Share certificate for FF500
in this company incorporated to build the Panama Canal .
Certificate size is
cm high x 18 cm wide (8" x 7") plus attached coupons.
It can be mounted in a mahogany frame, with gold inlay, if required.
Although the issue of the shares in 1880 was
probably all with good and honest intentions, the entire
undertaking ended up in the greatest engineering and
financial disaster, followed by the worst political scandal,
the world had ever known. It was an embarrassment to France.
But, at the beginning of this undertaking Ferdinand de
Lesseps, builder of the Suez canal (finished in 1869), which
halved the journey time from Europe to the Indies, was the
world’s most decorated and honoured personage. He was
compared to Columbus. In 1879 France was a rich nation and
hubristic overconfident in what it could achieve, with its
colonies, technological developments, science and art,
boasting of luminaries such as Victor Hugo, de Lesseps,
Pasteur, Eiffel and Sarah Bernhardt. Unfortunately the
world’s largest commercial enterprise was fatally destined
to become the most disastrous financial failure the world
had ever seen.
The issue of the blue shares in 1880 is the only issue of
shares in the company actually placed (an 1879 share issue
was cancelled). Beyond that many bonds were issued.
The March 1888 bond issue was placed only to the extend of
25,7 %, even worse than the June 1888 bond (40.1%), but not
as bad as the july 1889 lottery bond (13.1%), but that was
after the company had ceased its operations. Only 89.890
bonds were placed in march 1888, by far the smallest number
placed of all bond issues. Much less are available for
collectors these days. It are rare pieces, really.
The company ceased operations on December 14th 1888. On
February 4th 1889 the companies’ bankruptcy plea was
accepted. The canal was less than 40% dug at a cost of an
estimated 22.000 deaths and an expenditure of about $
1,400,000,000 in today’s currency. It has been repeatedly
reported that one third of this vast amount was spent on
canal work, one third was wasted and one third was stolen.
It was the worst financial catastrophe ever suffered by the
French people. As a consequence, the French Government’s
prestige throughout the world was shattered.