Groppi’s cafe and patisserie on Midan Talaat Harb in Cairo is currently shrouded in scaffolding and dustsheets as it undergoes extensive renovation (and boy did it need it). While we wait to see what the contractors deliver, here’s reminder of how classy the joint once was courtesy of a beautifully designed promotional map of the kind the business used to give away in its heyday.
Category Archives: Memorabilia
A pingback linking to this site alerted me to a fascinating post over at the Sydney Living Museums website. It concerns a new book containing correspondence between Dora Sheller and her son Leslie Walford, one of the leading figures in Australian interior design until his death in 2012. In 1929 Dora Walford, a glamorous Sydney socialite, set off on a honeymoon voyage to England, stopping off in Cairo from late December 1929 until the first week of January 1930. She was well-heeled enough to stay at the top hotels, notably Mena House and Shepheard’s. The photo below is Dora on the steps to the tea gardens at Mena House.
Dora spent Christmas at Shepheard’s and kept hold of the printed and tassel-corded menu for the Christmas Eve dinner at Shepheard’s Grill, with a beautiful cover showing a masqued ball in full swing.
The Sydney Living Museums post helpfully translates the belt-busting menu:
Blinis with caviar
Tomato soup (served in a cup)
Quail in puff pastry (named for the writer George Sand)
Chicken breast in a rich cream sauce ‘Russian style’
Indian salad (lettuce, cress; a dressing of red wine, vinegar, spices)
Mandarin sorbet with Chantilly cream;
‘Chocolate shoes’ – a novelty chocolate biscuit shaped like a shoe
Chocolate Yule log
A few days later Dora dined at the Mena House and, again, she kept the menu.
Consommé garnished with finely diced carrot, turnip, green beans, truffle &c;
Turbot with a tomato sauce
Roast premium cut of lamb cooked with sage
Bresse chicken in a very rich casserole sauce
Ice cream bombe
After getting through all that, you’d imagine Dora wouldn’t have to eat again until she reached England. However there was a trip into the desert – which may have just been across the road to the Pyramids – for which the Mena House provided a picnic that was transported on its own trolley, as seen in the photograph below, which shows Dora’s husband Eric Sheller and son Leslie.
All these items come from the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums. You can read more here.
The above item recently sold on ebay. What is it? It is a baggage tag issued to passengers embarking on Anglo-American Nile cruises. It bears the same design as an Anglo-American brochure that was issued in 1928 (here), so I’m guessing it dates from the same year. It’s not very big, probably just a bit bigger than a cigarette packet, but very rare – I’ve never seen one before – which is why somebody just paid $130 for it. Not me, but congratulations to whoever did buy it, it’s a lovely thing.
What is now the Cairo Marriott was formerly the Gezira Palace Hotel – or Ghezireh Palace Hotel, as in those days the more letters in a word the more authentically foreign it looked. A genuine former royal palace built to house Empress Eugenie, guest of honour at the opening of the Suez Canal, it was sold off when the British declared Khedive Ismail bankrupt. It ended up being leased to the Brussels-based Compagnie Internationale des Grands Hôtels – the hospitality arm of the company behind the famed Orient Express – which had the former khedivial residence remodelled, refitted and opened to paying guests in October 1894. The brochure below dates to not long after.
The item above is not a Christmas card or greetings card, although it was handed out to all who boarded a Cook & Son Nile steamer. It is a passenger list – flip it over and the small card lists out all your fellow passengers.
It was important to know who they were, after all, with the standard cruise taking three weeks, everybody would be spending a lot of time in each other’s company. Chances are some of the names would be familiar – a trip up the Nile was not cheap and the steamers were largely the preserve of the aristocratic and moneyed classes.
Cook & Son employed a variety of slightly different designs for their passenger lists. These lists relate to the boats I wrote about in the last post, so they would have been issued some time in the 1890s or first decade of the 20th century.
From the same period comes the excellent ticket below, issued by the Cairo office of Cook & Son on 22 November 1893 and good for a journey from Girgeh south to Aswan and back down to Cairo. It is personally signed and authorised by John Mason Cook, son of Thomas and head of the company since his father passed away the previous year.
All these items come from the Thomas Cook archive in Peterborough.
In 1888 Cook & Son’s seasonal Egypt and the Nile brochure opened with an apology: “It will be known to all who have watched the course of events in Egypt, that from the season 1883-84 until the past season of 1886-87, we have not been in the position to justify us announcing a regular tourist steamboat service on the Nile.”
The reason for this was that Cook’s fleet of Nile steamers had been requisitioned by the British Army to transport its troops up to Khartoum in a doomed attempt to rescue Major General Charles Gordon and his besieged forces. The boats were ruined in the attempt. Cook & Son sued for recompense and in 1887 was able to commence the launch of a wholly new, purpose-built fleet of paddle steamers, built to order and custom-fitted for Nile service.
The first two boats were ordered from Fairfield Govan of Glasgow. The design of the boats was based on the American river steamers, with upper, main and lower decks, and side-mounted paddlewheels. The completed hulls and engines were delivered in sections to Egypt in the second half of 1886, and assembled in Cairo, where Cook & Son had its own boatyards at Bulaq. These first vessels were an almost identical pair, the Tewfik and Prince Abbas, which made their trials on the Nile in October 1886.
At around the same time, two additional steamers were ordered from France. These were the Rameses and Prince Mohammed Ali, which were towed across the Mediterranean to Damietta and up the Nile to Cairo.
