Simanaitis Says

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“PARIS, THE capital of France, may justly be termed the centre of the whole pleasure seeking world…” And for the armchair traveller, there’s nothing better than a stack of Paris guidebooks with which to indulge this pleasure. All the better if they are old guidebooks.

If something was worth seeing in 1874, it’s likely worth seeing today.


The American Traveller’s Guide to Paris, Prepared for the Correspondents of Messrs. Monroe & Co., American Bankers, 7, Rue Scribe, Paris, Printer and Book-Seller J. Boyer and Co, 1874.

My opening quote is from this, one of the earlier guidebooks in my collection, and quite different from the others. It’s the same handy pocket-size, but devoid of maps; and unlike a Baedeker’s, there are plenty of ads. Everything from hotels and restaurants to boarding schools, hair dressers, hatters and watchmakers (including Breguet).


Why do you suppose Mistress Rey was aka Miss Devienne? And “hair brushed by machinery” certainly sounds formidable. Images from An American Traveller’s Guide to Paris.

The Hotel Meurice, opposite the Tuileries Gardens, is “best situated in Paris” and identified as “one of the best family hotels in Europe.” Established in 1815, the Meurice is still in business today at 228, Rue Rivoli.

The guide has no mention of the Eiffel Tower; this landmark came with the 1889 World’s Fair.


A Woman’s Paris, A Handbook of Every-Day Living in the French Capital, Small, Maynard & Company, 1900. This book is listed (in reprint) at

From its Preface, A Woman’s Paris writes to a special reader: “This lady wishes to do the agreeable things there are to do, and to avoid the disagreeable things there are not to do.”


Rue de la Paix, with Vendome Column in the background. Rue de Rivoli; Hotel Meurice is on the immediate left. Image from A Woman’s Paris.

On pensions and family hotels, A Woman’s Paris says “Bathing facilities do not exist, as we count them. But hot water is plenty, and one can learn how to bathe without a tub. The food is good, and there is enough of it; for French families are apt to consist of hearty epicures.”


Sojourning, Shopping & Studying in Paris, A Handbook Particularly for Women, by Elizabeth Otis Williams, Gay & Hancock, Ltd., 1908. Reprints are listed at; original editions and reprints, at

This 1908 handbook offers specific advice for those interested in the culinary arts. “Any person may learn the secret by going to the Cordon Bleu (129, rue du Faubourg St. Honoré) and taking single private lessons, or by joining a cours with other people.”

On other activities, Ms. Williams tells us “Amusements in Paris are usually judged by foreigners from the moral rather than from the entertaining point of view. And young Americans in Paris would do well to remember that their French sisters rarely, if ever, go to a place of public entertainment.”


Cook’s Handbook to Paris, by Roy Elston, Simpkin Marshall, Ltd., 1937. This handbook is listed at

Like other Cook’s, this one offers detailed itineraries, maps and plans for sight-seeing. Its ads are delights.


The Ragueneau has been there since 1608. The Margaret offers Americans a Coca-Cola fix. Images from Cook’s Handbook to Paris.

“A Home Away From Home” reads a Cook’s ad for the Hotel Metropole. What a depressing thought: to travel all the way to Paris and still be at home.


Versailles, 12 miles southwest of Paris.Now there’s a proper abode. Image from Cook’s Handbook to Paris.]

In 1937, Thos. Cook & Son was Authorized Agent for a good number of Paris hotels, including the California, the Pennsylvania and the Florida. And the Meurice.

One of the earlier guides, A Woman in Paris, warns against “men in search of Bohemian resorts,” and darned if one of my later guidebooks isn’t spot-on for them.


All About Paris Including Paris By Night, by George Mac, Peter Skelton, c. 1950. This book is listed at and

Both the Hotel Meurice (five star) and the Florida (one star) are cited. In addition, its Paris by Night portion separates this guide from others in my collection.

Where else to read about the Countess Virginia de Castaglione, “La Belle des Belles, the Beauty of Beauties” of the 19th century?

The Countess is reported to have received a million francs (perhaps $5.6 million in today’s cash) from a nobleman for a single night of amour. It’s said she was then asked for a receipt so he could brag to his friends.


The cancan, a lively high-kicking dance originating  in Paris around 1830. Image from All About Paris Including Paris by Night.

The Folies Bergère is the “most modern review theatre in Paris, and the best known.” The Casino de Paris is the “biggest and oldest revue theatre in Paris.” They’re both in operation to this day. Casino de Paris notables include Maurice Chevalier, Mistinguette and Josephine Baker (see

Good advice, in Paris and elsewhere: “Be suspicious of extra kindness and interest shown by people you have never seen before. Be especially careful of the ‘ladies’ smiling invitingly at you. It is only your money they’re after.”

My advice: Don’t ask for a receipt. Bad form, that. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014

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