My Gustave Eiffel Collection

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I have no idea who James L’Arbalester was but have learned that he is credited with one of my favorite sayings, i.e., “Collecting is a cruel mistress!” Arbalester collected everything, he told everyone he met that he wanted one copy of every book; one of every coin, one of every stamp, and one of everything else. James was also recognized as a misanthrope, who frequently warned that mankind should beware of acquiring things of the same nature, contradiction notwithstanding, and that having two is a coincidence, but three is having a collection.

If the concept is valid, I have a collection of Gustave Eiffel postcards.

Developing a fascination with a man like Alexandre Gustave Eiffel was easy for me. He was born on December 15, 1832 – exactly one hundred years before my father. I think it was during the Christmas holiday of my senior year in college that Dad and I sat in the living room of his home in Bristol, Connecticut, on Christmas Eve and talked about lots of things, but the one thing I remember vividly was his answer to my question, what did you do on your birthday?  His reply was, Nothing special, but that will be different next year.

Why? I asked.

Because you and your mother and I are going to Paris to celebrate my 50th birthday in the restaurant at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

My dad saw the Eiffel tower for the first time as a young college exchange student during his last year of work on a mechanical engineering degree at Brown University. He was fascinated by the structure and its inventor ever after.

My dad died the next summer at age 49. We never made that birthday trip, but I got to see the Eiffel Tower on my 50th birthday in 2022. On that warm, moonlit night, I toasted my father and I told my husband and our two sons the story of the conversation my dad and I had had all those years ago. It was a glorious night. Paris, “The City of Lights” was at its best. The environs of the city were ablaze all the way to the horizon with charm and the magic of family and memories.  

Two of my three Eiffel postcards are above (they were purchased in Paris last year for €1 each) and the third is an old and tattered card that was mailed in Paris in 1932. The same year my dad was born.

Gustave Eiffel is known worldwide for his tower. It was built with the idea that it would be the tallest structure in the world.

Today the sentimental favorite of the world’s tallest structures is still the Eiffel Tower, yet since its construction in 1889 the tallest buildings in the world have been elsewhere. Currently it is in the city of Dubai, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (Africa), and other recent title holders have been the City Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the Lincoln Cathedral in Lincoln, England, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Singer Building, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and the original World Trade Center, all in New York City.

Eiffel’s Folly (only the sceptics called it a folly) was designed to be the centerpiece of the first World Fair scheduled for 1889 in Paris to celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution. At first it was criticized by many leading French artists and intellectuals, but the public loved it and since it has become one of the most visited public structures with an entrance fee in the world. The tower has also become the center piece of many architectural studies and urban art projects.

Paris is a fabulous city, full of landmarks, for the architectural portrait painter. To mention only a few, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, and Place de la Bastille are added to the Eiffel Tower to complete many six-postcard sets of Paris landmarks.

Naturally, I want to share the Eiffel Tower cards from each of the sets of Paris landmarks that I know about.

Signed Yvon, Tour Eiffel at Night
Signed von Konig
Photo Eiffel
Signed Yvon, Tour Eiffel by Day
Scène de silhouette
Paris La Tour Eiffel
Signed, G. LaForge, ’40
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In the future, whenever I see an image of the Eiffel Tower, I will think of you and your dad. Thanks for sharing your beautiful story.

A very enjoyable read and featuring some terrfic cards.

I enjoyed your article very much. I lived in Paris for a year and bought an Eiffel Tower postcard everytime I saw a different one.

Those are great cards. The story of your conversation with your father and your more recent visit, with family, to Paris was tremendous. Thank you for sharing.

The Eiffel Tower in 1889 was, arguably, where the global postcard craze really took off. Visitors had the opportunity to post special Eiffel Tower cards from the top of the tower and many of them busied themselves writing the cards to show off to their friends where they’d been on their vacation.

Ne pas oublier que Bartholdi a fait appel à Gustave Eiffel pour la construction de La Statue de la Liberté après le décès de Viollet Le Duc 🙂

Happy to send a contemporary ET card by Japanese cartoonists to add to the collection.

Nice article! I was just telling this story… back when I did architectural projects for large companies, management would always want to cheap out with the argument, “It’s only temporary!” I’d respond, “The Eifel Tower was supposed to be temporary!” Sometimes they understood. And some of my “temporary” projects are still in use today!

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