Mister Morris’ Columns – Parisian advertising.
Around Paris, looming large, are many iconic Mister Morris’ Columns – decorative advertising pillars. In Paris green with its SPECTACLES sign on the ‘lid’ of the column, they advertise SHOWS. Initially theatre shows and now mostly cinema shows.
Frenchman Gabriel Morris was a Parisian printer who specialized in posters for shows. In 1868, Gabriel Morris won a competitive grant process conducted by the City of Paris, and won the monopoly to build 451 cyclindrical cast-iron advertising columns.
The 1854 design came from a German printer, Ernst Litfass (1816-1874), from Berlin. He installed them on the streets of Berlin to cut down on paper waste!
Richard Gabriel Morris (1837-1914) and his father Richard James Placide Morris (?-1884) introduced the columns to Paris in 1868.
Each Morris Column – Colonne Morris – is identical. They stand 6.25 metres (20.5 feet) tall, providing 4 square metres of advertising space. Decorated with six lion heads, they also have the City of Paris medalion on the top next to the SPECTACLES sign – a ship floating on a stormy sea, with the motto Beaten by the Waves but Never Sinks – Fluctuat nec mergitur.
In almost 170 years, the design has not changed much, except now they are lit at night and rotate. A weatherproof perspex glass protects the posters from weather and vandalism. They have been under the management of JCDecaux since 1986, and are now in almost every French city.
Not only do the columns advertise shows, but inside the columns, the space is hollow. And that’s where the City of Paris lamplighters used to store their ladders – and now the City of Paris stores brooms and street-cleaning equipment. But not always – in the 19th century, the hollow section was exposed and used as a street urinal – Colonne rambuteau. They’ve even been used as telephone booths.
Photographer: Martina Nicolls