It is often the case, when I write these articles,
that there is no one out there to call me to account for my mistatements.
Very few people have been there, wherever it happens to be. I can
write, you can read, its fun. I feel my situation to be a bit shakier
with the Philippines. A lot of potential readers have been there,
maybe not so recently, but certainly 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 years ago.
I have never been there.
I’ve had several people tell me tall tales that could not possibly be true. Old guys, who fought in World War II. One guy back in the 1980s claimed that he had been there in the army of occupation before the war, and told me scurrilously nonsensical anatomical and cultural details about a certain tribe that I will not dignify with a repetition. “I was there,” he said. “I saw it with my own eyes.”
But I haven’t been there, so when I get it wrong, cut me some slack. Just let me know. I’ll fix it.
Well, here are some basics about the Philippines, in which far flung land I shall shortly place a short but intense numismatic series. The land area is a bit bigger than the state of Nevada, but is split up into two big islands, 8 smaller ones, and about 7000 little ones out there in the Pacific Ocean. Nevada has, roughly speaking, about 2 million people. Roughly speaking, there are getting to be about 90 million Philippinos.
The tip of the big northern island, Luzon, is 250 miles from Taiwan. A tip of the big southern island, Mindanao, is about 200 miles from Borneo, which is part of Malaysia, and there is a smaller island, Palawan, that is only 100 miles away. China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Australia, Japan, are all, under most circumstances, a pleasant few days of sailing away, or a few hours by plane.
Before the world was round, so to speak, the Philippines were kind of out of the way, but after the ragged shreds of Magellan’s globe girdling fleet limped back to Europe the strategic value of a relatively undeveloped region close to the teeming orient was quickly appreciated.
But let’s step back a bit from that clash of cultures moment of the 16th century. Way back.
There were probably humans “just like us” in the Philippines about 40,000 years ago. It is thought that they came across in small boats. They were the dark skinned, curly haired people whom the Spanish called “negrito” (little black) and that we call these days “melanesian.” The earliest stone tools, found on Palawan, have been dated to about 30,000 BCE. The oldest human bones, also from Palawan, are about 24,000 years old.
It is thought that the earliest arrivals had a hunting-gathering type of culture, with specialized stone and wood tools. Later arrivals brought slash and burn type agriculture, and still later groups brought settled field cultivation. Much later, but still in the BCE range, people related to the Malays arrived in several waves of migration, bringing polished stone tools, pottery, domestic animals, the panoply of neolithic culture. It appears that these people came first to northern Luzon from Taiwan, and that the same people set up colonies as far flung as Madagascar and Hawaii. Their descendants make up the majority of the population of the Philippines.
The period circa 1000 BCE to circa 500 AD is hazy enough for Southeast Asia and Indonesia. People who discuss this period like to refer to known doings in China and India and extrapolate outward into the island zone, supposing that the deep past resembled the more recent past. They paint a picture of traders from the culture centers voyaging out to the islands, looking for gold and other good stuff, bringing their more elaborate cultural artifacts with them. The natives, suitably dazzled, adopted some of the exotica these traders brought: the metalworking, the rice cultivation, maybe some of the religious rituals, perhaps some administrative and economic practices. But no coins, not yet.
Kingdoms organized in Indonesia in the early centuries CE. The largest and most powerful for a while was Srivijaya, out of Palembang in Indonesia. In Java the Sailana kings built Borobodur. These people had a religion that was part Buddhist, part Hindu, part local. Their politics was absolute monarchy of the god-king variety, with a heavy spicing of palace intrigue. Their economics was mercantile.
Coins were used in China perhaps as early as 1000 BCE, in India at least as early as 450 BCE, in Burma possibly 200-300 CE, in Vietnam around 900 CE.
Some little billon things are attributed to later Srivijaya, maybe 1000 CE. This is how it is with early Philippines history. People talk about Indonesia. About the Philippines they have nothing much to say.
