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July 15, 2012

Figure 1: Legion Cophte 1799 – a postcard by Cacao Bensdorp & Cie.

Companies in the 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly Dutch companies that were trading in cocoa and coffee, such as Cacao Bensdorp & Cie and van Leckwyck & Co.,  used to publish postcards where the front shows beautiful lithographic print depicting subjects in history, leisure, sports, etc., and the back contains information about the company and its product. The postcards were used as advertising material that appealed to the targeted audience through art and provision of general knowledge. These companies operated to my knowledge mainly in the 19th century, but survived into the 20th century. The postcards included national themes, Dutch, French, English, etc., and therefore reflected topics that were of interest to particular nations. Now these postcards are collected by a wide range of fans across the world for their artistic and antique qualities.

It was surprising to find one of the postcards by Cacao Bensdorp & Cie showing three members of the brave Coptic Legion “Legion Cophte” in a fighting position. The Coptic Legion was formed during the French Expedition in Egypt (1798 – 1801) by Mu’allem General Ya’qub the Copt to defend the Copts against attacks by the Mamelukes, Turks and fanatic Egyptian mob. Although Ya’qub’s men fought with the French in Desaix’s Upper Egypt Campaign in 1798/9, and again in the Cairo Revolt II (March-April 1800), the army was not officially recognised until after the revolt. The lithographer and date of the production of the postcard is unknown to me, and I hope one of my readers could help us in finding out. Whatever the date might have been, it is clear that the print was based on an older drawing or painting, or at least the artist well researched the topic. One must note here that many of the members of this Coptic Legion moved to France when the French withdrew from Egypt, and went on to fight with Bonaparte in his European wars with distinction.

Of particular interest is the Coptic soldiers uniform, a matter which we will return back to in the future.

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