Sunday, April 28, 2024

The Case of the Missing Farmers – Egyptologist traces back Crédit Agricole d’Égypte vignettes

The share of the Crédit Agricole d’Égypte is one of the most decorative securities from Egypt. It is adorned with oriental and pharaonic elements. In the underprint you recognize lotus flowers, a temple and the harbour of Alexandria. The lower border shows a pharaoh with two agricultural drawings showing what seems like ancient Egyptian texts. 

It turns out that the certificate’s design has a connection with a lost temple from ancient times and with Germany’s Berlin from the 1850s as well. 

Crédit Agricole d'Égypte
5 shares of 4 Egyptian pounds, issued in Cairo, 1934 
click image to enlarge  

The Crédit Agricole d'Égypte (CAE) was established in 1931 with registered office in Cairo. Half of the capital of 1 million Egyptian pounds was subscribed by the government. The bank applied low interest rates to small cultivators and agricultural cooperative societies. By 1940 the bank ran over 100 branches all over Egypt. CAE changed its name in 1948 to the Agricultural and Cooperative Credit Bank. The bilingual 5-shares bearer certificate shown here, was issued in 1934.

We know of several bonds and shares that are illustrated with hieroglyphic-like texts and pharaonic elements. Scripophily from Egypt is therefore one of my favorite themes.  

On top of the CAE certificate we see the goddess Nekhbet, depicted as a vulture. She protects the symbol of the Kingdom of Egypt (1922-1953): three stars and a crescent moon. 

Some certificates have genuine Ancient Egyptian words in their design. A Belgian Egyptologist helped me to translate these texts on a number of certificates. You can read more about that in my blog article Hieroglyphs in scripophily deciphered!, Aug, 2018, and as well as in Scripophily magazine, No.111, Dec 2019. 

However, the texts on the CAE share seemed incomplete and were drawn too crudely. They could not be translated correctly. And there ended the story for that certificate … at least I thought so. 

'5 shares' in Arabic 

Four years went by and then I got an email from Sandra Ottens in Sep, 2023. What a surprise when she wrote me that she had solved the puzzle of this CAE share. 

Ottens obtained a MA at University Leiden with a speciality in Egyptology.  She wrote that she had read in 2019 about ‘scripophily’ on the Facebook page of the Leuven-based ‘Pyramids & Progress’ project (1). The post referred my blog article from 2018. 
(1) The Pyramids & Progress project was a research project on Belgian expansionism and the making of Egyptology. See here  

Intrigued by the unidentified texts on the CAE share, Ottens started researching the images because these looked familiar to her. During her study of ancient tombs with the Leiden Mastaba Study Group she had seen a lot of similar texts and images. She consulted several sources but without any results and eventually put that puzzle aside for several years.

Last summer Ottens resumed her research on the CAE certificate. On her own blog Egyptoblogie, see here, you can read about the many steps she undertook. She found the solution in a book from Karl Richard Lepsius.

Lepsius was an Egyptologist from the 19th century. In 1842, he was commissioned by King Frederich Wilhelm IV of Prussia to lead an archeological expedition to Egypt and the Sudan. With his team he documented as much as possible the ancient places. After his return Lepsius became professor of Egyptology at Berlin University in 1846. 

Karl Richard Lepsius (1810-1884)
image: Ernst Milster, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 

Lepsius compiled his 12 volume compendium Denkmäler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien (Monuments from Egypt and Ethiopia) over a time span of 10 years. These works describe plates of ancient Egyptian inscriptions, monuments, maps, temple drawings, tomb walls and landscapes.

On her quest Sandra Ottens went through Lepsius’ volumes and then came to Volume IV, Section II, page 107. That page contained an image of a tomb relief that referred to ‘Grab 2 in Sauiet el Meitin’. The tomb was located in Zawyet Sultan in Middle Egypt. The tomb owner was identified as Khunes who probably lived during the reign of pharaoh Teti (early 6th dynasty, around 2300 BC). 

Karl Richard Lepsius’ Denkmäler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien, Volume IV, Section II, page 107, features the scenes from the CAE share certificate. 

On that page Ottens recognized the reaping scene from the lower left border of our certificate. On the original tomb relief it is part of the scene in which several men are harvesting grain with sickles (lowest line of inscriptions at right in the image above). 

She explains: “The much more clearly drawn hieroglyphs can be translated as ‘Harvesting of grain by the servants of the king’ (Azx it in Hmw nswt)”. 

The reaping scene 

And Ottens locates also the ploughing scene on the same relief drawing (upper line of inscriptions at right on the page from Lepsius' book).

She clarifies: “The ploughing scene shows two men driving an ox-drawn plough across a field. The text reads: ‘Revitalising (the land) with a plough’ (skA m hb) and ‘press your hand down’ (wAH a=k) (2). ” 
(2) Sandra Ottens: The ‘=’ is a grammatical addition in the transliteration to link the suffix ‘k’, represented by the small basket, meaning ‘your(s)’, with the ‘a’, meaning ‘hand or arm’, represented by the arm. The sentence is apparently an encouragement for the depicted farmer to press the plough firmly down to make furrows in the ground.

