When the French Revolution abolished feudalism, one of the new rights of citizens was the right to own possessions. They've taken this right very seriously ever since, unlike the Anglo-Saxon "finders keepers" ethic. In that light, Napoleon founded a Paris bureau for lost objects. It's actually called the Bureau of Found Objects (Le service des objets trouvés), as bureau director Patrick Cassignol says, “Because we do not know if they were lost or stolen. We know only that they have been found.” It's the bureau's mission to release these items only to their rightful owners. Hundreds of possessions that were left on trains, streets, and museums are sent to the bureau every day. Most are everyday objects: wallets, umbrellas, books, and purchases, but there are much weirder things stored, waiting to be claimed.
The aisles of shelves are systematically emptied in waves. The summer months bring sunglasses and tourist guidebooks, and autumn a rush of children’s schoolbags and lunchboxes. The shelves change with the times as well. “In the past, we had cufflinks and tie clips,” Cassignol told me. “Now we have USB sticks and scooters and even—what are those things—that slide?” He mimes the motion, and I supply the word: hoverboards.
One of those hoverboards has been carefully placed in the back of the warehouse, where a small corner has been converted into a private musée de l’insolite—a museum of the strange. Cassignol showed me the wedding dress. Legend has it that it was left in the back of a cab after a lovers’ quarrel. There is a five-foot-tall replica of a Parisian street lamp, most likely used on a movie set. There is a plaster statue of Jesus, which Cassignol, as a joke, once brought over to the church next door, announcing that he’d found its lost Saviour. There are medals, Legions of Honor, and military uniforms, a sabre from 1892 (never appraised, for fear it would be appropriated by a real museum), and a real human skull, found in the train station by the catacombs. “Now! Who knows what these are?” Cassignol asked, holding out a red pouch containing three shards of concrete. “Pieces of the World Trade Center,” he said. They were found in an abandoned suitcase shortly after 9/11 along with the bright-orange vest of an N.Y.C. transit employee.
The employees at the bureau are proud to reunite people with their personal possessions, which is often a joyous occasion. Read more about Paris' Bureau of Found Objects at the New Yorker. -via Metafilter