In November 1889, a further Fairfield boat, the Rameses the Great, was delivered. It made its maiden Nile voyage in January 1890 with African explorer Henry Morton Stanley on board. Business was so good, two seasons later Cook & Son commissioned yet another steamer. This was the Rameses III, launched into regular service on 17th January 1893.
There were also four smaller, less lavish steamers that were built for use on a “Cheap Express Service”: the Amenartas, Cleopatra, Hatasoo and Nefertari. To prove their “express” credentials, in November 1888 the Cleopatra completed the run from Cairo to Aswan and back, a distance of 1,200 miles in 122 hours, faster than anyone had ever done it before. The Express service ran Asyut–Aswan–Asyut, where it connected with the Cairo train. It was for travellers who wanted to spend less time and money on seeing the Nile. It only made short stops en route, including just a few hours at Qena, Luxor and Edfu.
Another purchase was a small steam launch, a boat suitable for a party of not more than eight. This was named Nitocris and was used for private hires (one client was Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, who sailed the Nile in January 1896). The company also retained a small fleet of dahabiyas, which were also used for private hire.
At a speech to mark the launch of Rameses III, head of the company John Cook recalled that when he had made his first trip to the Nile in 1870, there had been only one passenger-carrying steamer and 136 dahabiyas; now there were fifteen steamers, all running under his ownership, and not more than thirty dahabiyas. (In the 21st century, the dahabiya has made a bit of a comeback, while there are no more than two or three working steamers.)
The beautiful drawings included here come from a Cook’s Egypt and the Nile brochure from the 1890s. They were cleaned up and reproduced in large format in my On the Nile book, which is, as far as I know, the first time they have ever been published. You need to double-click on them to appreciate the detail.
From the unpublished diary of Mrs Charlotte Riggs of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, who with her husband Reverend Alexander B Riggs sailed from New York to the Holy Land in 1907 aboard the White Star Line steamer Arabic.
Launched in 1902, the ship was only in service thirteen years before being torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat on 19 August 1915. It was used mainly on Atlantic crossings between Liverpool and New York, but was also used for Mediterranean winter cruises. The ship berthed briefly in Alexandria to allow passengers to make an excursion down to Cairo.
March 20, 1907
We left the boat this morning & took a ride in the steam cars, reaching Cairo about 2 PM. We have a fine room with bath. Took a walk, sat on the hotel veranda & then dressed for dinner. ‘Tis lovely here. To think of my being in that terrible Jerusalem, making my trip, at least this part, so unpleasant, but ‘tis past now.
Thursday, March 21
We made to Pyramids through a lovely road lined with large trees & along the river Nile. We crossed the river twice on five bridges. Saw the Sphinx.
Saw Coptic church, Old Cairo, Nilometer, place where Moses was found, Mosque & Citadel, Bazaar.
Saturday, March 23
Took a walk in morning, afternoon drove to Bazaar. Took tea with the Warthys. Buchanans called last evening.
Sunday, March 24
Went to Church of Scotland this morning. Sat on [hotel’s] veranda after church. Also after lunch a while saw several funerals. Street full of all sorts of people. The people who live at this hotel are very dressy. At six o’clock attended service at American Mission. Dr. Kennedy of Pittsburgh preached. Took our last dinner here tonight. Leave the Grand Continental Hotel in the morning.
Monday, March 25
We left Cairo this morning at 8:20 by steam cars & reached the boat about one o’clock safely. We were rushed through Alexandria as they have smallpox there, we hear. It was good to get back to ship though we had a lovely time at Cairo. The greeting of friends on the boat was pleasant after my being away twelve days.
The hotel in which the Riggs stayed was the Grand Continental on Opera Square, which some years later would change its name to the Continental-Savoy. Thank you to Charlotte’s great-nephew Douglas Brookes for sending me the images and the diary extract.
Although the term was not coined until 1920s, graphic design existed long before there were any graphic designers. The art of combining text and pictures for a range of printed material has been at the heart of the printer’s craft for hundreds of years. While the early pioneers of printers focused on books, others began using their presses for more humble uses, from handbills, signage, trade cards and timetables to popular reading material, games, advertisements and packaging. From Graphic Design Before Graphic Designers: The Printer as Designer and Craftsman 1700–1914 by David Jury (Thames & Hudson, 2012)
The same printers that provided Egypt’s hotels with their fabulous posters and luggage labels, also designed some terrific letterheads and decorated envelopes (click and click again to enlarge).
Found on ebay, this postcard depicting arrivals at Shepheard’s heading for reception past an intimidatingly large phalanx of tarboosh-topped staff (all of whom would be looking to squeeze as much baksheesh as they could from the newcomers during the course of their stay). It was posted from the hotel (the stamp on the reverse has a Shepheard’s Hotel frank) to an address in Paris in 1934.
The cartoon is signed ‘Kem’; this was the pen-name of Kimon Evan Marengo, born in 1904 in Egypt, the son of Evangelos Marangos, a Greek cotton merchant. He grew up in Alexandria and from 1923 to 1931 he edited and contributed to a political weekly called Maalesh. In 1929 he moved to Paris and then in 1939 went to Oxford University, where his studies were interrupted by the outbreak of war. He ended up working for the British Foreign Office as political adviser on the Middle East, producing cartoons, postcards, posters and other propaganda material, notably pin-cushions in which the pins were stuck into the backsides of Mussolini and Hitler. He also acted as a war correspondent and was later awarded the Legion d’Honneur and Croix de Guerre. In 1956 his family lost everything when Nasser nationalised the Egyptian cotton industry and Marengo remained in the UK, dying in London in 1988.
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:
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.
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. Thanks to Richter it can at least boast the better graphics.