The ploughing scene 

And as if she can read my restless scripophily mind, she adds that the tomb with the scenes does not exist anymore. What a scripophily attraction wouldn't that have been? In 2020 the Zawyet Sultan mission confirmed that the tomb was largely destroyed by limestone quarrying several years after Lepsius visited the place.  

Puzzle solved! What a journey in history. If you think about it, it is amazing how much time jumps were made to tell this story:
  • ca 2300 BC: During Teti’s reign, in Zawyet Sultan (Middle Egypt), the tomb of an Egyptian official named Khunes is embellished with relief drawings and texts.
  • 1840s: Prussian Egyptologist Lepsius visits the tomb and documents the tomb reliefs.
  • 1850s: Lepsius publishes his Denkmäler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien.
  • ca 1930: A so far unknown artist designs the CAE share and gets inspiration most certainly from Lepsius’ Denkmäler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien
  • 2019: A blogpost featuring the CAE certificate with ancient Egyptian texts catches the attention of Dutch Egyptologist Sandra Ottens.
  • 2023: Ottens solves the puzzle in 2023 by researching the works of Lepsius.

Egyptologist Sandra Ottens 

My sincere thanks to Sandra Ottens for sharing her exciting piece of research. You can read her findings on her original blogpost here:  Sandra Ottens original blogpost The Case of the Missing Farmers .

I wrote this article for Scripophily magazine No 123-January 2024, a publication by IBSS.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Antwerp Hilton hosts Boone's auction of historic share certificates.

Mario Boone's 72nd auction features more than 1500 lots of scripophily from all over the world. The word scripophily is a contraction of the English word “scrip”, a certificate entitling ownership right, and the Greek word "φίλος" (philos), meaning "friend". It refers to the field of collecting of antique stocks and bond certificates.

This 1905 share from the Grands Magasins du Printemps tells us what this famous department store from Paris stood for: "Bon Marché - Qualité -Nouveauté - Élégance", in English: Cheap - Quality - Novelty - Elegance. Today a chain of department stores, Printemps offered high quality goods at prices affordable for the middle class. The store pioneered with discount sales to clear outdated stock, and used window models to display the latest fashions. L(ot) 350 in the auction starts at €200 

Two auction catalog volumes are available online and can be downloaded separately as PDF documents. Nearly all of the 180 pages in the main catalog include color images and background stories of the certificates to be hammered. For easy retrieval purposes, search indexes help the collector on his quest for engravers, artists, security printers, Belgian provinces, more than 80 countries and an equal number of special interest themes. 

The TOP 80 auction highlights are documented in a separate volume with bigger pictures and more detailed descriptions. 

This fascinating share in the merchant frigate Le Saint Philippe was signed by its captain Jean Daragorry in 1746. At this time it was the practice to finance the fitting-out of a ship on a one voyage at a time basis.  Le Saint Philippe, equiped with 18 6-pound ball cannons and a crew of 80, sailed under Spanish flag to Campeche and Tabasco in Mexico. At this date, France and Spain were at war with England over the Austrian Succession. Lot 786 is one of the Top 80 highlights of the sale and is expected to realize at least €2,400. 

The auctioneer managed to present some old collections that now have become available to the market including Belgian coal mining, British Railroads, Belgian Trams in Italy, Chile and Brazil. Some of these (check the catalog) are first offered as a complete collection in one single group lot. Only if no bids are received for the complete collection the individual certificates will be auctioned one by one. 

The auction features a few airline stock certificates. This is L1518, a nominative share from the Navegação Aérea Brasileira, issued in Rio de Janeiro, 1941. The certificate is listed at a €50 start price, a steal if you ask me, but it may be hammered as part of a collection of 393 Brazilian securities, L862, that is first offered as a single group at €7000. 

The Boone auction will take place at a new venue, the Hilton Old Town hotel in the heart of Antwerp. It was built in neoclassicism style in 1859 and served as a hotel and department store. You might want to spend a weekend in Antwerp because the day after the auction a scripophily bourse is organized by Guy Bertrand at the same place.

This stock was issued in 1918 to Elizabeth Huidekoper, the wife of Henry P Kidder, co-founder of Kidder, Peabody & Co. A regular donor to charity causes she also made gifts to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The certificate is also signed by Alice Evelyn Hay Wadsworth, known for her "Wadsworthy" tactics. Both women were high-society figures. The Woman Patriot Publishing Company was a publisher of The Woman Patriot, a "National Newspaper for the Home and National Defense Against Woman Suffrage, Feminism and Socialism". L1218, a rare stock representing a remarkable era in the field of women’s rights and American suffrage, starts at €240. 

There is a lot to discover, so here are the auction details :
  • Location: Antwerp, Belgium (new venue: Antwerp Hilton Old Town)
  • Date:  27 April, 2024 
  • Further info: online catalog & bidding, see here on the auctioneer's website, or via the Invaluable platform, see there. The two PDF catalogs can be downloaded from the auctioneer's site.


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