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The Grand Tour: Postcards and Travellers in Egypt, Occasional Paper No. 16

by Elaine Altman Evans, Curator/Adj.Asst.Prof., McClung Museum, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Figure 1. Audigier’s at Giza
Figure 1. Audigier’s at Giza
Mrs. Eleanor Deane Swan Audigier
Figure 2. Mrs. Eleanor Deane Swan Audigier (1864–1931).
Mr. Louis Bailey Audigier
Figure 3. Mr. Louis Bailey Audigier (1858–1943)
Figure 4. Luggage Label and Information Sheet of the Norddeutcher Lloyd, Bremen.
Figure 4. Luggage Label and Information Sheet of the Norddeutcher Lloyd, Bremen.

Today, I would like to share some information about a collection donated to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in 1934 by Louis Bailey Audigier in memory of his wife Eleanor Deane Swan Audigier, now housed in the McClung Museum on the campus. Items from the gift of the Knoxville couple have been used to trace their travels in Egypt in 1912-1913 as part of the Grand Tour.

Mr. Audigier was a businessman and photographer for the New York Times in Rome, Italy. Mrs. Audigier was a cultured woman from Knoxville, who had a deep appreciation of art. Business and love of Italy made Rome their home for a number of years. From there they traveled the continent. In their rich gift to the University of paintings, furniture, porcelains and other objects of art, were a large number of printed paper items from various countries they had visited as participants on the Grand Tour. These consisted of scores of proper photographs, over l75 hotel baggage labels, and many hundreds of postcards from various countries of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Among the postcards were 150 from their tour of the Nile Valley in 1912-1913, as well as baggage labels and photographs taken by Mr. Audigier, while in Egypt. These items have provided data about the places they stayed and how they travelled. This paper trail has provided a retracing of the experiences of this little known couple in Egypt.

In the collection are baggage labels and information sheets from the Norddeutscher Lloyd Shipping Company. No doubt the Audigiers boarded a Norddeutscher Lloyd steamer at Naples, some 136 miles south of Rome. A ship was scheduled to stop there on a Friday at Noon, before arriving at Alexandria the following Monday. After three days of sailing the Mediterranean Sea, they would arrive to see a long, low breakwater, a sandy gray shore, with dull gray and tan dwellings. The impressive Pharos, a replica of the great lighthouse, its origins dating the Ptolemaic Period, built between 285-247 BC, loomed before them. Inside the protected harbor were shoots of masts and numerous ships of various kinds. The Alexandria of fine European style villas and spacious gardens were yet to be seen. Of added interest to them would be reminders of ancient and modern Italy, reflected in the city’s architecture and Roman remnants. Only a stroll or carriage ride away from their hotel was Place Mohammed Ali, designed by the Italian architect Francesco Mancini, or the ancient Roman pillar, the so-called “Pompey’s Column.”

After disembarking and going through customs, the couple must have been amazed at the port town and assuredly taken back by the mysterious smells, hustle and bustle, and loud noise of exotic peoples in gallabehs and turbans around them. One wonders how much they used their umbrellas or walking sticks to keep ‘baksheesh’ criers and souvenir salesmen at bay! They now knew they were a far cry from Europe in a unique and completely different land.

The exact date of their arrival at Alexandria is unknown, creating one of several missing links in their travels. It does seem to have been December 1912 a fashionable travel time as they were in Luxor for Christmas, December 25th. In any event, the hotel luggage labels suggest they stayed in the New Khedivial Hotel, a luxurious resting place for those bound for Cairo.

After a day or two, they seem to have boarded a Khedivial Mail Line ship. Smaller steamers were offered by the company for tours up & down the Nile, at least as far as Cairo as indicated on the back of this card.

In Cairo, they surely stayed at the Mena House, a choice and handsomely decorated hotel located right at the pyramids. It offered electric tram service from Cairo center within 40 minutes, electric light, a lift, three tennis courts, a 9-hole golf course, swimming bath, and much more.

Luggage labels
Figure 5. Luggage Labels: New Khedivial Hotel, Alexandria (& Continental Hotel, Port Said).
Figure 6. Postal-style Card for the Khedivial Mail Line.
Figure 7. Luggage Labels: Mena House, Giza; Palace Hotel Heliopolis; Grand Hotel, Helouan.
Figure 7. Luggage Labels: Mena House, Giza; Palace Hotel Heliopolis; Grand Hotel, Helouan.
The Audigiers
Figure 8. The Audigiers at the Great Sphinx.

A short carriage ride in a good “Victoria,” with horses driven by locals, would put them in front of the Great Sphinx. The other resort hotels located in the nearby area were ideal for a few days visit.

