When the Suez and Panama canals were built, local systems of money were necessary to pay the workers in the remote areas where construction was taking place.
Examples of that token coinage – issued by the firms hired to work on the canals – are offered in Dix Noonan Webb’s April 2 and 3 auction in London.
One lot is a copper 5-franc piece issued by Ch. & A. Bazin Co., dated 1865 and featuring a charming obverse scene of a ship presumably sailing through the canal after it is finished. Tiny anchors flank the date below. The reverse shows a wreath of grain and oak leaves, with the legend indicating the token is “good for” 5 francs.
In Very Fine condition, the Suez token is estimated at £350 to £450 (about $579 to $745 U.S.).
Five tokens from the Panama Canal are offered in another lot. The collection includes a copper-nickel 5-centavo piece from Alexander Hoskins; a brass 10-centavo token from NCO Club; a copper-nickel 5-centavo piece from Zubieta & Pasos; a uniface copper-nickel 5-centavo token from Roncallo y Ca.; and a red vulcanite 5-cantine token from the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique de Panama.
That latter organization was infamously led by the charismatic Ferdinand de Lesseps, who led the unsuccessful initial French effort to build the canal. The company was forced to file bankruptcy in 1889, so the token was in use some time between late 1879 and early 1889. The denomination and name of issuer appear on this token, which is dominated on each side by a numeral 5.
The vulcanite token is perhaps the rarest Panama Canal token. All five pieces in the lot are VF and the lot is estimated to realize £200 to £300 (about $331 to $496 U.S.).