The worn red cloth of the cover caught my eye immediately. I was strolling through the Puces de Vanves (a popular flea market) on a recent Sunday morning in Paris looking for old French postcards. As I passed by one of the vendors selling their wares along Avenue Marc Sangnier I saw the album sitting on a table full of plates, dishes, silverware and other household items, looking quite out of place. The red cover was embellished with flowers and leaves and the words “Cartes Postales Illustrèes,” hand drawn in a wonderful early 1900s French typeface, jumped out at me. The corners were torn and tattered and there were a few scuff marks and stains on the cloth surface of the album. It was thick, at least 6 or 7 inches, long and rectangular. I stopped and opened it, not sure exactly what I’d find.
* Click on any image or postcard for a larger version.
The last time I’d come to the Puces de Vanves a few months earlier I had struck out completely in my search for cartes postales anciennes (old postcards). I’d walked from one end of the market to the other in vain, there were no postcards to be seen anywhere. I’d found a few nice little books and brochures about Provence and the Côte d’Azur so the morning had still been quite rewarding. But I was disappointed to not find any postcards.
Today I’d really only just begun my quest and already it looked liked I had stumbled upon something special. Inside the album were hundreds and hundreds of old French postcards. All arranged meticulously, their corners inserted into small cuts in the thick paper pages of the album. With three cards to a page I knew immediately that there were a lot of cards. They were almost all devoted to Paris and while I don’t actively “collect” Paris postcards these looked extraordinary. They were old. Very old. Most of them appeared to be from before 1910. And they were in almost immaculate condition. Someone had taken very good care of this album that was almost certainly well over a hundred years old.
I leafed through the pages looking carefully at some of the cards, noting the postmarks and thinking about where this album had come from. It’s rare to find an album like this, certainly someone’s personal collection that they had devoted years of time and effort into putting together. Usually these kinds of old postcards are found loose in the wooden bins of dealers who have sorted them into different categories or departments and written prices in pencil on the back of each card. This was clearly something different and if I could get it for the right price, it was something I definitely wanted.
The Paris Flea Markets
You may have heard of the Paris Flea Market, it’s quite well known. The Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen is located just north of the city in the suburb of Saint-Ouen-sur-Seine. It draws tens of thousands of people every weekend looking for all kinds of things. I prefer its red headed step-sister, the Puces de Vanves located on the southern end of the city.
The Marché aux Puces is a huge conglomeration of small shops (over 2,500 in total) set up in small alleys (more than 17 kilometers!) across an area that spans around 15 acres. These are almost exclusively professional sellers who operate little stores selling everything from antique furniture to used record albums to custom jewelry to luxurious tableware to fine art and much, much more. While it’s true that you can find some good deals there it really isn’t what I think of as a “flea market.” It’s very formal, very businesslike. For all intents and purposes it really just a large antique market.
The Puces de Vanves couldn’t be more different. Every Saturday and Sunday people set up tables along the side of the road to create what is in essence a giant vide-grenier (garage sale). There are certainly a few professional dealers here and there, but everything is much more relaxed, much more easygoing. People are looking to sell things quickly, to make some money and go home. Prices are much better than at the Marché aux Puces and the vendors are much more willing to negotiate.
Making a Deal
While I was certainly intrigued with the album of Paris postcards I was only interested in it if I could get it for a really, really good price. I asked the seller what the cost was. “Quatre-vingts euros,” he told me. 80€. Now that is a really good price for the number of postcards it contained, but it was a bit more than I wanted to pay. “D’accord,” I told him, “j’y penserai.” (OK, I’ll think about it.) And off I went. No one is going to negotiate with you if you appear too interested in something. And while I would have loved to get those postcards I wouldn’t have been too disappointed if I didn’t.
I spent about two hours walking around the market and found several other dealers with the kind of old postcards I was looking for. I bought a few here and there for one or two euros apiece. As I made my way back to where I started I noticed the vendor with the Paris album was beginning to pack up his goods to leave. The album of postcards was still there. “Earlier you told me you wanted 80€ for this album of postcards,” I said. “Would you accept 40€?”
“Non,” he said, shaking his head and explaining that was just too low, that there were too many cards in the album. “OK,” I said, “merci.” I turned and started to walk away. You have to be willing to walk away if you want to get the best price. I had only taken a step or two when he called after me, “Cinquante euros.” 50€. Now we were in my ballpark. “Quarante-cinq (45),” I said back. “Non,” he said. 50€ was a low as he was willing to go. Again I said OK and turned to leave. This time he didn’t call after me. 50€ really was his lowest price. I walked for just a minute or two and then went back and accepted his offer of 50€.