Srivijaya ruled an empire, and in every empire there are top dogs and bottom dogs. The bottom dogs grumble and growl, and eventually the top dogs weaken or the bottom dogs get strong. The situation becomes tenuous, then things change. From the late 10th century CE Srivijaya was repeatedly attacked by the Cholas of southern India and Ceylon. The pressure was enough to bring China in to some degree on the Srivijaya side, but their aid did not prevent the slide.
In the growing political vacuum local kingdoms sprung up on Java, Borneo, etc. Some noble refugees from Borneo, the “ten Datus,” settled in the central islands of the Philippines in 1212.
The references I’m reading are describing a zone that was peripheral to all of these political goings on. No Philippine Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, no international presence, no notes by Chinese travellers, no invasions by the Mongols. In most of the Philippines of the 12th and 13th centuries they seem to be looking at, or, rather, ignoring, people in loincloths hunting with stones and sticks, paddling around in dugout canoes, living in little huts in little villages. Like New Guinea, maybe. While down in Indonesia they were playing politics and dressing their women in gold, importing porcelain jars from China.
Actually, some of those jars got up into the Philippines, where they were revered, coveted, valued. Porcelain jars are special in the Southeast Asia-Pacific context. In some places they had spirits and magical powers. They were highly valued and eagerly traded. If you want to call them money, you would not be far wrong. But the magic aspect should not be ignored when thinking about jars. Think about the stone “money” of Yap island. Each piece has a soul. So it was with the jars.
Where are we? Late 13th century CE. The Mongols invaded Indonesia, inadvertently interfering in a nascent dynastic squabble. The rebels allied with the Mongols to annihilate the other side, after which they turned on the Mongols, somewhat out of their element in their boats in a tropical country, and annihilated
them as well. That was the start of the Majapahit kingdom.
There is a coin, finally. It’s a little gold thing, bean shaped, called “piloncito” these days, in the Philippine context. I looked all over the web for a
Philippine example, but all I found were pictures of similar things from Majapahit in Java. In the Javanese context they are called “krishnala,” and are obtainable.
The only picture of the Philippine piloncito I could find is a drawing on the coat of arms of the Philippine Numismatic Society. That picture has a type different from the Java version. The PNS picture displays a specimen with a horned circle for a type. The Javanese coin has a design that I shall describe in the manner of the Victorians, skilled in the use of allusion and veiled reference, as a “lingam.”
All these words for one coin, and, as is almost always the case in the pre-Spanish period, its Indonesian.
Meanwhile Muslim traders had appeared in Southeast Asia, and their influence spread rapidly. They brought with them a religion of personal salvation, very refreshing in the context of an ossified Hindu-Buddhist ritual regime designed primarily to enforce obedience to the sovereign. They also brought gunpowder and cannons, the uses of which they had learned the hard way from the Mongols. Within 100 years there was a string of Islamic sultanates in Malaya and the Islands all the way up to Mindanao. The strongest was fabled Malacca.
The raja of Malacca converted to Islam in 1414, taking, as was the norm, all of his subjects with him. Majapahit, the enemy, followed suit in 1447. Attacks by Thailand were repulsed. In 1498 Malacca had quelled all rivals and had obtained a monopoly of trade in the region.
That same year however, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope off South Africa and sailed on to make landfall in Calicut, in southern India. The Portuguese palavered with the Indians and found that among the things they had in common was a deep hatred of Muslims.
The Portuguese had the tradition of fighting Muslims for centuries, and the Indians had the ongoing conflict with the Muslims that had been one of the facts of life in India for 400 years. They thought they had common ground.
Let us take note of the major trends in human events
of the 15th century. In Eurasia the population had recovered from
the trimming it had received from the Black Death. The Ottoman Turks
had conquered Constantinople, putting up a solid political wall between
Europe and the Orient. The Orient, where the spices were, and the
silk, and the porcelain, had gone through some interesting political shifts.
