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The Nile Co.

The Nile Co.

Of some not inconsiderable interest is in the company behind the introduction of the paving. Although the company is indeed known, namely The Nile Co., much remains unknown about the association. Indeed, there is only one document, an ad, that is associated with the paving! And furthermore, this has only surfaced through the most incredible good fortune in more ways than one (as related in a 1 June 2016 email, below), and is not in the public domain! It was so nearly lost, and of which without it, fundamentals of the story could not otherwise be told.

Although The Nile Co. has an extensive presence online, with their website, and Instagram and Facebook presence (but not on Twitter), this is decidedly slanted towards more modern-day tile products, rather than historical documents and photographs. Indeed, there are only a handful of such instances, mostly featuring the company's founder, the late Ibrahim Abdel Hafiz (1942-2005). Further, there are six online catalogues, of 2016, again, ‘modern’, of which the limited historical aspect largely repeats itself. That said, the company website does give a good, basic history, of which the text below borrows liberally from. Given the paucity of detail, every scrap of historical information of necessity is thus examined for possible insight.

A History:

The Nile Co. was founded in 1942 by Ibrahim Abdel Hafiz, a pioneering Egyptian industrialist who personally ran the company’s operations for over 60 years. In continuous operation for over 70 years, the family-run business has built its reputation on the quality of its products, advanced manufacturing techniques, and the trust placed in its name. It was founded as a general partnership company in 1942, then as a joint stock company (S.A.E) in 1986.

In the 1930s & 40s, the Nile Co. was the first to import brick and tile manufacturing machinery, revolutionizing the industry in Egypt which until that time had relied on manual production. It was the first factory in Egypt and the Middle East to make cement tile products in 1943, innovating

and adapting the Italian machinery to handle local raw materials; an innovation that was later adopted by the Italian manufacturer and introduced in all future machinery. Throughout the 1950s & 60s

the Nile Co., working with a team of Italian engineers and the Ministry of Industry, revolutionized the Egyptian tile industry by breaking records in quality standards and production capacities.

However, this is, understandably, a broad, overall description, without paving detail as such, although they do indeed have more than the Cairo tiling paver in their range. From what I now know, it's more of a tiling company rather than a paver one (and always has been?).

The Ad

As alluded to above, there is but one sole document, an ad for the paving upon its instigation (which is revealed to be 1957), as below (Fig. 1). It is not entirely clear if this is for a newspaper, brochure or flier. But quite simply, whatever the outlet, it is indispensable! The ad was kindly supplied by Nadia Abdel Hafiz, Chairman of The Nile Co. board, upon a search of the company archives, arising as a result of investigations by Yasmine Dorghamy, who has become interested in the paving, having long admired, quietly, without knowing of its significance. Naturally, the ad is in Arabic, and of which a translation was undertaken by Yasmine, who is perfect in Arabic and English. The different aspects of the ad are identified by numbers of my addition.

Figure 1. The Ad

1. The date: 2 November 1957 - This has been added by the person who collected the advert

2. Company logo including stylization of the company name pronounced ‘an-Neel’ in Arabic

3. Nile Company for Supply of Architectural Materials

4. Ibrahim Abdel Hafez and his company

5. announce the introduction of their new product

6. in 7 colours (The large V shape is numeral 7)

7. Pentagonal paving tiles

8. For: The Borders of Swimming Pools, Gardens, Petrol Stations

9. Registered (as a patent) in the name of the company under number 451

10. Designed by the architectural engineer Amiralay Ramzy Omar (the title ‘engineer’ may be a purely honorary or symbolic title – it might not mean that he was a practising engineer.)

11. 21 Sixth Street (below the cement plant). The preposition here, like the preposition in English, has a variety of meanings and could mean either beneath or beyond or beside

12. T for telephone numbers 49851 – 79483 – 807604 – 803239

Numerous aspects here is of fundamental importance! This includes:
(1) The date of instigation, 1957

(3) The company, The Nile Co.

(4) The owner, Ibrahim Abdel Hafez

(9) Is registered as a patent, no 451

(10) The designer, Ramzy Omar

Further, the other detail, although not fundamental, is nonetheless of undoubted interest as to background matters

(6) The number of available colours, seven

(8) Its purpose, of borders of swimming pools, gardens, and petrol stations

Much is now established from this document. However, if possible, I would still like to know more! Sadly, Ibrahim Abdel Hafez is no longer with us. However, the new leader, Nadia Abdel Hafiz, still is, but is not obviously contactable. I am told she does not do email (detailed below, in an 18 February 2016 email).