In addition to postcards and baggage labels, we have several small silver prints taken by Mr. Audigier, with written notations, and a few personal letters, with comments. These printed memorials provide data and help to imagine both the modern and ancient sites they visited during the winter months. The weather was excellent for travelling and therefore a popular seasonal choice. Cairo could be chilly so travelers would leave for the healthful and beneficial dry climate at the resorts of Luxor and further on to Assuan.

We are provided with glimpses of a few of their experiences in Cairo, typical for visitors to Egypt and from comments on the back of Mr. Audigier’s silver prints.

“He loves the desert like a native and rides the camel like a Bedouin is so happy and well.”

“I take to standing on dry land with the glories of this wondrous country about me….”

There is good reason to believe that after having arrived in Cairo, they continued their journey up the Nile as was usual for travellers by transferring to another steamer. One well known company that offered its services was Thomas Cook & Son, located near Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo. A major event for travelers was taking a steamer, sailing past and stopping at a variety of points of interest. One possibility to choose from was a 20-day tour from Cairo up the Nile to Luxor, Assuan (First Cataract) and back, offered every week in November to March. It was from Assuan that steamers turned around to begin a leisurely progress down the Nile. Adahabyeha, a boat for independent travel, took from 2 to 3 months from Cairo to Assuan & back. The government run train system also offered package tours.

“Her ladyship being borne from the boat on the Nile in the arms of two faithful Arabes. Thebes, Jan. 4, 1913.”

Mr. Audigier on a Camel
Figure 9. Mr. Audigier on a Camel Probably at Giza; photographer L. B. Audigier.
Mrs. Audigier
Figure 10. Mrs. Audigier by a Pyramidan in Front of the Cairo Museum; photographer, L.B. Audigier.
Luggage Label
Figure 12. Luggage Label: Savoy Hotel Luxor; Grand Hotel Assuan.]

The Importance of Postcards

Postcards are charming treasures, which can be valued and appreciated in a number of ways. They are informative, revealing a universal story that is woven into the fabric of early travel. At a time of hand written correspondence, they added a way to correspond with fewer words. In addition, they illustrate a few milestones in their development and of the postal system. Mostly, they provide details about the impact such small, illustrated, inexpensive, mass produced cards had on the travel experience. Also recognized are publishers, occasionally photographers, artists, and card styles and printing methods, which were essential to promoting their popularity. In the technological age of today, it is important to preserve postcards as they may disappear as seems to be with other hand held, hand written methods of communications. All the more reason to treasure a few of those collected by our travelers as they recorded their journey up the Nile.

Postcards were essential to the memory file of the Grand Tour. As was done by many travellers of their era, after they returned home the Audigiers arranged their postcards for further study. Because they were valued and served as reminders of what they had seen, the cards were carefully filed according to specific subject categories such as architecture, costume, landscape, etc. As editor and postcard expert Norman D. Stevens wrote in 1995, “In the pre-World War I Golden Age of postcards, postcard collecting was a major craze…. In recent years there has been a steady growth of interest in used postcards of all kinds, but especially in those from the dawn of the postcard era, largely on the part of individual collectors who recognize the extent to which those cards provide important visual information about so many elements of society in a way that no other objects do.” (Stevens, pp. 1-2)

During the period of the Grand Tour, the fad raged around the world. Shops and souvenir vendors in major Egyptian sites and cities carried postcards, including those in Cairo, Luxor and Assuan and in ports, such as Alexandria and Port Said. While their popularity declined after WWI, interest in postcards did not fade altogether. Even today, thoughtful enthusiasts have not only collected them, but produce monthly publications about them for postcard clubs, societies, institutes, or research centers. More recently their value has been highlighted by a rise in new books about the subject. Some are scholarly works, which focus on postcard research and cultural studies, and provide earnest information about postcards. Postcards have become an important part of library and museum collections. These serve as study tools revealing informa- tion about cultures of the world and aspects that may no longer exist.

A Connection

As suggested earlier, our travellers had a close relationship to postcards as they traveled the world. No less so were those of Egypt. Their cards of Egypt illustrate and record objects in Egyptian museums, cities, hotels, village life, and important sites and locations of monuments and tombs. The images on the cards inspired the couple as they bought them, while they stopped at various booksellers, stationers, and souvenir vendors. In Cairo, many opportunities were located near the famous Shepheard’s Hotel, the Hotel Metropole, or in the Ezbekiyeh area. Wherever they were sold, the Audigiers and their traveling companions could reflect upon their surroundings and the works of art and architecture they had seen as they looked through the assortment of cards for sale. As collectors they must have been delighted by the selections at their first stop Alexandria. Comments surely took place between them such as “Which one should I buy?” “This is a grand scene.” They may have sat on the front terrace of their hotel enjoying their postcards and the passing scene.

