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Short Stories: 1920s French Guignol Puppet Theatre

Dec 4, 2012

by parisparfait handmade and vintage goods

Here at Etsy, we believe that the story behind an object is often just as fascinating as the object itself. Short Stories is our series dedicated to telling the tales behind extraordinary pieces found or created by Etsy sellers.

Here’s Tara with the story of how she came to own this magical puppet theatre.

When I was a child, my younger brothers and I saved cereal box tops to order hand puppets. Our improvised “theatre” was makeshift cardboard, but the little plays we performed sparked my imagination.

Years later, I moved to Paris, where searching for antiques and vintage curiosities became a passion. I noticed elaborate antique and highly-decorative Guignol puppet theatres in museums or in various Paris parks. Occasionally I saw puppet theatres for sale at brocantes or flea markets, but they were too expensive or too big to transport easily.

Then one day I was browsing the annual brocante at Saint-Sulpice, Paris, et voilà! A 1920s Guignol theatre was calling my name! Best of all, it was in my favourite sea foam green and light enough to carry home on the Métro. I figured I’d never see another original Guignol puppet theatre that was both affordable and in such good condition. I decided to consider it an investment, like a beautiful piece of art.

Never mind that my only child had gone off to college – this was a chance to own a little bit of French history. Laurent Mourguet, a Lyon dentist set up a puppet theatre in his office to distract patients from their pain. In 1804, Mourguet decided to trade in his dental tools in favor of puppetry. He began traveling from town to town, performing little plays about news and challenges of the day. Guignol became his most famous character – an honourable and witty man, who often found himself in trying circumstances — hence the theatres that came to bear his name.

All photos courtesy of Paris Parfait.

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