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Some Older Tokens From Egypt

 

Looking at some of the older tokens of Egypt, particularly those of around 60 to 100 years ago, we find they include a number of pieces for use in tearooms, bars and clubs, on transport or in the military. This series includes some obvious British and other foreign influences. Amongst African tokens of this period, Egyptian tokens are relatively numerous in variety, although they are seldom come by. You may have seen a few examples, once in a while, in dealers' lists or in auction catalogues. But did you ever wonder about the history behind any of these fascinating pieces? My own interest led me to carry out a little research into a select few, and here is what I have discovered.


Evangelos Tseppas Token
An Evangelos Tseppas, Cairo token

This first token is for a buffet-bar in Cairo. I had heard of Egyptian tokens from cafés and cake shops before, but this was the first such piece I had knowingly seen close up. Central to the design on both sides and within a ring of beading is “5” / “MILL.”. This is an abbreviation for the denomination 5 Milliemes. In addition to this, the obverse reads “EVANGELOS TSEPPAS” above and “ + CAIRO + ” below whilst the reverse reads “BUFFET-BAR” above and “ + TSEPPAS + ” below. This token is brass and has a diameter of 27mm.

Evangelos Tseppas was of Greek origin and founded “Tseppas” in 1912. I have seen several other Tseppas/Cairo pieces offered. One such piece mentioned a “Georges Tseppas”, presumably a relative; another piece mentioned Fuad I Street, Cairo (in French), evidently the location of a shop. The token shown here is quite large for a value of just 5 Milliemes, when say compared with contemporary Egyptian coinage and the buying power of that amount of money. This amount had a value very close to 1¼d in the British system. Those are some of the reasons for this piece, in my estimation, being from sometime during 1912 to 1930. Until the 1916/1917 series of Egyptian coins, denominations equivalent to 5 Milliemes and below were only ever expressed on Egypt’s coins in terms of multiples or fractions of one-tenth of a Piastre and written in Arabic. The Millieme was a tenth of a Piastre and therefore a thousandth of an Egyptian Pound. It had been introduced as part of Egypt’s currency reform of 1888 and was also then used for denominations on Egyptian postage stamps.

In “The Vanished World of Egyptian Jewry” published in the March 1994 edition of “Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought”, (see http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-15524323.html ), Victor D. Sanua, a Jew born in Egypt in 1920, recalls Tseppas as being a famous pastry shop on Fuad Street. Sanua had lived in Egypt until 1950; Tseppas had been a favourite place of his to get a cake. These days in Cairo there is still a business of this type named “Tseppas”. The now defunct Tseppas website of 2003 (http://www.tseppas.com.eg viewable via http://web.archive.org), states that the company was founded by Evangelos Tseppas and is my source for the year of their establishment. So we have confirmation of the link between this Tseppas token and the business still existing today.

In July 1952 revolution broke out in Egypt, leading to King Farouk’s abdication on 26th July. The Tseppas family left Egypt shortly after then. Of the three Tseppas branches then current, one had been established in 1912 and was located at No. 9 Fuad I Street. This street name was in honour of King Farouk’s father. After the revolution, many place names in Egypt were changed, and references to royalty quickly disappeared. Fuad I Street also succumbed to this trend and was renamed “26th July Street”.

The Nasr City district of present day Cairo hosts a shopping centre called Genena Mall. There you will find a large Tseppas shop, selling a splendid range of freshly made cakes, pastries and pizzas. The company is still well known for its products and has five retail outlets in Cairo, but no longer any premises at No 9, 26th July Street (Fuad I Street).

The Tseppas family, who left Egypt so many years ago, could well be the Tseppas family with a small shop in an indoor market in Beverwijk near Amsterdam. There they offer Egyptian, Moroccan and Lebanese cakes and pastries (this can be seen at http://www.noordwest.nu/bazaar/32284/ ).


Token from Lipton's Oriental Tearooms
Four different tokens from Lipton’s Oriental Tea Rooms, Cairo, obverses only (scan scaled to 200 dpi)

Next we have a group of four brass tokens: they are a “1”, two “5”s and a “10”. On the obverse of these tokens is the issuer name and the nature of their business “LIPTON’S ORIENTAL TEA ROOMS”; this is around the central denomination numeral, with “CAIRO” below. The obverse border is beaded. On the flat reverse of all these pieces except the second “5” piece, there is a large “G” stamped incuse and showing through onto the obverse. The approximate diameters for these three denominations are 24mm, 27mm and 33mm. I have also seen pieces of denominations “½” and “2” listed in sales/auctions, each having a flat reverse, the “2” being of a diameter out of sequence to those of the other pieces known to me.