China, which had been geographically expansionist, cancelled its colonial
programs in the Pacific Islands and North America when the Emperor got
a bad horoscope one day. The southern tier of Southeast Asia acquired
brand new Muslim governments. Guns, mostly in the form of cannons,
became fairly common as top level weapons throughout Eurasia, and the possessors
of those guns, mostly Muslim, began to press forward into the lands occupied
by the “old people,” the hunter-gatherers, the stone knapping slash-and-burn
Europeans, blocked from the Oriental stuff they liked so much, started thinking about a way past the Turks, who controlled the western terminus of the caravan trade that traversed the Silk Road. There were two possibilities: a northern land route that had never been considered viable because of weather, and ocean sailing around Africa. Or maybe, who knew, sailing west might be worth trying.
For pepper. They were looking for pepper. Cinnamon. Cloves. And porcelain and silk. Rich people changing the world with the strength of their desire for luxurious stuff. The results of their greed are obvious. Here we are, Europeans in the Western Hemisphere.
The Portuguese took baby steps Africa, establishing trading posts down the west coast. Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean in 1498, making landfall in southern India.
While the Spanish were trying to figure out what to do with their “New World” the Portuguese set out to conquer the old one. Malacca, gateway to the islands, was taken in 1511. This, and their station in southern India, gave them a lock on the Indian Ocean route. Spain fretted, sent Magellan to see what he could do. What Magellan did was, when he had toddled all the way out to the Philippines, was to make friends with the enemy of an enemy, the raja of the island of Cebu. Magellan put his ships at the disposal of the raja in an action against a rebel, one Lapulapu, on an island called Mactan.
Complications ensued. Magellan was killed in 1521. The survivors eventually completed the first recorded circumnavigation of the world and returned to Spain to tell the tale, the gist of which was that Malacca was a tough nut to crack but that those islands to the northeast, on one of which Magellan had met his end, were sort of there for the taking, filled with the sort of people whom the Spanish had been rolling over in the New World.
The Spanish government thought the situation was reasonable, and sent out a series of expeditions that established a foothold in those islands, named by the commander of the third expedition (1536) for the heir to the Spanish throne, who would be Philip II. They thought they would perhaps take the Moluccas, with their fabulous spices, from the Portuguese, but the Portuguese did not cooperate, and the Spanish perforce must content themselves with their Philippine islands.
The Philippines is quite the strategic spot if one needs a coaling station in the midst of the Pacific Ocean, but in the age of sail it was almost as far away as one could get, and the Spanish were rather slow to develop their foothold. It was only in 1565 that Cebu was taken. Manila was founded only in 1571. The attention of the Spanish government was rather heavily taken up with the business of the New World, not to mention the Protestant Reformation. There was not much gold way over there, it seemed. Why take men and materiel all the way over to the other side of the world to throw at the Portuguese when there were things to throw them at much closer to home?
The standoff between the two Iberian empires became temporarily moot in 1580, when a Portuguese crisis of succession provided an opportunity for Philip II of Spain to take over Portugal. All of a sudden there was nothing to fight about in South America, in Africa, or in the straits of Malacca. It was all Spanish. The Iberian union endured until 1640, and when it came to an end Portugal was no longer a contender in world politics. One year later Malacca fell to the Dutch and the Portuguese were thrown out of east Asia, retaining only a foothold in southern India.
The Spanish were thus left alone to do as they wished with the Philippines, and they slowly grew their operation there. But the islands never quite paid for themselves, there being nothing much produced there that was valued at the time. The chief sources of income were the duties on the China and Japan trades, supplemented with a subsidy from customs duties in Acapulco in Mexico.
There being so little in the way of mercantile trade on the islands whatever need for specie there was would have been served by the leakage of silver from the Mexican boats stopping on their way to China. Spanish cobs circulated in the islands, occasionally countermarked in various locations in Indonesia, though not in the Philippines. There was a tendency for the silver to leave the Philippines after a short stay, and one does not encounter cobs from Philippino hoards today.
