French Miscellany and Interesting Facts in the 1860s

Many events happened in France in the 1860s. Some that you may not be aware of have been compiled here in no particular order and represented French miscellany of the 1860s:

The first known documented attack of the aphid called the Phylloxera occurred in the French village of Pujaut (in the department of Gard and former province Languedoc) in 1863. The Phylloxera went on to decimate France’s vineyards until 1890.

French miscellany - The Grape Phylloxera, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The grape phylloxera. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

An ingenious Parisian dandy wanted to conceal his baldness and devised a scheme wear he wore a different wig every day. There were thirty-one of them and each wig was slightly longer-haired than the previous. At the end of the month, he would claim to have his hair cut, and then start over by wearing the shortest-haired wig.

In the 1860s, it was reported that France annually imported between 11,000 and 12,000 horses, at the expense of about 18,000,000 francs, and that despite the cost of import, the supply of horses continued to fall short of demand.

The Three Emperors Dinner, called the “dinner of the century,” was a banquet held at Café Anglais in Paris, France on 7 June 1867. The 16-course meal was requested by King William I of Prussia and included Tsar Alexander II of Russia, his son the tsarevitch (later Tsar Alexander III) and Prince Otto von Bismarck. It was served over eight hours, no expense was spared, and dishes were accompanied by eight of the greatest wines in the world. Also included was a Roederer champagne in a special lead glass bottle that allowed the Tsar to admire the champagne’s golden color and bubbles. The cost of the meal was 400 francs per person, which in 2018 amounts to more than €9,000.

Otto von Bismarck. Author’s collection.

In 1862 a young Parisian girl in Paris disliked her boarding school so much that after coming home for vacation, she refused to return. Her parents placed her under strict surveillance, as they feared she meant to commit suicide. She didn’t commit suicide, but she was so distraught she managed to get a pair of scissors and cut out her own tongue.

In 1865 a photographer was arrested in Lyons, the city of Madame Récamier‘s birth, for being a poacher. Apparently, when he was found hiding behind hedges, it was thought he was pointing a cannon rather than a camera at the birds.

The diamonds belonging to the crown of France in the 1860s were said to be 16,312 in number, 18,752 carats in weight, and about $6,000,000 in value.

A woman calling herself Moucheuse des Invalides made a thriving income in winter by applying pocket handkerchiefs to the noses of invalid soldiers who had lost their arms in battle. Apparently, however, she did not have the same thriving income in pleasant weather.

A billiard table was invented in Paris in the 1860s that had multiple uses: It could be used as a dinner table, a chest of drawers, a bed, a bathing tub, and a stove.

In May 1864, a very bright fireball was seen shooting across the sky from Paris to the Pyreenees. A loud detonation was also heard in the Motauban neighborhood and several stones fell, with one being found in Orgueil that was later determined to have come from a meteorite.

The first documented bicycle race was held in 1868 at the Parc de Saint-Cloud in Paris.

In 1861, the latest Parisian petticoat, which could be modified or increased at pleasure, was called a “jupon multiple.” It did away with hoops and crinoline, “supporting itself by the harmonious and intelligent disposition of the waves of muslin of which it was composed.”[1]

A wild boar had been causing mischief in the woods of Cheverey for many years and was at last killed in a grand hunt in 1862. At that time, it was weighed and found to be an enormous 386 pounds.

In 1862, the Emperor of France, Napoleon III who was Napoleon Bonaparte‘s nephew, decided to give from his own privy purse the sum of 100 francs to each poor family that had a child born on March 16, 1856, as that was the date of the birth of his own son, Napoléon, Prince Imperial.

French miscellany - Napoleon III

Napoleon III. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

On December 30, 1860, Napoleon III announced an architectural design competition for a new opera house. A month was given for the submission of entries, and among the entries was one by Charles Garnier. He won, and the building of this 1,979-seat opera house lasted from 1861 to 1874.

In 1862, it became fashionable for Parisian ladies promenading the thoroughfares to carry small canes with jeweled heads.

In the 1860s, the spot most celebrated for goats in France was in the district of Canton Mont d’Or where, within a six-mile diameter, upwards of eleven thousand goats were kept. The goats were used primarily to supply cheese to the city of Lyons.

The Paris courts valued a young lady’s teeth at £320 in 1861. This was because an English governess was knocked down by a carriage and lost all her front teeth. She sued and that was the amount of her award.

The Bon Marché store founded by Aristide Boucicaut had its first stone laid on the rue de Sevres in 1869 in Paris.

Aristide Boucicaut. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 1862, it was reported that “a swimming belt of novel construction for the use of the French army, has just been tried at Paris.”[2] The eight-pound belt was composed of thin metal and was an “inverted truncated cone” that fit around the waist.

In the early 1860s, a large carp was caught in a pond at the château de la Beauvière, located in the municipality of Grez-Neuville in northern France. In the side of its head were lodged two gold rings, one of which was engraved (although the characters were illegible).

The cultivation of leeches became a growing and profitable business in France in the 1860s. It as made more profitable by the fact that leeches reproduced themselves at the rate of sixteen per annum.

A Bible was auctioned off in 1861 in France. It had been presented by a nobleman to a deceased actress. When the purchaser opened the book he discovered money scattered here and there throughout. In total, it amounted to thousands and the heirs of the deceased actress were so upset, they commenced a suit to recover the money from the purchaser.

Felix Nadar invented a battery-operated flash lamp that he used to explore the sewers and catacombs of Paris in 1861.

Felix Nadar. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

By the 1860s, firewood in Paris was scarce and used sparingly. It was so scare it could only be bought for domestic purposes and was generally sold in small sticks priced at fifty cents per hundred or half a cent a pound.

There were twenty-three telegraph offices in Paris in 1861, and they were primarily employed in transmitting messages between the various quarters within that city.

In 1862, the wife of Napoleon III, Empress Eugenie, had a crown set with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. It also included globules of glass lit by electric lights and was said to “emit such an effulgence as to light up … a dark room, and if ever put into general use will superseded the necessity of gas jets or wax candles, [as] every lady will be her own chandelier.”[3]

French miscellany - Empress Eugenie

Empress Eugenie 1869-70. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Another piece of French miscellany comes from 1865 when the French government spent 246,000 francs on “light literature, poetry, history, and … drama, and 1,877,260 francs … in prizes for horse races.”[4]

In 1862, a Frenchman was arrested for exploding an egg shell full of gunpowder in his mouth. It happened on a London street at two o’clock in the morning. He was being prosecuted for attempted self-murder.

Martin Dumollard was a serial killer of young women in southern France in the 1850s and 1860s. He was caught, tried, and executed in 1862. As Dumollard was a common last name in the region, after his execution, two hundred people in the south of France who had the misfortune to bear his last name, applied for permission to change their name.


  • [1] Ballou’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 13, 1861, p. 96.
  • [2] Ballou’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 15-16, 1862, p. 496.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] “Paris,” in Brighton Gazette, March 8, 1866, p. 7.

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