151-Year-Old Bread: An Iconic Souvenir from the Siege of Paris

This sketch, made in January, 1871, by Jules Ferat, shows a line in front of a boulangerie on the rue Saint-Martin. As you can see, the masses of people in line waited sometimes literally huddled down against the cold and rain, sleet, and snow. (image source)
An example of a typical Siege of Paris souvenir shadowbox. The bread is the brown thing towards the bottom. (image source)
A variation on the typical format — but the bread is still included. (image source)
A souvenir shadowbox with the bread missing. (image source)
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The paper mounting in this example reads: 1870 SOUVENIR 1871/Authentic bread from the Siege of Paris/Ration: 300 grams per day/Composition: rice, bran, oats, and straw. (image source)
The term “brioche dynastique” used in this example confused me at first. I was pretty sure the term “brioche” was being used sarcastically, since for one thing, no one to my knowledge was able to make brioche during the Siege. But the “dynastique” (dynastic) still didn’t make sense. I talked to my French husband and after a bit of thought, he said that it probably sarcastically refers to the fall of Napoleon’s dynasty. When he said that, it all became very clear: the image of the two heads wearing Prussian helmets seem to be portraits of Napoleon III, who capitulated at the Battle of Sedan on September 2, 1870. His action, and the fact that the zealously patriotic French weren’t informed of it right away, led to an immense feeling of hatred for the fallen emperor, his wife, and son. For some, notably the disenfranchised members of the working and lower classes, that hatred was already there. Now, it just got bigger. The Emperor was deposed in absentia and two days later, on September 4, a new form of government was proclaimed: the Third Republic. Meanwhile, it was easy to find caricatures and even pornographic cartoons featuring Napoleon III and his family, on the streets of Paris. Add to this the way France held strong, despite being offered armistice by the Prussians around this time, and the hatred and sarcasm of this particular bread souvenir are almost palpable. My favorite touch: the phrase Friandise du Siege (a Sweet Treat from the Siege). (image source)
This English-language example shows that the fascination with the Siege of Paris went beyond French borders. Many British and American expats and diplomats were in Paris during this time — and many wrote books about it. A number of them were very helpful in my research for Hearts at Dawn. They’re listed on the Resources page of my website. (image source)
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is a writer & worrier. She recently published her first novel, “Hearts at Dawn”, a Beauty & the Beast retelling set during the 1870 Siege of Paris.

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Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg

is a writer & worrier. She recently published her first novel, “Hearts at Dawn”, a Beauty & the Beast retelling set during the 1870 Siege of Paris.

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