The economy of the European sector continued to grow slowly in the 18th century, and at a certain point a need for small change was experienced in Manila. This led to the production of a funny looking local coin, the “barilla.” These were thick coins cast mostly in copper, a few in lead, made at various times between 1701 and 1743. All of the runs were very small, they circulated very little if at all. The Standard Catalog now lists them as patterns, which may or may not be true in a technical sense. Be that as it may, there was never really anything like a “production run.” All of the barillas are very rare, and, when they turn up, are found to be, despite their crudity, in high grade.
Eventually they got some machinery in Manila, and the first struck coin, still called “barilla,” appeared with the date 1766. Thereafter, more coppers were struck, quarters and eighths of the silver real through the end of the 18th century and into the 19th. The coins are typically rather crude, sometimes with blundered devices and legends. They tended to see heavy use and are thus usually found in very circulated grades. Specimens from old collections can have decent surfaces, but new finds typically come out of the ground and most have significant corrosion.
One finds cast versions of these coins, often of a brassy material described as “bell metal.” It is unclear whether these are official emergency coins, made when the machinery was broken, or contemporary counterfeits. They are usually offered as genuine and official, and are collected as such.
This brings me to the subject of the collector market for coins of the Philippines. It has been a standard maxim of mine that the state of the market for the coins of a given country is directly dependent on the presence and health of collector interest in that country itself. If there is no home interest the market will be weak. If there is, and only as long as and to the extent that there is, the market will be “healthy.”
There actually is a home market in the Philippines. It is not large, but it is dedicated, and it has a contingent of younger aficionados to build a future, whatever it happens to turn out to be. There is a Philippine Numismatic and Antiquarian Society (http://pnas1mr.tripod.com/) that sponsors research, publishes, and conducts well attended auctions.
In addition, there is a set of collectors of Philippine material resident in the USA. Many of these people were involved in the Philippines during the American occupation, or during World War II, or were stationed there afterwards, or are immigrants who now live stateside. There are some Americans who collect the American colonial coins because the are of the same artistic set as the St. Gaudens double eagle, etc., and are quite beautiful. There are some Spanish collectors as well.
There have also been, and still are, a few promoters of Philippino coins in general. These people have been touting the series, since, it seems, before I was born. They have put out occasional price lists with many coins, common and rare, at high prices, attempting to build the market, and hopefully to create a boom. This has not happened, but publicity is always helpful, and if one notices that someone is continuing to blow the same horn over a span of 30 years one will naturally wonder if perhaps there is something to that tune.
The result of this interested base is that early Philipino material priced reasonably will disappear quickly from dealer stock, as has mine. Normal prices for 18th and early 19th century coins are in the “over catalog” zone, typically at least double in the normal low grades. The only way to keep such coins in stock is to charge too much for them.
If you look insome editions of the Standard Catalog for that era you will find a silver quarter real of the type that was standard in the Spanish colonies in the 1790s. That particular coin has neither date nor mintmark, and is probably from Peru rather than from Manila.
Interesting winds of change were blowing across the world at the dawn of the 19th century. There was a new country in North America, a republic, of all things, with a president who had actually stepped down when his term of office was done. Highly unusual. Then there was that upheaval in France, which had gone through various stages of badness, and was not over yet, but which had obviously put an end to the old system. Slavery was coming to be seen as a serious ethical problem rather than as an economic advantage. Some interesting scientific things were happening, though practical applications were perhaps not immediately apparent. In Asia, and in Africa for that matter, there were little pockets of Europeans here and there, holding down strips of territory, interfering in local politics, trading, trying to gain an advantage. In a few places they were beginning to gain the upper hand. In India the British controlled large swaths of territory and exerted a dominating influence over most of the subcontinent. Similarly with the Dutch in Java, at least in the coastal reasons. European presence was fairly light on the ground in the colonial zone in 1800. If you were a native and you didn’t live in one of the cities you could live your whole life and never see a white devil. And most of the land was still closed. Europeans could not get into China, Japan, Korea. The Ottoman Empire, Iran, Afghanistan, and points north were independent sovereign states. One could send ambassadors, but colonization was out of the question.
