They weren’t sent home with a map like this, you would usually be given a map within a book, very nice binding with the coat of arms with the town of Paris in gold and that would easily fit in a suitcase.
This one is an example of when it is all in one big piece.
Yes, this is one big piece so somebody could hang it on their wall.
Right – if they live in a big place!
Yes, well, that’s one of the problems we have nowadays as people are living in smaller and smaller apartments, so the market for wall maps is becoming smaller and smaller.
May I ask what you’re selling it for?
This one is €15,000.
So in other words when you unroll it to show me, I’ll stand back and not touch...
And so ended the chat. Of course, I stayed a lot longer and took more pictures, learning the history of map making and this lovely shop. A true gem of the 13th arrondissement.
More details from Turgot’s map
A few more photos from the map shop
Finding Library Loeb Larocque
This isn’t a typical Paris street-facade shop, you need an entry code and then you need to take the stairs or elevator.
The Earful Tower podcast episode
You can listen to my interview with Pierre in the podcast episode on the 13th arrondissement, the interviews kicks off at the 22:00 minute mark. Stick around to the end of the episode where my wife, Lina, and I share our findings from the 13th arrondissement and give the district a score out of 100.
Video guide to the 13th arrondissement
And that’s it! A big thanks to Charlotte Pleasants for the additional reporting and to the Patreon members who make all this possible. Join them here.
You can find all our tips for the 13th district’s best restaurants, cafes, and attractions here. Otherwise see you next week for our trip to the 12th arrondissement.
Want more? You can support our work by buying one of our children’s books, or our PDF guide, below. Merci!