It wasn’t until I got back to the apartment I was staying in and really took a good look at the cards in the book that I realized what an amazing deal I had just made. There were a total of 408 cards in the album meaning I paid just over 12¢ for each card. Most of the time you can expect to pay anywhere from 1€ to 25€ (or higher) for these kinds of cards.
I had also been correct in my initial assessment that these cards were old. About half the cards had never been mailed or written on (they were unused) but the other half all had stamps and postmarks on them. They had been sent through the French postal system. Most of the postmarks were dated 1910 or before. These are the most valuable cards and the hardest to find.
About the Album
This album clearly belonged to a family by the name of Pété or one individual member of that family. Family members Louis, Isabelle, Pauline, Charlotte, Paulette and Paul, as well as friends like Henri, Yvonne, Albertine, Germaine and Geneviève were all represented as either recipients or senders of the cards.
There were other family names as well to whom cards had been sent: Perrou, Wagner, Pellerud and Aressy. Why were these cards in the album? Were the various families related? I was intrigued and wanted to find out as much as I could about everyone involved.
Once I began noticing the large number of cards sent to specific individuals I became very interested in trying to learn more about this family. In fact, I fell into a hole. A very deep hole that has kept me occupied (some might say obsessed) for countless hours over the last month or so researching and cataloging all of the cards.
I asked a few questions on a Facebook group and one of the members turned me on to Geneanet, an online genealogy website. Loïc actually did a bit of initial research himself and told me that Pauline and Charlotte were sisters and that Henri was a childhood friend of theirs. He suggested I take a look at the website and when I did, the floodgates opened. Most of the biographical information in this article was gleaned from that website.
It’s likely that this album sat in someone’s home for decades, maybe even forgotten and hidden away in an attic or backroom. For it to have survived pretty much intact for well over 100 years is amazing. There were definitely some missing cards as the blank spots on some of the pages attested to. Someone may have cherry picked a few cards here and there. But the bulk of the collection was miraculously intact. How it ended up at the Puces de Vanves, still in such remarkable condition, is anyone’s guess. But it was mine now.
The Pété Family
The young couple was married on February 11, 1884 in the small village of Onzain. Located in the Loire Valley about 200 kilometers southwest of Paris, Onzain was a small, tranquil village situated alongside the longest river in France, the Loire River. It was part of the Loir-et-Cher department. Onzain no longer exists today, as in 2017 it merged with the neighboring village of Veuves to create the new commune of Veuzain-sur-Loire. Note the combination of veu from Veuves and zain from Onzain.
Louis-Moïse Pété, born and raised in Onzain, was 26 years old. His new bride, Louise-Françoise Boureau, originally from nearby Poitiers, was just 20. Two months later Louise gave birth to a son, Paul-Louis Pété.
The late 1800s and early 1900s comprise a period known as “La Belle Époque” in France. This period of 40 to 50 years marked a time when France was full of prosperity and optimism. Scientific and technological advances along with cultural innovations and a time of peace throughout most of Europe gave birth to what is often considered the “golden age” of French history. The arts flourished throughout the country and painters like Vincent van Gogh, Auguste Renoir, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and so many others thrived in the glorious exhilaration of the times.
In general, France was a very happy nation, a place where people enjoyed many of the latest technologies and comforts in life. While not all of these modern conveniences made their way from the large cities to the small country villages it’s safe to say that for the most part, life was good in rural France. Postcards had only recently been introduced to society and they were a huge hit. They reached their peak between 1900 and 1920. In 1900 alone 8 million postcards were published and sold to a population of only 38 million.
Louis and Louise were just beginning to build a life together with their young son Paul when, after just four short years, Louise died tragically on April 23, 1888 at the age of 24 leaving Louis and Paul alone.
Just a year later, on April 29, 1889 Louis would marry again, this time to Isabelle Bourasse, a young woman who was one year older than him. This ceremony also took place in Onzain. Born in the neighboring town of Veuves, Isabelle would shortly give birth to two girls, Pauline Léontine Pété in 1891 and Charlotte-Marie-Isabelle Pété in 1893. Our story here of postcards centers mostly around these two sisters who received the vast majority of the cards in this collection. Their ongoing relationship with a young man from Paris named Henri is the focus of much of the interaction.
For much of his life Louis worked as a carpenter. One of the postcards in the collection which is addressed to him includes “Maitre charpentier” (master carpenter) after his name (see above). Another says, “propriétaire aux Granges.”
