Denominations: centimes
 Suez Canal Company Stamps

Suez Canal Stamps
In 1859 the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez set up its own postal system to convey administrative mail between its work sites and its offices in Alexandria, Port Said, Ismailia and Suez. Later, in 1860, it formed an agreement with the Posta Europea for the conveyance of its mail to the nearest Posta Europea office: Damietta, Suez or Zagazig.

This arrangement ran until 1865, when the Posta Europea was taken over by the Egyptian Government, after which the company resumed operation of its own postal system. Carriage of the mail was free for personal and business mail of company employees and other residents of the Canal area. In November 1867, to cover the cost of this service, it was decided to introduce a charge for the carriage of private mail, to take effect from July 1, 1868.

As a result the company headquarters in Paris placed an order for postage stamps in denominations of 1, 5, 20 and 40 centimes with the Paris firm of Chézaud Ainé et Tavernier. These were printed by lithography, with the printing surface of the 20 centimes stone built up by means of 120 individual lithographic transfers taken from an original single-image stone. The other three printing stones of 120 impressions were made up of 30 transfers taken from an intermediate stone of four images.

The stamps were sent Egypt in June 1868, but did not arrive in Ismailia until early July, perhaps the 8th or 9th, just over a week too late for the introduction of the postage fees. The company had ordered its own datestamps, but these were also late so the stamps were cancelled either by pen or by several types of obliterators held at Port Said by the French Post Office. At Port Said these include the "grand chiffre" lozenge of dots with the number "5129" and the double-ringed "PORT-SAID" datestamp; at Ismailia by a rectangle of 48 dots in blue; and at Suez by a 25mm circle of large lozenges also in blue.

Members of the public objected, however, to this "extra tax" going to the company, and the Egyptian postal authorities were concerned about the infringement of the state postal monopoly and their own loss of revenue. They quickly tried to close down the service, which resulted in Giacomo Muzzi, the Postmaster General, agreeing to take control on August 16, 1868.

Most of the company's post office facilities and postal equipment were transferred to the Egyptian Government, which immediately opened Egyptian civil post offices on the sites of the former company offices. As a result the Canal Company stamps were in use for a short period of less than 40 days, making genuinely used examples extremely rare with only a few known covers.


On taking over the canal service the Egyptian postal authorities used Egyptian stamps and introduced their own datestamps. In some cases, where there had been no Egyptian office, some time elapsed before these were supplied and Egyptian stamps were cancelled by the company datestamps, which had by then arrived.

This issue of stamps has been extensively forged or produced as "space filler facsimiles" and it is likely that there are more of these in the market place then genuine ones. Forged postmarks on forged and genuine stamps are known and used stamps are extremely rare, with a catalogue value several times that of unused: any such items should be viewed with extreme scepticism. Reprint forgeries were even made from the genuine stone of the 40c stamp, which had been taken from the company archives, and new values inserted to fake other denominations.

Much has been published on how to detect these forgeries. The best reference is Boulad d'Humières, Ringström and Tester: Private Ship Letter Stamps of the World. Part 3. The Suez Canal Company. A small monograph published by Barefoot covers only some of the known forgeries.

Careful examination must be made of the cross-hatching and other details; and here are just two examples for the 20c.

On genuine stamps, the space between the label containing "POSTES" and the lower part of the oval containing "DE SUEZ" is filled with lines of shading. These comprise both vertical and oblique lines.

On the ship there is one passenger in the bows, two between the fore and main masts, and one behind the main mast.

Behind the funnel, just to the right of the point where the lines of the rigging join the rail, there is a spot of colour which might represent another passenger.

The lower stamp is one of the cruder forgeries.

Only a few sheets still exist with none known for the 1c, only one sheet for the 5c and a few each for the two higher values.

One of the 21 known genuine covers.

ESC Home