In the early 1890s Thomas J. Lipton, the owner of a large chain of grocery stores in England and Scotland, made his big move into the tea business. He acquired tea plantations in Ceylon and was soon able to offer his customers low-priced, quality Tea. It was all a great success and the “Lipton” brand was soon well known around the world. . “Lipton”, now owned by the huge multi-national company Unilever, is still a leading worldwide brand of tea, though for some reason it is not particularly big in Great Britain at present.

These tokens are likely from the 1920s/1930s, possibly a little later. Comparing their sizes with those of other similar Cairo tokens of this period, it would seem that the Lipton’s tokens shown here must be for 1 Piastre, 5 Piastres and 10 Piastres. I have not been able to determine the meaning of the “G” found on the reverse of some of these pieces. The only other pieces from this issuer that I have seen offered, in Spink Sale No. 88, London, October 1991, likewise bear a single upper case letter on their reverse, but these did not include a “G”.

A background note in the novel “Miramar”, written in 1967 by famous Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz, gives a clue to the location of the Lipton’s Oriental Tea Rooms. It states that “Lipton Gardens”, which no longer exist, had been a tea-garden in the area between Shepheard's Hotel and the Kasr el-Nil Barracks. In modern day Egypt the former has been re-built and is presently known as Helnan Shepheard Hotel, and the latter is where the Nile Hilton Hotel now stands. Both of these hotels are located along the river Nile’s east bank on Corniche el-Nil.


J.Loques Token
A token of J. Loques & Co. of Cairo

The next token seems rather plain. It has, on the obverse, a central ring of beading with “J. LOQUES & Co” above and “CAIRO” below. To each side of “CAIRO” there is a small five-pointed star. The reversAfrica - Tokens of EgyptAfrica - Tokens of Egypte of the token is flat. This piece is without denomination but it would seem to be neither an advertiser nor a ticket/pass; it is brass and has a diameter of 28.9mm. The only two obvious clues for attributing this piece are the city name “CAIRO” and the name “LOQUES”, a surname which is apparently most prevalent in France. A little more research was required.

I found two clues to help me. At http://albert.pardo.free.fr/envoi.htm (within the short article there entitled, “10 Piastres” by Joe Rossano) prices of goods in Egypt in the late 1950s are remembered. This includes “Argentin from Loques 2.5”. Elsewhere, at http://www.egy.com/landmarks/96-06-15.shtml and following an article there on one of Cairo’s most famous tea rooms, one of the many readers’ comments includes the recollection of an “argentin” in Cairo having been a type of cake. The name “argentin” (the French word for “silvery”) was given to such cakes because they came in a silver foil. So a company in Cairo, known as “Loques” sold cakes of a certain type with a French name. No doubt that particular cake type was just a small part of their product range.

I have not seen any sign of other tokens that include the name “Loques”. However, this piece does bear some resemblance to the “Lipton’s Oriental Tea Rooms” pieces already mentioned. All of these pieces have a design on one side only, they are rimless and they each have an obverse beaded border with similar spacing, position and bead style. This suggests that the Loques token was from a similar period as the Lipton’s tokens. In two different Cairo guides (from around 1954 and 1960) I could see that at that time there had been a “Loques” at 10, Soliman Pasha Street. This street is now called Talaat Harb Street and is in Downtown, Cairo. I was unable to find any information relating to a company with the name “Loques” in present day Cairo.


General Automatics of Egypt Token
A General Automatics of Egypt, ½ Piastre Token

Next we have a machine token. This brass token would have been for a slot machine around the 1930s/1940s, possibly earlier; it has a face value of half a Piastre. The obverse legend reads “GENERAL AUTOMATICS OF EGYPT” around, then, two lines centrally and encircled, “P ½ T” / “IN TRADE”. There is a rim to both sides; on the reverse there is nothing but the rim.

This token has a diameter of 0.835 inches and a mass of 4.3 grams. Various British made brass machine token types from this era (the first half of the 20th century) also had a quite similar diameter (any of 0.830, 0.835 and 0.840 inches, some slightly different/in-between) and typically weighed in the range 4.2 grams to 4.5 grams. They were issued in the name of companies such as “The Auto Supply Co.”, “British American Novelty Co.”, “Monarch Automatics” and “Samson Novelty Co.”. whose business activities included the distribution of U.S. made automatic (coin-operated) machines for gaming, amusement and vending. So these same types of machines were evidently also in use in Egypt around this time. In the U.S.A. the machines would have been used with U.S. 5 Cent coins, which have a diameter of 0.835 inches (21.21mm) and a mass of 5.00 grams. So likely the machines run by “General Automatics of Egypt”, whatever their use, would have come from the U.S.A., perhaps via Great Britain.

As for the supply of the tokens, I would imagine it was normal for each new machine to be delivered with a sufficient quantity of tokens. I have numerous examples of British issued token of similar size of this era. They all have a design on both sides, employing a regular type-face and usually having dentilated borders. In contrast, this Egyptian token has a design on just one side, a fairly crude type-face and a plain border. So perhaps this Egyptian token was struck in Egypt.