Figure 13. Place Mohamed Aly, Alexandria; published by Trinkler & Co., Leipsig, Germany.
The Lighthouse Alexandria
Figure 14. Le Phare, the Lighthouse Alexandria; published by S.N. Theodossiou, Alexandria, Egypt.
Column de Pompee et Sphinx
Figure 15. Column de Pompee et Sphinx, Alexandria; published by Trinkler & Co., Leipsig, Germany.
A Village in Alexandria
Figure 16. A Village in Alexandria; published by Trinkler & Co. Leipsig. Germany.

In this way the Audigiers preserved through their selections certain images they perceived as their most important experiences. To Mr. Audigier, who was a professional photographer as well as businessman, those postcards which expressed the art of photography so dear to his heart would be particularly favored. Also, those recording important political associations such as the portrait of Khedive Abbas Hilmi Pasha II (1892–1914).

Mr. Audigier was intrigued by the monarch and aware that Abbas was affected by problems of internal political turmoil. Nationalists wanted total independence from both British rule and Ottoman dependence. To Mrs. Audigier, who was a devotee of the fine arts, cards best reflecting the rich artistic culture and heritage of all periods in Egypt were duly admired.

For such travellers, an extensive collection of postcards served an important role as a pictorial record of what they had learned and wanted to savor about both modern and ancient Egypt. A large collection of postcards documenting their travels was, more over, a way to demonstrate their good taste, erudition, and affluence. A large collection of postcards was a status symbol. After all, most of the affluent and educated members of society collected cards.

As travellers learned about sites, some wrote comments on the cards about their under-standing and opinions about the social and cultural context that surrounded them. Alas, in the case of the Audigier collection, we have mostly un-posted cards. Only a few of un-posted cards in the collection have written messages on their backs. These may also illustrate some postcards were often enclosed in envelopes and sent, rather than being posted individually. This was done so messages could be longer and continued on several cards.

On one typical, unstamped example she writes letter-like on its entire back, including “My Dear Child …went to the Russian Exhibition and bought some heavy lace for some sheets—it is lovely….The Suez Canal is wonderful.” An important attraction left unmentioned, though, was the famous statue of the French-man Ferdinand de Lesseps, the dynamic force that made the Suez Canal a reality in 1869.

An Ancient Tradition

Khedive Abbas I.
Figure 17. Khedive Abbas I. [sic.]; published by the Cairo Postcard Trust, Cairo; photographer P. Ditrich. [P. Dittrich (fl. 1880–1918) is misspelled on card.]
The Greco-Roman Museum
Figure 18. The Greco-Roman Museum; Alexandria; published by Max Rudmann, Cairo.
Russian Exhibition in Port Said
Figure 19. Russian Exhibition in Port Said; publisher unknown. Featured on the card is a statue of Ferdinand de Lesseps at the entrance of the Canal.
Figure 20. Ancient Egyptian Papyrus Fragment.

It is interesting to note the postal history of Egypt began in ancient times. Perhaps some of the historical details of this ancient tradition crossed the inquisitive minds of the Audigiers. It is well documented that letters, or ‘postal documents’, were known as early as the Old Kingdom, 2300 BC, and perhaps even before that time.

A detailed story of the ancient postal history of Egypt is outside the scope of today’s presentation, today. However, a few important thoughts about this very ancient tradition may have crossed our traveller’s minds, while surrounded by hieroglyphic texts and papyri in Egypt and a Baedeker in hand. Egypt could boast that letters, or postal documents, were known as early as the Old Kingdom, 2300 BC, and perhaps even before that time.

Postal services existed serving the pharaoh even beyond the borders of Egypt. Pharaoh controlled the official mail system and had control of mail that reached the farthest of his territories.. In those ancient days, undecorated correspondence was written mostly on papyrus, potsherds and limestone flakes and to lesser degree on wood or clay tablets. The proper material was papyrus cut from a roll to the desired size of the message. These letters bear little resemblance to the postcard, though, as they were rolled or folded up and sealed. Couriers or letter-carriers carried the official mail from place to place and it was recorded. This was a rudimentary postal service for official mail. However, there was no postal service for private letters, which were carried by servants.

However, for the Audigier collection we must fast forward to the modern periods to gain a brief insight into their birth. The wide world’s first official postcard was introduced in 1869, not in Egypt, but by its inventor the Austrian Postal Authority. The cards were printed on stiff paper, or thin card, as an inexpensive way to write messages. They were an immediate and great success, some one-and-a-quarter million cards sold within three months. By 1870, the British and Swiss Post Offices had followed suit. In France postcards were being offered at the Paris Exhibition at the opening of the Eiffel Tower opening celebrations in1889. The cards still bore engravings, but not yet actual photographs. It was not until the 1890s that adhesive stamps were used. Prior to that time, cards bore printed stamps.

The engraved images were decorative and could only share space with the message on the back side of the card. The front side of the card was reserved for the stamp and address. New styles were being developed. Postcards were changing with the times. Photographs would soon differ in appearance. Such features impacted the way people communicated at a time not too distant from that of our travellers in Egypt.

