Le musée Aux Anciens Commerces, Doué-la-Fontaine

Stepping back in time… is exactly what it felt like the other day when the cousins came over for their annual visit and on one of probably the hottest days in July, we visited the museum in Doué-la-Fontaine which is dedicated to the theme of the French shopping experience of yesteryear.  Mainly focusing on the early to mid part of the 20th century it is crammed with memorabilia and objet d’intérêt from this period.

I suppose because we run a small boutique selling old artifacts and brocante I found it of especial interest.   Some of the mannequin heads on display reminded me of old friends!

If you are interested in hats you will find a milliner..We had great fun trying on lots of different hats from different periods.

Here Tony and cousin Mollie try out some of the latest trends tres debonair..

Dolls and Toys from times past…

There is also a replica Tabac containing all things smoking related including a fabulous array of old pipes.   Plus an assortment of other shops including an attic of dreams (though the latter might fill your head with nightmares) the museum offers a great deal to those interested in social history and the local economy.


The visitor gets the sense of an esplanade here with its sweep of shops galore

At one point I was talking to the cousins about a book I am reading about the French Resistance during WW II, and how particularly at the beginning of the occupation many in particular women tried hard to keep up an appearance of fashionability with their chic attire.  An aspect that was compromised somewhat as the occupation progressed, unless that was they were to collaborate with the occupiers or obtain items on the black market.  This led me to mention Maurice Chevalier and how history has judged him rather unfairly it would seem…or at least there is still some confusion as to what extent he collaborated during the occupation.     It is true that he performed for the Germans but also in prisoner of war camps in Germany where oddly enough he performed but also some communication with French prisoners. It is equally true that he worked to gain the release of such prisoners in exchange for his performances.

Edith Piaf is also sometimes tarnished with a similar brush of collaborateur but she is usually seen in a more sympathetic light.   Like Chevalier, and indeed with him she did perform in Germany during the time of the occupation, but she also insisted on having her photograph taken with french prisoners and it is now believed on good authority* that at least 150 of such images of prisoners of war were then used to produce fake passports and documents enabling them to escape.  I am not sure how any of us can really know how we would behave during an occupation.  It seems to bring out the best and most courageous behaviour in some people, and the worst in others.    The early 1940s were complicated times and none of us can really hand on heart say what we would or would not have done to survive and save our family from such unimaginable brutality.  Anyway just as we turned a corner in the Museum there was an old black and white photograph of Maurice Chevalier wearing his ubiquitous straw boater.  “Goodness, are you psychic?” asked Mollie.. Coincidence more like as I suppose so many of the magasins reminded me of the 1940s.

A still from the 1956 film, Love in the Afternoon in which he plays the role of private detective, complete with the bowler-type hat he is wearing here. Chevalier, with the aid of Audrey Hepburn who plays his daughter in the film, is shown breaking with the past by putting foot and hand into a stock of straw hats he has collected through the years.

Recently at a Vide Grenier, I bought a la mode de Chevalier a stylish straw hat which is currently on display at Chez Teresa.

A fashionable stylist plies his trade and skills on the streets of Paris

Once on this site in Doué-la-Fontaine there was a beautiful chateau with Lord and Ladies in situ.  All that remains today is one large crumbling, moss laden wall and  the stable block where the museum is now housed.  The last occupant was Joseph-François Foullon de Doué, or Foulon de Doué.  He was a French politician and a Controller-General of Finances under Louis XVI.  He was murdered by the mob in Paris during the first French Revolution of 1789.  It was a particular gruesome murder by all accounts so I will remain silent on the specifics except to mention that in a bid to save his own life he staged his own death and even staged a mock funeral.  He was however betrayed and paid the terrible consequences of being a much despised aristocrat with an exceptionally brutal end..    Incidentally another fairly spooky thing is that I have just written this article and today is the 22 July and so it is the anniversary of his death…

A tragic end during tragic times…well yes I know that the revolution has come to symbolise the birth of a democratic republic, but considering the first revolution was followed by Napoleon, then then the return of the Bourbons followed by more Napoleons; it was actually a long road to the Republic.

As we sat in the sunshine enjoying our cool and thoroughly refreshing drinks at the on site cafe we contemplated the lives of the lost families and the generations that might have been..we guessed however that you could apply this “what if” conundrum to so many events throughout history not the least the two world wars.


If old fashioned grocery packaging takes your fancy then there is much to see here. 

Le musée Aux Anciens Commerces can be found at 290 Chemin du Lavoir inDoué-la-Fontaine,  Combine it with a visit to the zoo or the glorious chemin de la Rose park.

+33 2 41 52 97 58

Talks given in French and English.

  • The Forgotten Women of the French Resistance, by Anne Sebba, 2016

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