Turning Coin into Paper

Not Hard to Find, but Hard to Spell: the rue Quincampoix

parisroofs.jpg (18k) Paris:- Wednesday, 26. June 1996:- After lunch with a couple of guys who are inhabiting some outplacement cubicles on a top floor in the rue Beaubourg, I wandered west on the rue aux Ours to look at a possible bistro for a photo. I passed on it and passed on going down the rue St. Martin directly to Beaubourg - to see what it is like these days - and entered the narrow rue Quincampoix instead.

I think the rue St. Martin may be fairly gaudy, and the boulevard de Sébastopol, a bit further west, is a big thoroughfare heading north; and the rue Quincampoix is like a blue-grey little alley between them, no more than three metres wide at this, the top end.

The other end, starting at the rue des Lombards, was called rue des Cinq-Diamants, after a jeweler there in 1536, but this was dropped in 1851 and the whole thing, from the Lombards to the rue aux Ours, became Quincampoix.
quincampoix.jpg (12k) This 'street' was first mentioned in 1203, with the name of Quiquenpoist. This changed around 1300 to Quiquempoit and in the 16th century became Cinquampoit or Quiquempoit. In the 18th century it was Quinquempoix; and I can't figure out what the origin means other than it has something to do with 'Perche.' This little street is 452 metres long.

In the 12th century, a special 'corps' were set up to sell all goods. The different manufacturers were only allowed to sell what they made and this limited transactions. In 1776, the third of six 'Corps de Marchands' installed itself at numbers 38-40 and it became the most opulent of all the 'Corps' or 'merciers,' which spawned the proverb, 'Sellers of everything, makers of nothing.' This corporation divided itself into 20 specialized classes, but their building was sold during the Revolution, as a 'national asset.'

The cabaret 'L'Epée de Bois' opened at number 54 in 1658 with a license issued by Mazarin; as a 'corporation' for dance and violin masters. It was transformed in 1661 into a Royal Academy and fused with the Royal Academy of Music in 1669; and this formed the beginning of the Opéra - which first opened in the rue Mazarine. The cabaret stayed in this location until 1958, but its height of popularity was probably around 1719, when a local bank became a source of wealthy customers.

Robbery and murder were conducted by well-placed personages on the evening of 20. March 1720 upstairs at the cabaret, but the perpetrators were caught and their connections could not prevent their gruesome executions shortly thereafter.

Bankers began to install themselves in the rue Quincampoix in the 16th century, and in 1716 the Scot, John Law of Lauriston opened his 'Banque Générale de Law' at number 65. Law believed that prosperity for the state could be achieved by way of large numbers; basically by substituting paper for coin.

Law's bank had a mandate to collect local taxes and income from public debt; so the bank issued shares. Law proposed a system of public finance, which was rejected by Scotland, England and Savoy, but during the near-bankruptcy of the state after Louis XIV's death, the scheme got off the ground which allowed Law to form the 'Compagnie des Indes,' with its monopoly on foreign trade.

This made the bank popular and speculators bid up the 200 Livre share price to 20,000 Livres - and spent some of it in the 'L'Epée de Bois' cabaret. By this time the printing presses were running non-stop. When dividends failed, the shares were converted into 'billets' and these were traded for cash, but of course this didn't work and Law left France in 1720 with only 2000 'Louis' in his possession and died in poverty in Venice in 1729. Local land speculation was quite lively at the time as well.

The original 'Théâtre Molière' was inaugurated at number 82 by Boursault, with the showing of the Misanthrope on 4. June 1791. In 1793, the theatre was renamed as the Théâtre des Sans-Culottes.' Boursault, who had become a member of the Convention, returned to run the theatre in 1806 but it was closed as were all little theatres, by Napoléon in 1807. It reopened briefly in 1831 and closed forever the following year.

You will remember that this rue Quincampoix is less than half a kilometre long and from three to no more than 10 metres wide. Today it is quiet and blue-grey and it is hard to imagine that 277 years ago it was thronged by 'corporations,' speculators, musicians, merchants and bankers; fortunes were made and lost, vast overseas enterprises were launched, and the famous Paris Opéra had its beginnings here - here in this little and mostly un-noticed street.

I knew none of this history when I turned into the rue Quincampoix today. I just had this feeling that there would be more to it than I could see - and there is, in the sense that most of the present buildings date from the later 17th and 18th centuries, and do not show much of the tremendous life that took place here.

nectar.jpg (17k) This is reflected in the images that accompany this feature: they are of today. For some reason, every time I pass 'Nectar' I am compelled to photograph the shop. To see what the rue Quincampoix used to look like, a trip to the Bibliothèque Nationale would be necessary and there should be an important collection there, because so many events of such importance were recorded here.

Other than pure whim, why did I come this way at all? In what little was left of the afternoon, I thought I should take a seasonal look at Beaubourg and to come down the rue Beaubourg itself is noisy and boring, so I came this way instead.

The usual métro stations for Beaubourg are given as Hôtel de Ville or Rambuteau, and many visitors come over from Châtelet-Les Halles.

If you use Etienne Marcel instead, head east and cross the boulevard de Sébastopol to the rue des Ours, and there you will find the top end of the rue Quincampoix, the quiet and historical way to Beaubourg.


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