A rare Richter poster

A chap named David Hopper added a comment on this site last week mentioning he had a poster that recycled one of the designs used on the cover of an Anglo-American Nile Company brochure. He kindly sent me an image with permission to post here:

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It’s a fabulous thing and, as far as I know, very rare – I’ve never seen a poster for the Anglo-American company. He tells me it’s 39 1/2 x 25 inches and going by the date on the brochure with which it shares a design, it probably dates from around 1929/1930.

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Also interesting is that it was designed and printed by the well known Richter & Co of Naples, a company responsible for designing and printing many of the fine luggage labels and advertising material put out by Egypt’s top hotels, including Shepheard’s, the Winter Palace and Cataract. The Anglo-American company spent years overshadowed by the more commercially successful Thomas Cook Nile services and subsequently largely vanished from history while the Thomas Cook name lives on, but thanks to Richter it can at least boast the better graphics.

 

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Wonderful things

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I mentioned a few posts back that there had been some amends made for the paperback edition of Grand Hotels. Chief of these was correcting a big mistake of mine, which was to attribute the design of the 1890 rebuild of Shepheard’s hotel to the English architect George Somers Clarke. I was repeating a claim published elsewhere without testing the truth of it. In my defence, information on the architects of hotels built in the 19th century was and is hard to come by.

You’d imagine that for an institution as famous as Shepheard’s, everything about it would be thoroughly documented but this is not the case. Not even the daily newspapers of the time, which reported at length on the remodeling and relaunch of the hotel, bothered to credit the architect. Hats off then to Tarek Ibrahim, a researcher at the Humboldt University of Berlin who has succeeded where I failed and managed to identify the real architect. A name in an old Shepheard’s brochure led him to a castle in Bavaria where he gained confirmation that the architect was a German named Johann Adam Rennebaum. This is not a well known name. In fact, I think few architectural historians that specialise in 19th-century Cairo have even heard of him. But apparently he was a long-term resident of Egypt, who designed villas for members of the German community in Alexandria and a number of buildings for Belgian enterprises in Cairo. It appears he was also involved in restorations of some of Cairo’s most important mosques including Ibn Tulun, Sultan Hassan and Al-Azhar.

But Tarek’s real find was in Bavaria. He discovered that Rennebaum’s ancestors still had a dusty tower room filled with their ancestor’s belongings (he died in 1937). These include sketchbooks, photographs, and plans and preparatory drawings for details of the décor in Shepheard’s, as well as items of furniture that may possibly have come from the hotel. Tarek told me he felt like Carter discovering Tutankhamun’s tomb. The pictures in this post were sent to me by Tarek.

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Tarek is now hoping to find sponsors to fund the restoration of the furniture, which is in a fairly bad way, with a possible view to a future exhibition. He’s also hoping to write a book on Rennebaum and Shepheard’s. It’s amazing news.

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Grand Hotels in paperback

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It’s been out for a while now but I only recently got to see it for myself – the paperback edition of Grand Hotels of Egypt.

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The Oxford Pension

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For a spell back at the end of the 80s/early 90s whenever I was walking around Downtown Cairo I used to have guys shout at me, “Hey! Kaboria!” The reference was to a hit film that was playing at the cinemas, staring Ahmed Zaki. In it, he sported a distinctive close-crop hair cut and, unasked for by me, my local barber had given me the same cut. Then the film finished its run and my hair grew out and that’s the last I heard of Kaboria, until last month.

It unexpectedly popped up again in British newspaper The Guardian in an interview with Cate Blanchett. Rehashing old history with the journalist, she explains how aged around 20, she was doing the Australian thing of travelling the world for a year. She was hanging out in Cairo when she was approached by some guy at her hostel and asked if she wanted to appear as an English-speaking extra in a local film. And so she went along and it turned out to be Kaboria. However, contrary to what sources on the internet say, Blanchett says it was so hot and boring she left and was never in the film.

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The hostel where the future Elizabeth I and Galadriel was staying in Cairo was the Oxford pension. A “fleapit” she calls it. A fleapit? That’s not half the story. It was cockroach central. A fetid lice incubator. A rodent ranch. It had a rickety lift with the greater part of its back kicked out that carried guest up to the sixth-floor reception and which felt uncomfortable like an ascending coffin. It had nicotine-hued walls, showers that spouted only rusty trickles and rooms that weren’t rooms at all, just widenings in the corridor with a mattress on the floor.

But it had a prime location midway up Talaat Harb and it was cheap, cheap enough that it was always full of long-term boarders, paying just a few pounds a week for a place to flop. It had the added attraction of a reception area that was the place to score drugs, pick up work, sell a Walkman or a passport, buy a false student ID, or just to share Stellas and stories with like-minded warriors on the overland trail.

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I never stayed there – I valued my health too much – but I knew plenty who did. These memorably included a guy from Manchester who had to be medivaced out after catching hepatitis and an American who taught English up the street at a cowboy school where the pay didn’t allow for anything more than a bed at the Oxford. To brighten up his room the American bought some red cloth from Khan al-Khalili and draped the ceilings and walls. For company he bought a white rabbit from the butchers and named her Miss Fifi. When he left a few months later, the management at the Oxford left his room as it was and certain guests got given a room that looked like a brothel, complete with white rabbit and droppings.

Who said the golden age of travel ended with World War II?