There was once a castle in Onzain that dated back to 1183. It was completely demolished in 1826 and a new home was built where it once stood in 1850. This house, and the moat that completely encircles it, still stands and is currently serving as a small bed and breakfast. Just one block away lies a large set of old barns today known as “Les Granges du Château.” It’s quite likely that these old barns, or at least a portion of them, were where Monsieur Pété conducted his carpentry business from. Today they are used to host temporary exhibitions such a book fairs, pottery markets and art exhibits.
There are 11 postcards in the collection addressed to Monsieur and Madame Pété. The earliest is from 1904 and the latest from 1933. Most include Château des Granges, les Granges or aux Granges in the address though one includes “Cafetier” a reference to the café (Café de la Paix) the couple owned and another strangely includes “coiffeur,” meaning hairdresser. I’ve found no evidence anywhere that the couple was ever involved with a hairdresser company so this is a bit puzzling. Three of the cards are from Henri Renoux (much more about Henri soon!), one is from their daughter Charlotte, one from Isabelle’s cousin Emile Bourasse and three are from a woman named Laurence.
In an early card from 1904 sent by Henri to the Pétés, Henri wishes everyone well and tells them he is in good health and has been working since Wednesday with someone named Marcel, quite possibly a cousin of the Pété family who, along with his wife, Laure, sent cards to various members of the family.
Henri would have been just 14 at the time this card was sent yet he was already working. In the upper right corner of the card he writes, “mille baisers pour ma Pauline” (a thousand kisses for my Pauline). This is the only time that Henry refers to one of the sisters as “his.” At this point in time no street address was necessary, Henri simply addresses the card to Onzain (the town) and (Loir-et-Cher) (the department).
Isabelle died on December 2, 1937 in Onzain at the age of 81 and Louis followed her in death a little over three years later on February 9, 1941, also in Onzain, at the age of 83.
The Two Sisters
Being just two years apart and growing up in a small French village at the end of the 1800s, one is tempted to assume that Pauline and Charlotte were close, but of course we have no way of knowing for certain. There are over a dozen cards sent to the sisters together. Sometimes they are addressed to Pauline & Charlotte Pété and other times they are addressed to Mademoiselles (or Mesdemoiselles) Pété.
In 1903 Pauline was 12 and Charlotte was 10. A young 13 year old boy from Poitiers by the name of Henri Lucien Charles Renoux would spend his summer vacations at the home of his Aunt Ferandou in Onzain. Born on January 9, 1890 in Poitiers, Henri’s parents had both died when he was young and he lived for a time in a religious orphanage in Tours. He became close friends with both Pauline and Charlotte and over the next few years would send each of them dozens and dozens of postcards, almost all of them from Paris.
There are two cards, both from Henri, addressed simply to Mademoiselle Pété. One says, “Bonne santée” (Good health) and the other “Aimitié Sincère” (Sincere Friendship). So, there’s really no indication if the cards were intended for Pauline or Charlotte. One was sent from Paris in 1905 and the other from Montreuil (a Paris suburb) in 1906. Did Henri intend to be vague or was it clear by this point which sister was the intended recipient?
One very interesting card addressed simply to “Mademoiselles Pété, Onzain, Loire-et-Cher” looks to be sent by Paul. Most likely this is the half-brother of Pauline and Charlotte. It is one of only two cards in the collection sent during the First World War. I can find no record as to whether Paul Pété served in the war, but since almost all French men did it’s pretty much a given. As was normal at the time, there are two postmarks and the originating postmark from Germain-en-Laye – S. et O. is dated May 15, 1916. There is no postage stamp on the card, but there is a very interesting ink stamp indicating it was sent probably through the military mail system.
On January 26, 1906 Henri sent each of the two girls a postcard. The postcards are addressed to the girls in care of their parent’s home (chez ses parents). We’ll find this as part of the address on many, many more cards.
Mademoiselle Charlotte Pété
chez ses parents
Mademoiselle Pauline Pété
chez ses parents
Now Onzain was never a part of the Indre-et-Loire (note that Henri even spells it wrong, omitting the “e” at the end) department, it was always part of the Loir-et-Cher department. Henri made a mistake. However, Onzain lies only 7 kilometers from the border of Indre-et-Loire and clearly the cards made it to their intended recipients.
On the front of the card to Charlotte Henri writes: “Je t’enverrais ma rue une autre frais. Bonjour à tout le monde” (I will send you my street another time. Hello to everyone.”) To Pauline he writes: “Henri qui pense toujours à toi une toute petite rèponse. S.V.P.” (Henri, who thinks always of you a tiny response please.)
Then on February 6, 1906, just over a week later, Henri sent each of the two girls another postcard. This time they are addressed correctly to the department of Loir-et-Cher.
Henri’s comments on the front of the cards are simpler here. To Charlotte he says, “Bonne Santée” (Good Health) and to Pauline, “À Bientôt” (See you soon).
