The Cabinet of curiosities—that old-world fashion of filling cupboards or entire rooms with natural and scientific exotica—is not entirely a thing of the past. On the Left Bank of Paris, you can step right into a series of chambers crammed with butterflies, birds, mammals, minerals, and shells, all preserved and displayed to delight the most exacting lover of natural history. Many of the exhibits are the sorts of things collected by 17th-century connoisseurs: a silver-mounted ostrich egg, a coral fan, a frog’s skeleton.
Deyrolle has been mounting and stuffing for 175 years and has operated from its current home since 1888. When Prince Louis-Albert de Broglie took over the shop five years ago, he brightened up the 18th-century mansion, regilding the boiseries and polishing the parquet. Though the stock is museum quality, most pieces end up in a private Wunderkammer or simply with an owner who thinks a llama or warthog makes a good conversation piece. It’s no surprise the Surrealists Salvador Dalí and André Breton were customers.
The firm wears its history lightly, however. As well as vast collector’s cabinets where parrots roost with turtledoves and vitrines filled with rows of neatly classified insects, visitors may see gazelles and zebras jockeying for a place at a formal dinner table or a quartet of tiny lambs cuddling up to a large bear. Every specimen complies with hunting and conservation laws—the animals have died a natural death in zoos, circuses, or game reserves, which no doubt accounts for their placid expressions (though one springbok did have a somewhat reproachful look).
Prices range from $15 for a single framed butterfly to $575 for a pair of squirrels to $38,000 for a Siberian tiger. The more ferocious creatures, or their heads, may well end up in the home of an armchair hunter who, when asked if he shot it, will reply with a modest smile. But even if you have no wish for a low-maintenance pet (Deyrolle can oblige with a Siamese if you please, or prancing rabbits), this truly unique place is worth a visit for its enchanting vision of a world where animals continue to mind the manners they learned on the ark.
At 46 Rue du Bac, Paris; 33-1/42-22-30-07; deyrolle.fr.