Saturday, January 8, 2022

Collecting Ancient Egypt in Stereo cards

The above is an 1870s view of the Sphinx and the great pyramid at Giza this is an early very rare French tissue card that has a second layer of tissue behind the tissue photograph which is colored in absurd pink and green so that when the light passes through these colors show through. As one can imagine these tissue windows are easily broken. Egypt is an uncommon subject of these tissue cards which often center around prominent rooms in European palaces and gardens.
Francis Frith was an early photographer photographing Egypt's and Nubia's monuments in the late 1850s. The above example shows the now lost temple of Gerf Hussein of which today the temple's inner sanctum lies at the bottom of Lake Nassar. Note the photographers signature in the bottom left corner also take note of how poorly cut the image is at the top of the photo and with no publishing information on the back or front, this is an early example of a photograph that is likely a pirated image something quite common in the era of the stereoscope, in this case, the card is smaller than the standard size probably produced in the 1860s.

Felix Bonfils was an early photographer of the middle east including Egypt and was the first photographer to market images of the middle east on a large scale certainly nothing like the companies that followed like Keystone or Underwood & Underwood. Here we have the temple of Dendur which today resides at 1000 5th Avenue New York in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Felix Bonfils cards in good condition run from around $50-$100 and up each.
This card is a typical example of an Ingersoll card which was made on thinner cardboard in the early twentieth century 100 years later these cards have not curled the way most older stereo-views have. Ingersoll cards are in color but the same subjects also can be found in black and white. The reader would be advised to avoid buying Ingersoll, Keystone, and Underwood cards as singles as most are very common and are a better value buying in lots. Very similar cards were also distributed in cereal containers and are marked as such on the back.

 As stereoscope cards go this is a visual time machine that takes the viewer back more than 100+ years to this museum display. Today the pharaoh's mummy is no longer presented in his original coffin but in a hermetically sealed glass case under a piece of fine linen as befits the great king's dignity, unfortunately, the king's arms are no longer exposed. This like many Keystone cards can also be found in sepia by Underwood. The era of the stereoscope was between ca.1858-1939 which is around 80 years so many cards including this one are very common even today a century later though some sellers will try to convince the buyer that they are rare they are not. King Seti's mummy should be listed as a must-have in any Egyptian collection and is easily found for sale on the internet.
To start your own collection buy a nice condition stereo-viewer with a few dozen cards this should cost about $100, make sure the sliding bar that holds the cards is present often they are sold missing this element be picky get a nice intact one they are common. Back in the heyday of stereo-views the machine was often given away for free.
Here we have a card by H. C. White whose production output began in 1899 and was almost as great as Keystone and Underwood though, the quality of White's stereo-views are of higher standards than its rivals.

 Finally many cards are overpriced so shop around you never know when something hard to find like this card of Seti 1's mummy,( though it says it is the mummy of Ramses 2). Have fun!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Still No Sign of Amenia

Here we have the last pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty Horemheb with what is suspected to be his first wife Amenia. The statue was found in a chapel of the tomb of the pharaoh at Saqqara in the 1970s by the Anglo-Dutch Mission. Reliefs and statuary from the tomb complex are highly prized by a number of European museums who acquired their pieces in the first half of the 19th century.

As you can see by the photo below sometime after its collection the statue was mutilated with the successful removal of Amenia's head and torso by thieves the remains of the statue is in the Luxor Museum of Ancient Egyptian Art.

I try to run this plea for her return once a year she may no longer be white she may have been painted to disguise her and or had some of the base of the torso removed to shorten her appearance wherever she is it is time for her to come home if she is badly damaged she can be restored by the expert restorers at the museum. Amenia is not the only item missing visit Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities site to find out more.


Photos courtesy of the Supreme Council of Antiquities
Luxor Museum of Ancient Egyptian Art

Friday, October 19, 2018

History of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria Volume V

Gaston Maspero
The Grolier Society
London, UK
Volume V

I have had this series of 114-year-old books for many years but never read them. The author Gaston Maspero was the head of Egypt's Egyptian Museum and in charge of giving excavation permits in the late 19th century early 20th century. Mr. Maspero was chief Egyptologist and expert archaeologist of Oriental history. It must be noted that the use of and spelling of English words from 1904 differs from today's vocabulary. It must further be noted that interpretations of Egyptian hieroglyphs particularly names have also changed over the past century.

The book opens late in the reign of Thutmosis III and the empire established by his predecessors being expanded by King Thutmosis. The king's mummy is represented in now-familiar photographs though the author believes the king's burial was at Deir el Bahri in a family vault. Gaston Maspero quickly passes through the reigns of Amenhotep II and Thutmosis IV delving in more depth with Amenhotep III and the many monuments left to the posterity of this ruler. The Amarna correspondence opens the nature of the vassal lords who write to the king greedily seeking greater and greater gifts to the point of exhaustion.

