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Case Studies

Le Petit Journal

Le Petit Journal was a Parisian daily newspaper, published from 1863 to 1944. From the outset the paper's management focussed strongly on circulation and organised various stunts and other promotional activities to that end. Circulation peaked in the 1890s with daily sales of over a million copies. In the 1880s the newspaper introduced an illustrated, 8-page weekly supplement, the Supplément illustrée, which appeared on Sundays. Each issue contained some full page colour pictures - typically of colourful or sensational events to attract readers. In 1896 four issues of the Petit Journal'sSupplément illustrée featured fungus pictures, one full page of fungi in each of the issues 306, 309, 310 and 311 which appeared on 27 September, 18 October, 25 October and 1 November, respectively.

Here are two of the pages, each about 50 by 30 centimetres in full size. On the left are the fungi in issue 310 and on the right are those from issue 309.

Le Petit Journal - fungi

Here is an enlargement showing the top two rows from the right hand page. You can see several mushrooms and boletes and, at the top right, a wrinkled-capped Morchella with a red Clathrus below.

Le Petit Journal - fungi

In issue 306 the editors had explained their motives:

Following several poisonings caused by toxic mushrooms, a veritable terror has spread through France. We believe it to be truly useful to our readers that we come to their aid. We have had the most widespread fungi drawn and coloured, with the greatest care. Alongside the good we show the bad with their precise nuances and forms. You should keep this issue safe, which will prevent fatal carelessness. Once more we are happy to have rendered a service to our clientele.

Of course, as well as being of service to the readers, pictures of safe and deadly fungi probably did no harm to sales either. The editors later wrote that they had been gratified to learn their fungal pictures had been well received and so produced more. Of course, some people didn't learn, for in issue 310 the editors wrote:

Once again a family has been poisoned by mushrooms. If these fools had had the Supplément illustrée in their hands they would not have fallen victim to such an accident.

The editors wrote some more words about being happy to publish more fungal pictures and finished with:

Our reward, yet again, will be to have been of great service to our readers. It is the goal that we pursue tirelessly and that we are fortunate to attain often.

Here, from issue 306, are illustrations of the well-known Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria), on the left, and the Deathcap (Amanita phalloides). Both are marked as bad (mauvais in French) with the Deathcap additionally noted as very dangerous. The newspaper used the French language common names in all captions so the first is labelled Fausse orong (a mis-spelling of oronge) and the other Phalloide.

Le Petit Journal - fungi

Several French mycologists criticized the newspaper's paintings, noting that the illustrations were not necessarily reliable and that the newspaper used some odd fungal names. However, as one mycologist noted, the newspaper was simply responding to a public's wishes for information and one outcome of the newspaper's actions was that the French mycological society gained about 30 new members.

If you would like to see more detail, here are links to PDFs of the four pages of illustrations (each about 1 MB):

first instalment (27 September)
second instalment (18 October)
third instalment (25 October)
fourth instalment (1 November).

The blurriness or misaligned colours that you can see in the illustrations of some species occurred during printing of the newspapers, not during scanning of these pages.


Guétrot, Dr. (1934). Le Quarantenaire de la Société Mycologique de France (1884-1924). Société Mycologique de France, Paris. [My source for the mycologists' comments about the newspaper pictures.]