There are numerous other cases where Henri sent each of the two sisters a similar postcard on the same day. Never exactly alike, but similar. Here are two postcards sent to Pauline and Charlotte respectively on July 5, 1909. We’re at least six years into the relationships between the three. Why did Henri almost always send cards to both sisters? Was Henri courting both of the girls to some degree? Or was he in love with Pauline and just being very, very kind to her little sister Charlotte, not wanting her to feel left out?
The oldest daughter of Louis and Isabelle, Pauline, was born in the Café de la Paix (The Cafe of Peace) in Onzain. In addition to Louis’ work as a carpenter, the family ran this cafe for many years. Situated on what was then the Place d’Onzain in the village, this café would serve as both a business and a home for the Pété family for almost 30 years. Pauline would live here with her parents until 1922.
Between 1906 and 1910 there are 20 postcards sent from Henri to Pauline. Most are sent from Paris though a few other nearby places pop up from time to time such as Montreuil and St. Cloud, both suburbs of Paris.
Most of the time Henri’s messages are short and sweet. “Henri qui pense à toi” (Henri who thinks of you) “Bonne santée” (Good Health), “Amitiés sincères” (Sincere friendships) or “À bientôt” (See you soon).” One interesting card from February 26, 1906 says, “Cordiale poignée de mains” (A cordial handshake), which seems quite formal and a little out of place compared to all the rest of the cards.
Often times Henri includes a new address for himself on his postcards, indicating that he moved around a bit in those years. In 1910 Henri was working as a waiter in Paris and living at 9 rue Joseph Dijon. He also sometimes writes “Réponse” or “Réponse SVP” at the end of his message, meaning that he is hoping for a reply.
Almost all of the cards from Henri to Pauline are of Paris. One is of the Pavillon Blue in Saint-Cloud (another suburb of Paris) and on it Henry writes, “Je me promène à Saint-Cloud.” (I’m walking around St. Cloud.) Sometimes the address include the phrase “chez ses parents” (her parent’s house) and sometimes they include the Café de la Paix.
A few other friends (or maybe relatives?) show up from time to time including Albertine, Geneviève, Laure B, Germaine and Jacqueline. There’s no way to know for absolute certain, but it seems that many of these friends know each other. One card is from Geneviève and another is from Geneviève and Germaine. Another card is from Germaine and Jacqueline. So it seems this group of young girls are all friends.
The postcards in this collection show no correspondence between Henri and either Pauline or Charlotte after 1911. The last correspondence from Henri to Pauline is dated June 22, 1911. The last to Charolette is dated sometime in 1910. We know that Henri served for just over two years in the French army during World War I. He served in Verdun where he suffered from exposure to gas. He also sustained a wound to his left arm at Oulchy-le-Château on July 28, 1918 and was sent home from the battlefield.
Sometime after the war Henri and Pauline reconnected. On April 29, 1922, almost 20 years after they first met, they were married in Onzain. They lived at 16 rue Lepic in Paris where Henri worked in a bar or café. In 1930 they moved to 79 rue des Poissonniers in the 18th arrondissement where they lived for almost 20 years. Here it appears Henri and Pauline owned and operated a small café/bar/tabac.
Their only child, a daughter named Paulette-Isabelle Renoux was probably born sometime in the 1920s though a record of her birth can’t be found.
Paulette married a man named Pierre Louis Wagner. We don’t know when and where. They had two children: Pierre Henri Wagner and Régine Suzanne Wagner. I have been unable to find any information on the two children as well. There’s no information about when Paulette died, what she did or where she lived.
I have only one card addressed to Paulette Renoux. Unfortunately, there is no stamp or date on the card so it is impossible to know when it was sent. It’s likely that it was either hand delivered or mailed inside of an envelope. The card is of the Boulevard des Italiens in Paris and was sent to Paulette in Onzain. The handwriting on the card seems different from any of the other cards but it also looks like the word Henri has been written over some other text in the top left corner. So, maybe this card was sent by Paulette’s father, Henri?
It says, “We have just received your letter. Very happy thinking that in four days we will see each other. Hey Charlotte, I don’t know if you remember, I forgot at home, a duffel bag, in white canvas, I gave it to you to put the dirty laundry in, it’s heavy canvas. It would be very useful for me to put my things, try my Lolotte to find it over there. I kiss you all.“
Why is Charlotte addressed in this card to Paulette? Perhaps Paulette and her husband Pierre Henri were staying or vacationing in Onzain with Charlotte. I believe the name “Lolotte” is a nickname for Charlotte.