Interesting in reading an old book is, in this case, Mr. Maspero as of writing is unaware of the burial places of the kings of dynasty 18 though he is aware of the tomb of Amenhotep III in the Valley of the Kings. The author moves through the few identifiable relics of Amenhotep IV and the uncertainty of whether this Amenhotep and Akhenaton are the same king or if Amenhotep IV is a short reigning predecessor of the heretic king. We are presented with the rise of the sun disk and the destruction of the traditional Theban deity Amon.

     "After having been for nearly two centuries almost the national head of Africa, Amon was degraded by a single blow to the secondary rank and languishing existence in which he had lived before the expulsion of the Hyksos. He had surrendered his sceptre as king of heaven and earth, not to any of his rivals who in old times had enjoyed the highest rank, but to an individual of a lower order, a sort of demigod, while he himself had thus become merely a local deity confined to the corner of the Said in which he had had his origin. There was not even left to him the peaceful possessions of this restricted domain, for he was obliged to act as host to the enemy that had deposed him: the temple of Atonu was erected at the door of his own sanctuary, and without leaving their courts the priests of Amon could hear at the hours of worship the chants intoned by hundreds of heretics in the temple of the disk."

The author puts forward life at Akhetaton with a rather romantic view of this king and his court while his empire receded. Mr. Maspero is unimpressed with the king's crude tomb at the bottom of a ravine far off in the desert. As the story passes the heretic pharaoh and the royal actors including Tutankhamun become murky until the dynasty closes with the Pharaoh Horemheb.

The coronation of Ramses I founded the 19th Dynasty and brought a new family to the throne and with his son and heir Seti I order was restored to Egypt after the heresies that brought an end to the previous dynasty. Mr. Maspero puts forth King Seti's building works which contain some of the finest reliefs ever placed on the walls of an Egyptian temple and in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

The successful reign of King Seti I reestablished Egyptian foreign stability that would be completed by his successor the great King Ramesses II in a peace treaty with the Hittites. Ramesses II's very long reign was, for the most part, peaceful leaving the king to build new temples all over the country including the restoration opportunities to engrave his name everywhere he could. War rises up again and is successfully put down during the reign of the great king's elderly successor Merneptah. The short reign of Merneptah left behind a succession crisis involving a number of short reigning descendants until only two decades after the great Ramesses II his dynasty came to an end being replaced by a dynasty of kings almost all of which were named after him.

The accession of Ramesses III brought to the throne the last great emperor of ancient Egypt's New Kingdom. The king's military victories brought a peace as it had his great predecessor Ramesses II a century earlier. These conquests he had his artisans engrave on the walls of his mortuary temple at Medinat-Habu. As the pharaoh grew older a conspiracy developed in the king's harem as one of his lesser wives hoped to place her son on the throne though not the legitimate heir. Magical figures were prepared and sacred spells are spoken but the conspirators had an informant amongst their lot. A trial occurred at the end of which six women and forty men were put to death. Of the intended usurper prince Mr. Maspero says,

     "They died of themselves," and the meaning of this phrase is indicated, I believe, by the appearance of one of the mummies disinterred at Deir el Bahari. The coffin in which it was placed was very plain, painted white and without inscription; the customary removal of entrails had not been effected. but the body was covered with a thick layer of natron, which was applied even to the skin itself and secured by wrappings. It makes one's flesh creep to look at it: The hands and feet are tied by strong bands, and are curled up as if under an intolerable pain; the abdomen is drawn up, the stomach projects like a ball, the chest is contracted, the head is thrown back, the face is contorted in a hideous grimace, the retracted lips expose the teeth, and the mouth is open as if to give utterance to a last despairing cry. The conviction is borne in upon us that the man was invested while still alive with the wrappings of the dead."2

With the death of Ramesses III, his successors all named Ramesses had short reigns and produced few monuments outside their tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Mr. Maspero gives an overview of the arts of the Theban empire with high praise for the jewelry of Queen Ahhotep in relation to the masterpieces in royal jewelry from the Middle Empire.

Though published in 1904 the volume was a little out of date and likely written somewhere after the 1896 discovery by Flinders Petrie of the Merneptah Stelae and before the discovery of the tomb of Amenhotep II in March of 1898 of which the author is unaware. This book is for readers 18 and up, however, I doubt that it would have appeal to most readers even those interested in ancient Egypt. The antique charm I suspected did not come to fruition instead the out of date archaeology mixed with the out of date hieroglyphic translations of names removed all impact of the author's words.


1. page 93
2. pages 326-327

Saturday, September 29, 2018

History of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, Volume II

Gaston Maspero
The Grolier Society
London, UK
Volume 2

I have had this series of 114-year-old books for many years but never read them. The author Gaston Maspero was the head of Egypt's Egyptian Museum and in charge of giving excavation permits in the late 19th century early 20th century. Mr. Maspero was chief Egyptologist and expert archaeologist of Oriental history. It must be noted that the use of and spelling of English words from 1904 differs from today's vocabulary. It must further be noted that interpretations of Egyptian hieroglyphs particularly names have also changed over the past century.

