The Stamps of the Suez Canal Company 1868 - Introduction
Overview of Suez Canal 1868 Forgeries * Next * 1 * 2* 3 * 4 * 5 * 6 * 7 * 8 * 9 * 10 * 11 * 12 * 13 * 14
Work on the construction of a canal connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas began in April 1859, but was not completed until November 1869. During this period work proceeded simultaneously at several sites along the proposed route and in consequence there was a need for a means of communication both between the individual sites and with the termini at Suez or Port Said and the Company offices in Alexandria.

Until 1860, Company letters and those of others working in the Canal Zone were carried by a courier service organised by the Company, but thereafter an agreement was reached with Posta Europea, a private enterprise venture which had been operating in Egypt in conjunction with the government courier service. Under the terms of this agreement, Posta Europea provided this service for a flat rate fee. No charge was made to users, the flat rate being paid by the Company. Letters for destinations outside the Canal Zone would of course require additional Egyptian or French stamps to cover the remainder of their journey. This arrangement came to an end in 1865 when the Egyptian Government acquired Posta Europea and the Company courier system was reinstated.

It was eventually realised that the cost of providing the service was substantial and that a charge was neccesary, particularly as there was substantila use by residents of the canal zone who were not company employees. This was set at 1c per 10g for newspapers and other printed material, and 20c for letters. The stamps necessary for prepayment were ordered from the French company Chézaud Ainé et Tavernier in Paris

Denominations of 1c, 5c, 20c, and 40c were ordered and the initial delivery of: was received and put into use early in July 1868.The initial delivery of the 1c value was considered insufficient to meet anticipated needs and a further 4800 was delivered at the beginning of August.

Realising that they were missing out on a possibly lucrative source of income, the Egyptian authorities raised objections to the running of what was in effect a private postal operation on their territory and it was suppressed on August 15th, 1868. Thereafter the service was provided by the Egyptian postal authorities and Egyptian stamps used in place of those of the Canal company. The period of usage of the Suez Canal stamps was thus limited to a mere six weeks and a substantial proportion of the opening stock of stamps remained unused. These remainders were acquired either by Parisian stamp dealers or by contractors to the Company working in the Canal Zone and it is assumed that over the course of time all found their way onto the philatelic market.

The canal was finally opened on November 17th,1869, amid spectacular celebrations. Heads of state from all over the world were invited. There were fireworks, a banquet on the banks of the Nile adjacent to the Pyramids, and an opera, ‘Aida’, was commissioned to be performed at the Cairo Opera House with the composer conducting. In the event the performance of the opera was delayed until the following year on account of the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war and the non-arrival of the scenery from Paris.

As a result of all this attention, a worldwide interest was generated in Egypt and all things Egyptian, and the Canal stamps proved to be no exception. Demand from collectors far exceeded supply, creating a situation which the counterfeiters were not slow to exploit. Apart from the first issue of the large Dragon stamps of Shanghai the Suez Canal stamps must hold the record for the most numerous sets of counterfeits in existence. At least 20 different sets of forgeries have been reported and that which follows is a record of what I have gleaned from a study of the sources available to me, supplemented by illustrations and discussion of the salient features of the genuine and forged examples in my collection.