Interestingly enough both the two cards in the collection which are addressed to Monsieur et Madame Renoux (Pauline and Henri) are sent in care of Pauline’s father at the Granges in Onzain. From the messages on the cards it appears that the family was vacationing in Onzain. Each of the cards mentions “little Paulette” and hopes that they are having a nice trip. Both cards were sent by someone named Yvonne, most likely a friend of the couple from Paris (where both cards were sent from). Both postmarks are illegible so it’s hard to know when these cards were sent. One uses a 10¢ stamp and the other a 30¢ stamp which seems to indicate they were sent some years apart.
After Henri died on July 6, 1947 at his home in Paris at the relatively young age of 57 Pauline sold the business they owned and moved in with her daughter and son-in-law Pierre Louis Wagner at 12 rue du Poteau. Later they would move to 61 rue Lamarck. Over the years Pauline also worked as a seamstress from time to time.
Pauline returned to Onzain in 1956, living with her sister Charlotte at 42 rue des Rapins until her death at the age of 77 on August 8, 1968 in Blois following complications from an operation to remove a bowel obstruction. She’s buried in the Onzain cemetery.
Pauline’s younger sister Charlotte was also born in the Café de la Paix exactly two years after Pauline in 1893. The girls shared the same birthday, January 28th. Charlotte was born without an uvula, the small fleshy ball that hangs at the back of your throat and helps to prevent food and liquid from going up your nose whenever you swallow. It also secretes saliva to keep your mouth hydrated. Without an uvula Charlotte’s voice featured a distinctive nasal quality.
When Charlotte was 18 years old she developed a microbial pelvic abscess. Because of this she suffered from anemia and suppuration (pus discharges). Today such an abscess could be healed quickly and easily with penicillin, but in the early 1900s penicillin had not yet been discovered. Several times Charlotte was sent to the Institute Calo St. Francis de Sales in Berck-Plage (located in northern France in the Pas-de-Calais department) where she received treatment for months at a time. We have five postcards sent to Charlotte when she stayed in Berck-Plage. Only one card is addressed to Charlotte in care of the institute, the others use the address Villa Chèrèse, 41 Rue de la Plage, perhaps a home where Charlotte stayed. One of the cards is from her half-brother Paul, one is from Paul and his wife Laurentine, one is from Henri, Pauline, Paul and Laurentine, one is from Adrienne Sénéfour and the last sender is unknown.
For most of her early life Charlotte lived and worked with her parents at their café, the Café de la Paix. She also did seamstress work from home. She never married.
The relationship between Henri and the two sisters is quite intriguing. Who exactly was Henri courting in these early years when they were all young teenagers? Based on the cards in this collection he sent almost the same amount to each girl. Was he in love with them both? Was he hedging his bets? Was he in love with only one of them but not wanting the other to feel ignored and left out? He often wrote the same “romantic” things to both such as “Henri who thinks of you.”
Between 1906 and 1911 there are 19 postcards sent from Henri to Charlotte. As with Pauline, most are sent from Paris though a few other nearby places pop up from time to time such as Versailles, St. Cloud and Franconville.
Interestingly enough he often asked Pauline for a response while he seldom did with Charlotte. And we know that he would eventually marry Pauline. So, was he just being incredibly kind to Charlotte all this time? It’s also a bit strange that Henri would write longer messages to Charlotte than he did to Pauline on a rather consistent basis.
Here’s the full message from this postcard from July 27 from Henri to Charlotte:
I don’t have much to tell you, my health is still very good. I’m sending you cards of Vincennes. It’s 200m from where I work. It’s 12:10 a.m. when I write these few words to you, Henri who always thinks of you. Answer
Henri sends his new address, this time in Levallois-Perret, a suburb of Paris. He also references “Hélène.” Might this be the Hélène who sent many cards to Pierre Wagner? (see further on) Here’s the full translation for the card sent on February 23:
My little Lolotte,
Two words only Marie will come to Paris on March 19 for a month. Besides, she must have written to you, she no longer lives thinking that she is going to come to see you. Send me cards, I’ll send you some. Hello to Cecile and Hélène. Kiss them for me.
I can’t see anything anymore in the Seine.
Henry kissing you
5 rue Greffulhe Levallois-Perret
After the café closed in 1922 Charlotte and her parents moved to 42 rue des Rapins in Onzain.
In her later years, between 1975 and 1985 Charlotte lived in the Saint-Augustin retirement home at 18 rue Gustave Marc in Onzain. She spent nine months in the Blois Medical Center in 1986. She died on February 19, 1987 in Blois at the age of 94.