Postal System in Egypt

The modern postal system in Egypt was originally developed by the great Mohammed Ali Pasha, who reigned over Egypt from 1805-1848. But it was Khedive Ismail, who not only made great advances in the railroad systems in Egypt, but, who in 1867, established the Egyptian post office. By 1870, there were 19 post-offices in the whole country. The national post office was soon firmly established. in Cairo. There were “… handsome post office structures—with every modern convenience—in Alexandria, Cairo, Assiout, and other important centers, and all the largest cities [had] a perfect letter-carrier system” (Fiske, p. 23).

In 1874, an important event occurred that would influence postcards in Egypt and those later collected by our travellers, who quite possibly were aware of the event. In 1874, the very first International Postal Congress met in Berne, Switzerland. Egypt was one of the twenty-two delegations sent from their respective countries and as a member of the General Committee. The purpose of the Congress was to unite member countries into one postal territory and fix international postage rates.

The 1874 Treaty of Berne was very successful in unifying a confusing international maze of postal services and regulations. However, when the 2nd International Postal Congress met four years later in 1878, it was decided the name “General Postal Union” be changed to “Universal Postal Union,” so as to reflect the congresses’ geographical range. In 1879, Egypt became a member of the newly named Universal Postal Union.

Figure 21. Postcard sent from Cairo to Cöln, Germany, 1893.
Figure 22. Painting of Khedive Ismail of Egypt (1863–1879).
Figure 23. Postcard mailed from Helouan to Geba, Germany in 1902. *** “Union Postale Universelle” and “Carte Postale” are printed on the card rear.

On November 14, 1900, another important development took place. The Council of Ministers decreed the sale of postcards in the Ottoman Empire. The ruling stated, “Postcards could bear the names of God in the prophet Mohammed, any pictures of the Kaaba, or anything relating to Mecca and other Mussulum religious building or ceremonies, as well as portraits of Mohammedan women.” (Staff, p. 89)

In 1906 at the sixth Congress, it was reconfirmed that postcards “must bear on the face the French heading ‘Carte Postale’, or the equivalent of this heading in another language.” All of the postcards in the Audigier collection bear variations of this early designation. So we have Carte Postale, Carte postale Universelle, Union Postale Universelle, Postkarte, cartolina postale, postcard, and Carte Postale poste Egyptienne, etc., printed on the card backs. In 1907, cards with divided backs were introduced. A vertical line divided one side for the address and the other side for messages.


Early postcards are great communicators. Today as yesterday, they impart information about a wide range of subject matter about any given locale. They provide data about publishers, artists, photographers, card styles, stamps and their cancellations. In the case of Egypt, they illustrate an identity that is unique, providing important visual information about various elements of a unique society in a way no other images do. They reflect in part the manners and lifestyle of travellers of the early Twentieth Century, particularly when the cards bore writing. Noted is certain sites were favored for publication in greater quantity. Publishers studied what scenes people wanted and decided what was profitable to print. Travellers played a role, too. What they decided to choose, affirmed which cards would sell. There were a very great variety of card styles and many publishers from many countries. This contrasts to the more limited styles of today. In conclusion, the following selections suggest a few choices made by the Audigiers as we travel with them back in time:

 *This paper was presented before members of the Association for the Study of Travel in Egypt and the Near East, July 2005 at Manchester University, Manchester, England.

** From the internet.
*** From the internet.

Selected Bibliography

  • Blottiere, Alain, Egypt 1900. The view through postcards. Cairo: Zeitouna, c. 1993.
  • Codding, George A., The Universal Postal Union. New York University Press 1964.
  • Egypte and the NileCook’s Nile Services, Season 1912-1913. London: Thos. Cook & Son, 1912(?)
  • Fikry, Samir Amin, Postal History of Egypt to 1900. London: Royal Philatelic Society, 1996.
  • Fiske, Willard, All About Postal Matters. Florence: The Landi Press, 1898.
  • Les Postes en Egypte. Royaume d’Egypte Ministere des Communications. Cairo: Imprimerie Nationale, 1934.
  • “Mr. Thos. Cook’s Proposed Personal Tour round the World”in Cook’s Excursionist and Tourist Advertiser, June 24, 1879.
  • Sétié, Salah and Jean-Michel Belorgey, Egyptiennes Cartes postales (1885-1930). Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule, Bleu autour, 2003.
  • Smith, Peter A.S., Egypt: stamps & postal history, a philaletic treatise. Limassol: James Bendon, [1999].
  • Staff, Frank, The Picture Postcard & Its Origins. N.Y.: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, 1966.
  • Stevens, Norman D.,(ed.), Postcards in the Library: Invaluable Visual Resources. New York/London, The Haworth Press, Inc. 1995.
  • Union Postale Universelle. 6me Congress. Rome, 1906.