Company Archives

Of interest would be to examine the company archives. However, quite simply, there does not appear to be much, if at all (detailed below, in a 30 November 2015 email). It is not clear as to the extent, even if there are archives in the normal sense. Given the lack of historic pictures on their online outlets, such images may be few and far between. However, this may simply be down to the promotion of the business in an active sense, with historic matters judged of lesser interest. Who knows? Below are a few other documents from the archives. Can anyone translate these, or point out relevant Cairo tiling detail, if any? Even a negative observation would be of use.

Fig. 2. Gold Mercury Award

Figure 3. Zamalek Showroom?

Unresolved Aspects of the Ad

Although from the above ad much can be gleaned, there are still aspects only partly revealed, with still unresolved aspects. The background of the designer, Ramzy Omar, can now be told; see the decided page on him. The ad mentions a patent, 451, which remains one of the outstanding unresolved matters. Likely this would give more detail. A search on the Egypt patent site proved unsuccessful. Possibly, the reason for this is that the patents on the site seemingly only date from relatively recently. Perhaps the earlier instances are awaiting digitisation?

Yasmine Dorghamy and Nadia Abdel Hafiz Interactions

As alluded to above, the kind assistance of Yasmine and Nadia has been a godsend. From correspondence with Yasmine, a few excerpts of the most relevant aspects of their interaction:

29 November 2015

….I asked around and followed some leads and eventually, after some investigative work I found the doyenne of the tile industry in Egypt. Her company is the oldest that is still operational (est. 1943) and she's also the oldest person in the industry herself, as she took the helm of the company after her father's passing. I spoke to her and her and to her senior foreman and they told me that this style existed as early the 40s* and they produced it themselves well into the early 70s. But they could not recall specific examples of the earliest ones and they have no reason to believe that someone in their company had created the pattern. They didn't keep archives in the early days and tell me no one else did either, so it would be "practically impossible" to find out who drew the first pattern.

However, she said that if I were to make one last try it would be at the Center for Research of Building Supplies, a big governmental labyrinth. I'll see if I can go or find someone to call there..

*This recollection is surely incorrect, given the ad detail of a 1957 instigation. Of note is the production into the early 1970s.

30 November 2015

She tells me they kept no records in the old days, so I doubt there will be anything more than vague memories there.

...Nadia Abdel Hafiz had told me, which is that these tiles were made only by hand, and with the advent of automated production, they vanished.

Interestingly, this gives a reason for the cessation of the paving (and see the following email).

18 February 2016

The doyenne [Nadia] doesn't do email unfortunately... You have better chances with her younger relative. I don't think there's much there anyway.. They have no records of anything before the 70s or 80s if I remember correctly... What she told me was that the HBRC are the ones who have old records of everything re: building specifications. Or they *should* have. ...

The paving has indeed stopped being made, because it is made by hand and takes too long to lay out, however she told me if I want *custom* made tiles she can use a model and make one for me.  It would just cost a lot of money.

Again, this gives a reason for the cessation of the paving.

1 June 2016

So I get this call from a Nadia Abdel Hafiz, I wasn't going to answer because I forgot who that was, but I did.. Then she didn't know who I was on the other end of the line either because she had called me by accident because she couldn't find her glasses and dialed the wrong number...

Anyway! I answered and asked her who she was, and she told me she was the tile lady, I told her I was the pentagonal tile girl and she goes "YASMINE! I HAD FOUND WHAT YOU WERE LOOKING FOR AND COULDN'T REMEMBER YOUR FULL NAME TO FIND YOU AND CALL YOU! I'M SO GLAD I CALLED YOU BY ACCIDENT!"

And she sent me a photo of an ad, from 1957 for those tiles that has a patent number for the design and a name of the designer who created it a "Ramzi Omar"

I've attached it and gotta run now. But couldn't wait till I got home to send it to you :)

The ‘Rosetta Stone’ email. Amazing! The enthusiasm of both parties here is heartwarming!

Open Questions:

(i) To any ex-employee of The Nile Co. who remembers the paving. Could you share your memories and photos, if any? 

(ii) Although seemingly of only relatively minor interest, it would nonetheless be interesting to see the mold from which the paving is made. There must surely be many of these. Does anyone know of a picture?

(iii) Does anyone know of the patent, No. 451, which remains one of the outstanding unresolved matters.

(v) The paving does not appear to be mass-produced today, although it has been pictured relatively recently (2015) in their Zamalek showroom, below, Fig. 4. I am given to understanding that it is now (2020) only made on occasion. This at least implies that the production aspects are still ongoing, albeit to a limited extent.

Figure 4. The paving in their Zamalek showroom

As ever, an open plea for more detail. No detail is too small to mention.


Nadia Abdel Hafiz, for looking in the company archives.

Yasmine Dorghamy, for drawing the ad to my attention.

Ramy Alsabag, for the Zamalek showroom pictures. 

Page Created 9 December 2020