Paul-Louis Pété was born on April 28, 1884 in Onzain, the child of Louis Pété and his first wife, Louise-Françoise Boureau. His mother died when he was only four years old and his father married Isabelle Bourasse shortly thereafter. Paul was married to Laurentine Gaudineau and had one daughter with her, Jeanne-Paulette Pété. I’ve been unable to find any further information on either his wife or his daughter.
We have two postcards sent to Paul and several cards sent from Paul to one or both of his sisters. One of the two cards sent to Paul was sent in 1907 and the other in 1910. Both are addressed to Paul in Onzain which is a bit odd because it seems likely that Paul was living in Paris at this point. Perhaps they were sent to him while he was on vacation or with the hopes that someone in the family would forward them to him in Paris.
One of the cards is signed “Marcel Laure.” It begins, “Cher Cousin,” and part of the message reads, “Marcel joins me in sending you our best.” Another card sent to Pauline and Charlotte was signed “Marcel et Laure,” so I think we can assume that Marcel and Laure are cousins of the Pété family and Laure wrote this particular card.
Another card to Charlotte from 1910 is from “Laure B” while another card to Paulette from the same year is from “Laure.” Almost certainly the same person. There are several other cards signed “Laurentine” (probably Paul’s wife) and a few signed “Laurence” which could also be the same person as this Laure. In a card to Monsieur et Madame Pété from 1904 Henri says he has begun working with someone named Marcel. Could it be the same Marcel? Was Henri working in Paris with a cousin of the Pété family?
One card to the two girls also mentions Henri, indicating that Paul and Henri must have known each other in Paris. Paul was six years older than Henri. He would have been around 20 years old when Henri, Pauline and Charlotte were all getting to know each other as young teenagers. Maybe Paul was still living in Onzain at the time or maybe Paul and Henri became acquainted in Paris after they had each moved there.
The entire message says,
Paris, 6 p.m.
Dear little sisters,
Here I am in Paris. The trip was good. I take the 7:20 train. Kiss Papa and Mama well for me and console yourself. I embrace you wholeheartedly. Your brother
The Wagner Family
In addition to the 105 cards sent to various members of the Pété family this collection includes 26 cards sent to someone in the Wagner Family. Most are to Pierre Wagner or Monsieur Wagner but one is to Monsieur et Madame Pierre Wagner and two are to Michel Wagner. So what’s the connection? Why are these cards included in the Pété family album? Were the Wagners somehow related to the Pétés? Maybe there were simply family friends who donated their postcards to the collection?
A little detective work has revealed the following: Paulette-Isabelle Renoux, the daughter of Pauline Pété and Henri Renoux was married to a man named Pierre Louis Wagner. Information on these two is harder to come by. I can find no birthdate for either or a date for their wedding. Let’s assume that Paulette was born sometime after her parents were married in 1922. That would put her at an age to be married sometime in the late 1930s.
I do know this: Pierre Louis Wagner’s father was named Pierre Bernard Wagner (born in 1897) and he was married to Marcelle Louis Marguerite Senet. Pierre Bernard Wagner’s father was also named Pierre. So, we have three generations of Pierre Wagner:
Pierre Wagner (born April 19, 1848)
Pierre Bernard Wagner (born September 9, 1897) – married to Marcelle Louise Marguerite Senet – Paulette-Isabelle Renoux’s father-in-law and mother-in-law
Pierre Louis Wagner (date of birth unknown) – Paulette-Isabelle Renoux’s husband
Since there are three generations (at least) of Pierre Wagner’s it’s hard to know which Pierre each of these cards were sent to.
There are 13 cards sent to Pierre Wagner at the same address in Paris: 53 rue Saint-Denis. These cards were all sent around 1904. For now I am going to assume that 10 of these cards were sent to the elder Pierre Wagner. On two of them the message begins with “Papa” and the handwriting is clearly that of a child, indicating they came from the son, Pierre Bernard Wagner who would have been around seven at the time.
On two of the cards the name is spelled Pierrot. I believe this is a “nickname” for a young Pierre, so I think these two cards were sent to the young Pierre Bernard Wagner. On another the word “fils” is added after his name, implying that he is the son of another man named Pierre, in essence a “Jr.”, so I think this card was also sent to Pierre Bernard Wagner. The cards sent to the younger Pierre are from Germaine, Hélène and Marcelle (he would later marry a woman named Marcelle – but it seems unlikely this would be her). In one of the cards from Henri to Charlotte (see earlier) he tells her to say hello to Hélène, perhaps this is the same person?
There are two cards sent to a different address: 4 Avenue de Versailles, Châtenay, located just south of Paris. One was sent by Marcelle (wife of Pierre Wagner?) and the other by Hélène. The message on one says, “Bonjour Peirrot – Marcelle” indicating it was sent to little Pierre Bernard Wagner.
