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The Smoking Museum: for Les Fumeurs and Les Non-Fumeurs alike

Posted on February 15, 2012 by VINGT Editorial
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Words: Sara Waldron

At first glance, the Musée du Fumeur, a tiny museum near Père Lachaise, has a bit of a head shop feel – with cigarettes, lighters, and all manner of smoking contraptions for whatever your choice of poison on sale in the boutique.  But I was pleasantly surprised to find that it also boasts an interesting little collection, appealling to les fumeurs and les non-fumeurs alike.

After the passage of the Loi Évin in 1991, the French government curbed tobacco advertising and began progressively restricting smoking in public spaces. The changing societal views of smoking behind these policy changes is what inspired Tigrane Hadengue and Mishka Seeliger, long-time collectors of smoking paraphernalia and memorabilia, to share their collection with the public.

However, the subject of the Musée du Fumeur isn’t tobacco or smoking, but rather as its name suggests, the smoker.  Chronicling human beings’ evolving relationship with smoking, this museum explores traditional, ritual use of tobacco, and its adoption by the Western world as a recreational activity.  The collection includes ceremonial pipes, humidors, snuffboxes, and a beautiful collection of downright Sherlock Holmes-worthy wooden pipes.  The walls are covered with vintage posters, photographs, paintings on tobacco leaves and other works of art on the subject.

As you walk through the museum reading the information in each display case (all in French), you really do get a sense of the evolution of the various instruments used and the representation of le fumeur in popular culture.  The juxtaposition between smoking depicted as a fun diversion and a normal part of every day life, and today’s “Fumer tue” labels on cigarette packs is stark.  But the focus here isn’t limited to tobacco, and the collection also delves into the role of opium in Asia, and hashish and marijuana in South Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas.  There’s also a display case devoted to medicinal marijuana laws and cannabis clubs around the world.

A lot of famous faces appear here too.  On one of the walls is a small homage to Georges Sand whose notorious defiance of the social norms of her day included publically smoking tobacco at a time when such things were considered improper for “les honnêtes femmes.” What a far cry from the strength and sophistication associated with Marlene Dietrich’s chain-smoking ways; or the well-heeled Paul Henried lighting two cigarettes, one for himself and the other for the glamorous, newly-liberated modern woman, Bette Davis, in Now Voyager!

And speaking of famous people, if you do find yourself here, don’t miss the WC.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Described to me as “les toilettes les plus insolites de Paris” this tiny “cabinet des portraits” holds, in addition to a sink and a toilet, 180 photos of famous figures smoking, among them, Brigitte Bardot, Madonna, Che Guevara, Paul McCartney, Bob Marley, Audrey Hepburn, and Marilyn Monroe.

The museum also has pamphlets and leaflets on quitting smoking available in the boutique – although you can still buy a pack of clops to go along with it on the way out.  But, the appeal of the Musée du Fumeur isn’t its rather unclear stance on smoking, but that it successfully reflects on a cultural evolution which transformed traditions steeped in mysticism into both the mass-produced products and illicit drugs we have today.  And, that it does it without taking itself too terribly seriously.

The Smoking Museum
7 rue Pache, 11th
Hours: Every day 1230pm – 7pm
Metro: Voltaire (9)