Kit Kat Lido Token
1 Piastre token from Kit Kat Lido, Cairo

Finally we have a token from a lido. This brass piece of 22.9mm diameter has the obverse legend “KIT KAT LIDO” / “P.1” / “CAIRO”. The central “P.1”, for “1 Piastre”, includes an extra horizontal stroke through the main vertical stroke, as sometimes used on symbols for currency units. There is a five-pointed star to each side of “CAIRO”. On the reverse there are the entwined and shaded letters “G” and “C”. Both sides of the token are clearly rimmed. The only other two “Kit Kat Lido” pieces that I have ever seen listed for sale were a “P.5” and “P.10” pair of similar design to the “P.1”. These were offered by Spinks of London in 1991, and by Noble Numismatics of Melbourne in 1999 and 2005. Nobel Numismatics detailed the two tokens as having diameters of 26mm and 33mm respectively. The sizes of these 1, 5 and 10 Piastres tokens are, therefore, not too dissimilar to those of the “Liptons Oriental Tea Rooms” series already detailed.

The British had first occupied Egypt in 1882 and they played a part in much development of the country. The British forces included those from various parts of the British Empire. The “Kit Kat Club” in Cairo was a large establishment used mainly by the occupying British military. I was unable to find any relevant facts, so can only guess that the club was established some time in the 1930s or perhaps a little earlier. The club was going strong throughout the period of the Second World War and was pulled down some time after the revolution. The best estimate of the date of issue of the token is 1930s/1940s. The club was primarily a night club with cabaret, dancing etc…  It was very well known, not least through being frequented by King Farouk. The “Kit Kat Lido”, as far as I can tell, must just have been a part of the “Kit Kat Club” establishment. A lido is an outdoor swimming pool, with plenty of facilities e.g. sun-bathing areas and refreshments. Most of the remaining lidos in England were first opened in the 1930s.

In “I Spied Spies”, Alfred William Sansom’s 1965 book, recounting British counterespionage in Cairo, the author mentions a “Calomiris” (by surname only) and details him as having been the Greek owner of the “Kit Kat”. Further of this man, Sansom wrote: - “He was very rich, rumoured to be one of Egypt's numerous wartime millionaires. He owned the Kit Kat cabaret, the smartest nightclub in town.” According to publications of 1948 and 1949, relating to the Egyptian Federation of Industry, (seen on Google Books, April 2008), Mr G. Calomiris was one of two vice-presidents of the Federation of the Egyptian Hotel Industry. The other was Albert Metzger, the owner of the luxurious Cecil Hotel in Alexandria, Egypt’s second city. From the evidence presented here, it would seem that G. Calomiris was also the owner of the Kit Kat Club (including the lido). The presence of an entwined “GC” monogram on the Kit Kat Lido tokens is an important part of this evidence.

The Kit Kat Club was located a little north from where Sudan Street reaches the main road along the west bank of the river Nile. That large junction is called Kit Kat Square and is situated at the southern-most corner of Kit Kat suburb, within Cairo’s Imbaba district. Both suburb and square take their name from the old club. Kit Kat’s mosque, “Khalid ibn al-Walid Mosque”, stands exactly on the old site of the club.


As already mentioned, the differences between the General Automatics of Egypt token and similar machine tokens from Great Britain suggest that the former was perhaps made in Egypt. The other tokens I have described here might be categorised as “Refreshment Tokens”, and at least some of them are of slightly crude manufacture compared to similar tokens issued during the same period in Great Britain and France. Throughout the period of the manufacture and issue of these tokens, Egypt's circulation coins were all produced by foreign mints. An old Egyptian 5 Milliemes token of mine (not previously mentioned here) bears, in French and in very small lettering, the inscription: “FREMOLLE – ALEXANDRIE”. This is obviously a reference to the maker’s name and location. This same inscription also appears on several other tokens I have seen offered. So it is unlikely that the government were producing any tokens, but there was definitely at least one company producing tokens in Egypt around this time. In fact, we might feasibly speculate that one or two other mints also operated during this fertile period of Egypt's numismatic history.


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Coins of Egypt

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New page at March 2017 – page just for “Some Older Tokens From Egypt”
This article has previously been published in both of “Coin News” (Token Publishing, UK) January 2009.
At the time of that publication there was discussion of some of the article content on World of Coins at http://www.worldofcoins.eu/forum/index.php?topic=1866.0 .
One point to add at March 2017:- soon after writing the above article, regarding the market in Beverwijk, The Netherlands, I was reliably informed:- The stall is named after Tseppas out of respect for what is still considered to be the best pastry shops (there are two now) in Cairo, but the owners have no link with the Tseppas family and know nothing about the family history.