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Grand Hotels now in revised paperback

I’ve yet to see a copy but I think Grand Hotels of Egypt is out in paperback. We updated the text earlier this summer, correcting a few typos and including new information that has come to light since the book’s original publication (more on that shortly). We also changed the spine colour to a lovely deep red. I can’t wait to see it. If you haven’t already bought a copy of the book, maybe put off by the price tag of the hardback, then the good news is the paperback is selling for just £10 on amazon in the UK.

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Avoid crowds. Don’t let strangers talk to you

This is why I love old guidebooks. These pages are from a guide to Chicago published in 1888, but the paternalistic going on paranoid tone of the advice is familiar from guides to Egypt.

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An American Express on the Nile

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Americans had been vacationing on the Nile since the mid 19th century but in the first years of the 20th they were coming in ever greater numbers. The Hamburg-American Line increased its sailings to Alexandria to accommodate the growth. Meanwhile, on the Nile new cruise companies were setting up to challenge the monopoly of the English-owned Thomas Cook & Son. I’ve written before about the Anglo-American, established in the mid 1890s, and this was joined ten years later by another new venture, the Express Nile Steamer Company.

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Boasting all-American management and operating on “the American plan”, it inaugurated services aboard its two purpose-built steamers, the America and the Virginia, in 1906. (The steamers, incidentally, were British built.) What the “American plan” was, I’m not sure, but the company’s particular selling point was speed. It claimed its boats were the fastest on the Nile, with an average speed upstream of 12 knots an hour. This enabled them to complete the journey to Aswan and back in eight days as opposed to Cook & Son’s standard twenty. In fact, by synchronising with the train that left Cairo at 6.30pm and arrived in Luxor at 9am the next morning, where a boat would leave at 10am arriving in Aswan at 11pm, the company could boast it could get the traveller from Cairo to Aswan in not much over 24 hours “and have a good view of some of the principal ruins on the way”.

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Except tearing up and back down the Nile at breakneck speed was not the experience most tourists in Egypt were looking for and it seems the Express Nile Steamer Company did not remain in business long because very little evidence of it exists. I found just one or two mentions in archive issues of the daily Egyptian Gazette. Until, that is, this brochure came up recently on ebay (scans above and below). I’ve never seen any other material relating to the company, which might explain why this item went for a price far beyond my each.

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If anybody has any more information about this company, I’d love to hear from you.

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On the Nile press coverage

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There has been some welcome coverage of On the Nile in the UK press: travel mag Wanderlust featured it as one of its ‘8 summer reads’ in the August issue and there was a great half-page review (‘A sense of romance positively oozes from every page of this delightful book’) by explorer Robin Hanbury Tenison in the 29 July issue of Country Life. The online Telegraph ran a picture gallery linked to the book, as did the online travel section of the Daily Mail.

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UPDATE Also reviewed (a half page) in the September issue of Geographical:

Humphreys’ beautifully produced account of tourism’s golden age is largely the story of what became of Cook & Son, from its internal politics to its ties to government and the British Army – in 1884 all tourist activity was halted, as Cook’s steamers were commandeered by the Gordon Relief Expedition, a hiatus which was followed by the launching in 1888 of a fleet of ‘floating palaces’ so grand that bathrooms were included in the fare, instead of being optional extras.

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The still elusive Anglo-American

Vintage Advert of Cruise on Nile Steamer

Last March I was posting on this blog asking for information on the Anglo-American Nile Company, which for the first 40 years of the 20th century was Cook & Son’s main rival on the Nile. Despite the company’s longevity, I couldn’t discover too much about it. The most useful source of information I had was a pdf of the Anglo-American’s very first Nile brochure, kindly sent to me by Cornelius von Pilgrim of the Swiss Institut in Egypt. I have a couple of later brochures from the 1930s and between them, a few newspaper clippings and mentions in journals and travel accounts, I pieced together what I could.

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In short – there’s much more detail in On the Nile – it was set up in 1896 and by 1900 had a fleet of three first-class steamers in the Mayflower, Puritan, and Victoria; three smaller steamers (the Columbia, Indiana, and Niagara); two small launches (Courlis and Witch) and a small fleet of dahabiyas. The bigger steamers had triple decks that sat on top of a hull that was little more than a floating platform, which gave them an appearance that was top-heavy going on outright ugly. But this arrangement did mean they had a shallower draft than the Cook boats and were less prone to running aground.

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Like Cook & Son, the Anglo-American was able to offer weekly departures from Cairo during the season, with connecting departures to the Second Cataract and through bookings to Khartoum. Its boats were less luxurious but they were also considerably cheaper. The Anglo-American also went head-to-head with Cook & Son in the land-based hospitality business, opening its own hotel, the Savoy, on the northern tip of Elephantine Island at Aswan.

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The company was strengthened in 1906 by amalgamation with the transatlantic Hamburg-American Line, becoming in the process the Hamburg and Anglo-American Nile Company. Investment came in the form of two new, large steamers, the Germania and Nubia. The fleet now flew the German flag in addition to the Stars and Stripes. This business arrangement was severed around the time Germany found itself at war with Britain and eventually America. The company failed to survive the Second World War.

Now, wouldn’t you know it, since the publication of the book earlier this year, there has been a flood of Anglo-American brochures hitting eBay. The prices have mostly carried them out of my reach but I have managed to screen-grab some of the covers, which are lovely things. The image at the top of this post, by the way, is an advertising poster rather than a brochure.

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If anyone has any more Anglo-American images and/or information, please do get in touch. There’s always the second printing.

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Now shipping

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On the Nile is now available from Amazon.

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