This woodblock engraving from April 3, 1869, shows the Suez Canal nearing completion. I am interested in the history of the canal and the people who built it. I have a few tokens used by workers at the company store.
Laborers are shown removing rock in a section of the canal. The canal, 164 kilometers long and 8 meters deep, was an enormous engineering challenge. The waterway passed through mostly sand and low lying lakes and rivers connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea,
The canal took 10 years to build. Ferdinand de Lesseps formed the Suez Canal Company to finance and build the canal. The company completed it in November 1869, seven months after this newspaper was printed.
A construction company called Ch. & A. Bazin issued this French Franc token in 1865. It can be found in denominations of 5 Francs, 1 Franc, 50 Centimes, and 20 Centimes.
This rare token was issued by Borel, Lavalley, and Company, an engineering firm and contractor to the Suez Canal Company. Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps and his Suez Canal Company built the canal between 1859 and 1869.
Paul Borel and Alexandre Lavalley formed their company in December 1863. Graduates of a polytechnic school, both worked in the railway industry before joining the canal project. An estimated 74 million cubic meters of material was excavated for the main canal, and Borel and Lavalley handled more than 75 percent of it. (Karabell, 2004, p. 208-210.)
The company issued trade tokens, presumably for workers to buy provisions at the company store. Tokens are good for 20 cents, 50 cents, 1 Franc, or 5 Francs. The 5 Franc pieces are the most rare.
Shown here is a 50 cent piece. The obverse depicts a ship in the center, surrounded by beads and an inscription: TRAVAUX DU CANAL DE SUEZ EGYPTE
Translation: WORKS ON THE SUEZ CANAL EGYPT
The reverse shows the denomination, a circle of beads, and an inscription: BOREL LAVALLEY ET COMPIE BON POUR 50 CENTIMES 1865
Translation: BOREL LAVALLEY AND COMPANY GOOD FOR 50 CENTS 1865
Reference: Karabell, Z. (2003). Parting the Desert: The Creation of the Suez Canal. Knopf.
This is a 1 Franc token from the Suez Canal Cooperative Society in Egypt. It was issued in 1892 and is made of aluminum.
The canal was completed decades before 1892. These pieces must have been used by co-op workers at the operating canal.
There are two other token sets that circulated during the 10-year construction of the canal (1859 to 1869). Those tokens are dated 1865. One set is from “Ch. & A. Bazin” and the other from “Borel Lavalley and Co.”