Skip the busy museums to explore some fun and fascinating alternatives.
Each year Paris attracts millions of tourists due, in no small part, to its bevy of world-renowned art and history museums such as The Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, and the National Museum of Modern Art.
Operating in the shadow of these goliaths is a range of smaller, quirkier museums.
Paris’ Counterfeit Museum details the history of knock-off brand products, in particular how France’s luxury brands have been affected by global pirating and how they have adapted to this challenge.
The Musee des Arts Metiers offers a comprehensive look at the history of industrial design across the globe, displaying more than 2500 items including scientific instruments, mechanical innovations and astronomical tools.
Finally, the popular French pastime of hunting, something which has taken place in the country for millennia, is detailed in fascinating fashion at the Museum of Hunting and Nature. This facility showcases artworks, tools and artefacts relating to hunting in Europe.
The Counterfeit Museum
As probably the global hub of luxury brands, Paris is a perfect venue to host a museum dedicated to the unlawful replication of products.
Counterfeiting is estimated to cost France more than $9 billion a year, as well as more than 30,000 lost jobs. Located in a stately building not far from the city’s Arc de Triomphe, this museum is empty when I arrive.
It is September and Paris is infested with tourists but none of them is in this small but well-executed museum, which was established in 1951.
A polite staff member hands me a pamphlet which puts into perspective the parameters of the global trade in fake products. This counterfeiting ranges from trademark infringement, where a company’s logo is used on a fake product, to illegal copies of designs and patterns.
Typically both of those forms of infringement are evident in the same counterfeit product. Like the fake Gucci handbags you see for sale online, the knock-off Nike sneakers you notice in Bali markets, or the fairly convincing TAG Heuer watch your mate bought for $20 while on holiday in Thailand.
The museum highlights just how sophisticated many of these counterfeits are by placing them side by side with authentic versions. I tested myself a few times and could not pick the real from the fake.
The Museum of Hunting and Nature
It looks like a monstrous spider has left behind a web of thick red silk which is obstructing the paintings I’m trying to admire.
I ask a staff member what is the deal with the strands of fabric strung across the room but she shrugs and I continue on in ignorance. The Museum of Hunting and Nature is pretty odd, even beyond this weirdly random form of decoration.
This private museum, established in 1954 by a rich French industrialist, is spread across two gorgeous old mansions, one from the 17th century and the other from the 18th century. It is well stocked with impressive paintings which depict the themes of hunting and interactions between humans and wild animals.
The museum is also laden with ancient firearms used by hunters from all over Europe, Africa, Asia and America.
While I’m not a fan of guns it is impossible not to be charmed by their old-world craftsmanship. Less enchanting are the myriad taxidermied animals.
In the end I’m just relieved not to encounter a giant spider.
The Musee des Arts Metiers
For most of the time I’m inside this museum, I have no idea what I’m looking at.
But that’s a big part of what makes it an intriguing and enjoyable place.
With a history stretching back to 1794, this museum details the history of industrial design.
There’s a lot of objects to be confused by. It has more than 80,000 items and 15,000 drawings in its vast reserves, with only slightly more than 2000 actually displayed at any one time.
These objects and sketches are divided into seven separate collections — Mechanics, Communication, Construction, Transportation, Materials, Energy and Scientific Instruments.
There are complicated engines, intricately designed clocks, calculating devices, architectural scale models and even an authentic Foucault pendulum.
The museum offers what it calls guided “quick tours” in which visitors can see and have explained 150 of the museum’s most remarkable items, though there is great fun to be had in following my lead and just walking around in a state of bemusement.
(Top image: The Museum of Hunting and Nature is one of Paris’ quirkiest attractions. Picture: Ronan O'Connell)