Obverse Design Photo of employee in front of a hatched background. Employee number is part of the photo and appears at the bottom.
Reverse Design Curving along the top edge are the words "THE PANAMA CANAL". Across the middle in larger letters is the word "EMPLOYEE". Curving along the bottom edge in the smaller size letters are the words "CANAL ZONE".
Metal Brass Size and Shape Round 30 mm in diameter with a slotted loop attached on the top.
Dates Issued July, 1918 until December 31, 1919. See note.
Issurer Panama Canal Company. This was the U.S. government entity set up by Congress to maintain and operate the canal.
Numbers Issued Pieces in collector hands include #217, #818, #839, #926, #1770, #1937, #1941, #2221, #2233, #2349, #3640, #4083, #5023 and #6099.
Rarity Scarce. Manufacturer Unknown. Other Catalog Numbers Asociación Numismático's ID 11 and Hamlin's MISC-5.
Varieties Some photo checks have two stars as the background, some have dots as a background and some have a hatch pattern. Currently I have these as all one number, but I may break them out in the future.
Function These were employee id checks, issued to all Panama Canal Company employees. They were used in controlling access to Panama Canal facilities (such as commissaries and hotels). They probably were also used to identify each employee when they were cashing their pay certificate or paycheck. The ICC used pay certificates in combination with the metal checks, and the Panama Canal Company probably did the same until whenever pay checks became the standard.
Historical Note According to Hamlin, the photo id's were issued for security purposes during World War I. The checks starting being issued in July, 1918 and the war ended on November 11, 1918. The photo checks were discontinued as of December 31, 1919 and replaced with the octagon metal checks. Per Hamlin they were discontinued due to having proven not be to practical. Once can speculate that perhaps they took a long time to make with 1919 technology, were just expensive or that perhaps that they were easily damaged by constant use.
Population Count Fourteen specimens of this variety of identification check in collector hands are known to me. Recent sales include:
  • Check #2233 - Auction sale on ebay on April 22, 2007 for $119.28 (hatch pattern).
  • Check #217 - Auction sale on ebay on April 1, 2007 for $203.50 (has stars and no hatch pattern).
  • Check #5023 - Auction sale on ebay on March 11, 2007 for $125.49 (hatch pattern).
  • Check #4083 - Auction sale on ebay on February 21, 2007 for $162.50 (has dots and no hatch pattern).
  • Check #818 - Auction sale on ebay on May 15, 2003 for $99.00 (has stars and no hatch pattern).
  • Check #2221 - Offered for auction sale on ebay on November 6, 2003 (has stars and no hatch pattern). Bids went to $102.51 but reserve was not met.
  • Check #1937 - Auction sale on ebay on January 26, 2003 for $232.50 (hatch pattern).
  • Check #2349 - Auction sale on ebay on May 26, 2002 for $51.00 (hatch pattern).
  • Check #839 - Auction sale on ebay on April 5, 2001 with a CK-3.1 and a CK-3.4 for a total of $211.00 (hatch pattern).
  • Check #6099 - Auction sale on ebay on January 13, 2001 for $53.01 (hatch pattern).

Another Example of CK-3.2
Picture of another CK-3.2
Scale: 6 pixels equals one millimeter