There are four cards sent to Monsieur Pierre Wagner and one to Monsieur Pierrot Wagner at 41 Route Versaille in Châteny between 1905 and 1911. At least two are from Hélène, the rest are hard to read.
The single card sent to Monsieur et Madame Pierre Wagner is addressed to them in Paris and was sent much later, in 1932. This is too early to be sent to Paulette-Isabelle and her husband Pierre Louis as Paulette-Isabelle would have only been around 10 years old at the most, so I’m going to assume it was sent to Pierre Bernard and his wife Marcelle.
There are three cards sent to Monsieur Pierre Wagner at much later dates: 1932, 1934 and 1935, all sent to the same address in Paris. They were all sent by the same person, but the name is illegible. I’m going to assume they were sent to Pierre Bernard Wagner who would have been in his thirties at this time.
The two cards sent to Michel Wagner are addressed to him in the town of Châtenay, located just south of Paris. They are both from Hélène. One was sent in 1909 from Sarcelles and the other has no postmark. Pierre Bernard Wagner had a brother name Michel Wagner, so I’m going to assume that these cards were sent to him.
Bottom line? I think most of the cards were sent to Paulette-Isabelle Renoux’s grand-father-in-law (Pierre Wagner) and father-in-law (Pierre Bernard Wagner). None of them appear to be sent to her husband, Pierre Louis Wagner. But, I’m making some assumptions here, I can’t be positive about most of this, though it does make sense. And who are Marcelle, Hélène and Germaine? Family friends?
The Other Families
So just who are the other families represented in this album: Perrou, Pellerud and Aressy? I don’t know. I haven’t been able to find any connection between these families to either the Pété family or the Wagner family. It’s possible that they are related in some way and I just haven’t been able to find out how. It’s also quite possible, maybe even likely, that they were just family friends who donated some postcards to whomever was collecting them in this album.
La Pièce de Résistance
Normal old French postcards are about 14cm wide and 9cm tall (about 3.5″ by 5.5″). This size is quite standard and hasn’t really changed that much over the years. All the cards in this collection conform to that standard but one.
Affixed to the inside cover of the album which contained these cards, with small little corner holders so as not to damage the card, is a beautiful, quite unusual, oversized card. It measures 14cm by 18cm which means it’s exactly twice as big as a standard postcard. It’s a beautiful photograph of the Louvre with lots of people, horses and carriages in front of it.
I’ve never seen another postcard like this before. It’s in excellent condition with just a few little wrinkles and tears here and there. It was never used, there’s no stamp or address or message on either side of the card. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this particular card is worth as much as I paid for the entire collection!
These postcards tell quite a story. How much of it is 100% accurate I can’t say for sure. I’m basing everything here on records I have found on the Geneanet website. I’ve made a few educated guesses here and there and a few assumptions as well. Still, it seems likely that most of this is pretty accurate.
As I said earlier, I got quite carried away with these cards and I hope the time and research I’ve put into them is something that you have found interesting. If by any chance someone reads this who has more information about any of the families involved I would love to hear from you.
For now I’ll be taking a break from Pauline, Charlotte, Henri and the rest. If I ever have the chance I’m planning to stop in Onzain and see what else I can find out there. It will be fun just walking the streets of the village and thinking about these people who used to live there.
About the Cards
I tend to get a bit carried away when I’m doing this kind of research and here’s a little proof of that. I’ve broken down the cards into some statistics. Note that these apply only to the Pété and Wagner family cards.
Monsieur Pété: 3 divided back cards from 1905 and 1906. Two are from his wife’s cousin Emile Bourasse and one is from Charles Caraty.
Monsieur et Madame Pété: 1 undivided back card and 10 divided back cards sent between 1904 and 1933.
Monsieur et Madame Renoux: 2 divided back cards, dates unknown. Both sent by Yvonne.
Paulette Renoux: 1 divided back card, date and sender unknown.
Paul Pété: 2 divided back cards, sent between 1907 and 1920 from unknown senders.
Pauline & Charlotte Pété: 1 undivided back card and 11 divided back cards.
Pierre Wagner: 8 undivided backed cards and 13 divided back cards, sent between 1904 and 1935, from Hélène, Germaine, Marcelle and others.
Monsieur et Madame Pierre Wagner: 1 divided back card, sent in 1932 from an unknown sender.
Pierrot Wagner: 2 undivided back cards, one sent in 1909 the other undated, both sent from Hélène.
Michel Wagner: 2 divided back cards, both sent in 1904, one from Marcelle and one from Hélène.
