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Historically Important Egyptian Suez Canal 20 Centimes

By Chris Chatigny, Numismatist & Cataloger

Author: Chris Chatigny / Tuesday, July 01, 2014 / Categories: iAuctions

The weekly iAuctions here at Stack’s Bowers Galleries are a great source for collectible coins within a reasonable budget. Every month (closing on the first Sunday of the month) these iAuctions will contain World and/or Ancient coins, with the inclusion of some very notable highlights such as this piece, a historically important coin involved with the construction of the Suez Canal. Located in Egypt, the Suez Canal allows naval vessels and merchant ships to easily cross between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. A revolutionary feat of engineering, it allows for a much shorter route between Europe and East Asia, without navigating around the entire continent of Africa. The French oversaw the ten-year construction, with much interference from the British. These tokens were issued for use by the Egyptian workers who were building the canal. The long rivalry between the French and British interests in the canal led to the debacle once the canal opened in November 1869. The Egyptian leader granted the French Empress Eugenie in the Imperial yacht Aigle the inaugural passage through the canal. However, the night before the canal was due to open the British captain George Nares navigated the HMS Newport, in total darkness and without any lights, through the mass of ships waiting to pass through and usurped the front position just before the Aigle. Nares maneuvered his ship so that the French could not pass him, and became the first ship through the canal. The French and Egyptian officials reprimanded him, but he received an unofficial vote of thanks from the British Admiralty for promoting British interests and demonstrating excellent seamanship.

The coin we have on exhibit is the smallest denomination for this company’s series, the brass 20 Centimes. This particular piece was issued by the “Borel Lavalley at Cie” Company. The obverse design is dominated by a ship at sea with multiple masts and sails, within a beaded border. The French inscription surrounds the border, “TRAVAUX DU CANAL DE SUEZ” – “Work of the Suez Canal”, with “EGYPTE” appearing below. The reverse designates the company, date, and denomination, as follows: “BOREL LAVALLEY ET COMPIE” (the issuing company) above, 1865 below. Within a beaded border, “BON POUR 20 CENTIMES” appears with two stars, and designates the denomination. Slightly grainy surfaces as well as some minor scratches are present, with a slightly uneven strike near the date, as is typical. Some toning serves to enhance the eye appeal for this interesting and historically important piece.

Look for this and other numismatic pieces in our upcoming iAuctions. These are held every Monday to Sunday, with world numismatic items being included in the sales that end on the first Sunday of every month. Preview this impressive coin along with the rest of our iAuction items at the Browse Auctions on our website. If you are interested in consigning your coins and paper currency for our iAuctions (whether a whole collection or a single rarity) be sure to contact one of our consignment directors by calling 800.458.4646.