In volume two we open with the political makeup of ancient Egypt and in particularly the Memphite dynasties and their cemeteries at Gizah and Saqqara. The author deals with the inscriptions and decorations of the tombs of the nobles to tell of their services to the king and enjoyments they hope to attain in the afterlife. Various methods are used to ensure this happy after existence with offering chapels for priests and relatives to bring food and other offerings, these chapels often contain a statue of the deceased. Unfortunately for the deceased, these funerary venerations towards the dead within a couple of generations run out either of the finances to continue or relatives who remember the deceased ancestor. The backup plan includes images of offerings carved onto the walls of the funerary monument to sustain the dead for eternity.

The king and his families roles are examined with the king providing his people with their share of Egypt's bounty. The author goes on to describe the various functions the common or princely peoples played in the running of and distribution of the products of that land. These functionaries often obtain the hereditary departments of their father though some are schooled as scribes.

Mr. Maspero delivers a rundown of each Egyptians lot in life and obligations to taxation from humble land-owners to the serfs who worked the land, digging and cleaning out canals to water the fields. The crafts created by the people to barter with others for needed or desired goods including linen and sandals rings made of copper, silver, and gold or other such luxuries.

In chapter two we are introduced to the Memphite dynasties of the Old Empire and the pinnacle of pyramid building. The technique of constructing pyramids from the 3rd Dynasty King Djoser to the 2nd King of the 4th Dynasty Khufu was a period of rapid learning with a couple of mistakes that produced hard-won lessons.

     "We rarely find at Medum finished and occupied sepulchres except that of individuals who had died shortly before or shortly after Snofrui. The mummy of Ranofir, found in one of them, shows how far the Egyptians had carried the art of embalming at this period. His body, though much shrunken, is well preserved: it had been clothed in some fine stuff, then covered over with a layer of resin, which a clever sculptor had modelled in such a manner as to present an image resembling the deceased; it was then rolled in three or four folds of thin and almost transparent gauze."1

The author describes the building of the pyramids and their apartments at Dashur by Snofrui and those at Giza by his successors. The details laid out for these constructions is largely out of date though because of the reliefs in these kings courtiers tombs surrounding the pyramids and stele from expeditions to the various quarries including granite from Aswan some semblance of the duties of the king's officials can be gleaned. Mr. Maspero puts forth the gifts the king gives his loyal courtiers including their tombs near his pyramid, a funerary stele, statues, and offering tables all cut from stone collected on behalf of the king.

The reliefs become repetitive in the tombs while the statues were cut into one of a few traditional poses with the heads left rough to receive the courtier's portrait. Of the reliefs, the author admires the skill which varied animals are represented but of the people in the reliefs Mr. Maspero says,

     "The human figure is the least perfect: everyone is acquainted with those strange figures, whose heads in profile, with the eye drawn in full face, are attached to a torso seen from the front and supported by limbs in profile. These are truly anatomical monsters, and yet the appearance they present to us is neither laughable nor grotesque. The defective limbs are so deftly connected with those which are normal, that the whole becomes natural: the correct and fictitious lines are so ingeniously blent together that they seem to rise necessarily from each other. The actors in these dramas are constructed in such a paradoxical fashion that they could not exist in this world of ours; they live notwithstanding, in spite of the ordinary laws of physiology, and to any one who will take the trouble to regard them without prejudice, their strangeness will add a charm which is lacking in works more conformable to nature."2

The book is filled with many drawings taken from photographs with explanatory details of the object or scene presented these include an 1881 picture of the author in the burial chamber of King Unas standing in front of the king's sarcophagus. By the time of Dynasty V, the peak of the Memphite empire had passed leaving the kings of dynasties V. and VI much weakened with resources to build only smaller rubble filled pyramids at Saqqara unlike the great cut stone monuments at Gizeh, Dashur, and Medum but with the reign of King Unas the interiors of these cased rubble monuments now contained the Pyramid Texts carved on their walls. With the long reign of Pepi II, the Memphite empire became divided up by provincial nomarchs who claimed the power of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt when in reality these king's bore only local authority. Under these conditions, the two lands would remain divided for more than a century until unified by the Prince of Thebes.

Mr. Maspero directs the reader to the battles which ensued during the 7th to 10th dynasties between the Heracleopolitan princes and those at Thebes. It is the unification brought about by Mentuhotep II of the 11th Dynasty, the Theban princes attained the rightful kingship of the two lands while the Theban kings of the 12lh Dynasty extended the southern boundaries with fortresses with each kings reign carrying away slaves, precious metals, turquoise, crops, and the defeated inhabitant's herds of livestock.

The kings of dynasty 12 left many beautiful monuments including the obelisk at Heliopolis now all that remains of the temple of the sun god Ra. Most of the monuments of this age have all but disappeared leaving only the odd block to remember the kings of this great dynasty. We are introduced into the literature of this period which has left us with such a tale of that of the Shipwrecked Sailor and the instructions of King Amenemhat I to his successor Usertasen I.

Certainly, volume two was much more enjoyable and easier to read than volume one was this being the case by the more tangible relics of Pharaonic history compared with the abstraction in the mythology of the first book in this set. The book is not suitable for young readers and those looking for a romantic read on ancient Egypt but for those in the need to know.


1. page 172
2. page 248