Other Families: Arresy: 22, Perroud: 17, Pellerud: 1, various others: 4, uknown: 13
Pété family cards:
Albertine Michau: 7
Paul Pété: 5
Germaine Decouard: 3
Emile Bourasse: 3
Pauline, Henri, Laurentine, Laurentine: 1
Decouard Mazel: 1
Germaine / Jacqueline: 1
Geneviève / Germaine: 1
Marcel et Laure: 1
Marie Habert Albertiné: 1
Paul et Laurentine: 1
Adrienne Sénéfour: 1
Laure B: 1
Wagner family cards:
Pierre Wagner: 3
Pété family cards:
Le Tour de Marne: 8
Parc de Verrières-le-Buisson: 2
Iroquois Indians: 1
Wagner family cards:
Pété family cards:
5¢ – 69
10¢ – 21
15¢ – 6
20¢ – 2
5¢ x 2 – 1
25¢ – 1
30¢ – 1
50¢ – 1
none – 3
Wagner family cards:
5¢ – 15
10¢ – 6
40¢ – 2
50¢ – 2
none – 1
A Short History of Postcards
The first postcard to be sent through the mail service was in Austria. It was sent on October 1, 1869. It had a message on one side and an address on the other, but no photo or picture. Sending messages via telegraph was very common at this time, but this new method of sending a message through the mail service was much cheaper, though obviously slower as well. If time was not a consideration this was a much more economical option.
During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and 1871 the Red Cross provided simple illustrated postcards (without stamps) to wounded soldiers so that they could let their family know they were OK.
In the following years various countries began to accept these new “postcards” in their postal system. Switzerland and the UK began allowing them in 1870. France and Russia in 1872. In France, these new postcards were printed exclusively by the post office. They were sold in post offices and at tabacs and could be sent to someone in the same town for one price and other towns for another.
A year later, in 1873, the US, Japan and Romania came on board. Germany followed in 1874. In 1875, following the first meeting of the General Postal Union in Berne, Switzerland, it became possible to mail postcards internationally.
For many years these postcards were quite simple: a message on one side and an address on the other. The first French illustrated postcards appeared in 1889 to celebrate the Universal Exhibition. In the early 1890s photographs, drawings and other types of images began to emerge on one side of the card. On these early “picture postcards” the photograph only took up a small portion of the front of the card, leaving room for senders to write a message next to it. The reverse side was used exclusively for the address. These cards are sometimes said to have an “undivided back.” This meant that any message had to be written over (or beside) the photograph or image on the front of the card.
From about 1900 to 1903 the images on the front of the card began to take up more space until they were finally being used for the entire front sometime around 1904. For this reason you’ll sometimes find a card with words scribbled all over the front, placed in every little nook or cranny where it was possible to write. Interestingly however, stamps were permitted to be placed on either side though in my experience it is much more common to find them on the front for some reason, covering up part of the photograph or image.
“Divided back” postcards also began to emerge in the early 1900s. This now permitted a message to be written next to the address on one side, preserving the photograph or image on the front. Divided back cards were introduced in the UK in 1902. On May 1, 1904 France permitted the writing of messages on same side of the card as the address. This move from “undivided backs” to “divided backs” can be very helpful in dating old French postcards. For the most part, those with undivided backs were probably sent sometime before 1910 when the divided backs became the norm.
After World War I postcards faced stiff competition as cameras became more widespread and as magazines and newspapers began to publish more and more photographs. The explosive use of automobiles also gave people the ability to travel and visit new places. They were no longer as dependent on postcards from friends and relatives to show them the world. They saw another rise in use during the 1960s and 1970s when it became much easier and cheaper to manufacture high quality full-color cards in large amounts.
Postcard Postage and Postmarks
The vast majority of the postcards in this collection use stamps in the amount of 5¢. Some use 10¢, 15¢ or 20¢. There is one card, from 1933 where the stamp cost 50¢. This difference in price can help to narrow down the time when a card was sent if the postmark is not legible, providing of course that the sender used the proper postage at the time.
Most French postcards from the very early 1900s have two postmarks. One directly on the stamp indicating the date, time and place from which the card was mailed. Another, usually somewhere on the back of the card is stamped at the post office that received the card. It also usually contains the date, time and place where the card was received. If both postmarks are legible (which is a big if) you can tell where and when the card was mailed and where and when it was received.
It seems that this process ended, at least in France, sometime around World War I after which a postmark was only placed by the post office from which the postcard was sent. Another was no longer added by the post office receiving the card.
Very big thank yous to my friends who helped me with some of the translations: Janice Wang, Françoise Castanie-Doran and Virginia Hedstrom Ferlet. Also much thanks to Loïc Nicolas who did some of the initial research on these families and turned me on to Geneanet.