In the really far flung zones European presence was very light indeed. Not very much colonizing going on in Borneo, hardly any in New Guinea. And then there was the Philippines. In 1800 Spain was kind of in the doldrums. The king was pretty much incompetent, and the ship of state floated along by inertia, erratically guided by ministerial and court intrigues. The enormous colonial enterprise ground on as it had before, taxes remitted, duties charged, good shipped. The Philippines was the end of the line of the Spanish colonial enterprise. That is where the some of the silver of Mexico and Potosi ended up before it was sent on to China and Japan in trade for porcelain crockery and silk. To the Spanish that was what the Philippines were for. They built the port of Manila, and the high and mighty built fancy houses there, but that’s about all they did. A bit of logging and shipbuilding, a bit of agriculture, particularly of tobacco, which would come to be a mainstay of the Philippine economy, and of sugar cane. No significant explorations of the interior of the big islands, and no significant settlement by Spaniards of the smaller ones either. If you were a native you might live your entire life and never know the Spanish were there.
Then came Napoleon and Europe flipped over again.
For Spain Napoleon meant the temporary end of the monarchy, or at least of the dynasty. The colonies were cut off from the homeland, and had to decide what to do. In the Americas the administrations all eventually came to the conclusion that they should remain loyal to king Ferdinand but should be opposed to the Napoleonic government. In any event, the coinage situation continued as before. There was local copper in various denominations from octavo (de real) to 4 quartos (= 1 real). It is a desultory series, with dates ranging from the 1760s to the 1830s. Most common denomination is the quarto, then the octavo. 2 and 4 quartos are rare. Die work tends to be inferior with lots of blunders. Planchets are typically crude. They are often found very worn, and are frequently corroded. Catalog prices tend to be low for all grades.
Silver and gold during that period was all foreign. You can figure it was about 98% Spanish colonial, the silver from Mexico, Lima, Potosi, the gold from Mexico and Nueva Reino. A lot of silver and a little bit of gold passed through Manila on its way to China. Relatively speaking, not very much of it stuck around.
The fall of Napoleon clarified the situation of the Spanish colonies vis a vis the homeland, but by that time the Americas were in revolt. By 1815 Mexico was gone. The Philippines was technically subsidiary to Mexico, and part of its revenues came from port fees collected at Acapulco. These fees disappeared with Mexican independence. This was a problem, that was a good chunk of money, and nothing to be done about it. Good thing the tobacco was coming along. But there was disruption during the second and third decades of the 19th century as the tidal wave of revolution rolled across the Americas.
The Spanish government had never been good at making quick changes and they took their sweet time adjusting to the new realities. Meanwhile the old monopolistic trade policies that had been imposed for centuries were is tatters, ships of all nations stopping in Manila to do whatever business there was to be done. They left some of their money there, and some of it stayed. As the 1810s turned into the 1820s the quantity of colonial coins diminished and the quantity of coins from those nasty upstart rebel countries increased. It was officially annoying to the royal government to have this treasonous specie passing through the loyal commerce of Manila. It didn’t seem that it was going to stop. Something should be done.
What they did was make counterstamps.
There was a Manila mint. It made small copper coins, not very well. The counterstamp envisioned was a pair of dies the size of a silver 8 reales, the Spanish dollar. On one side it would have MANILA 1828 and a border of radiating lines around the edge. The other side would have the royal Spanish arms and the royal titles. The idea was to obliterate the traitorous rebel legends and devices. Basically they wanted to make new coins. But the machinery was decidedly not up to the job, so this type I counterstamp was discontinued after a few months and the type Is are rare.
They were still up for the counterstamping project, so they made a new set of dies without the edge work. These worked much better. The central elements had not been a problem. But they were only used for a couple more months and the type IIs are rare too. A third 1828 type is known, evidently from a single example, and a very rare 1830 type for which a few examples are known.
They then took a breather until 1832, when they resumed the counterstamping project. This time they used sensible small countermarks, type crowned F.7.o, oval or round, on many more coins, until 1835. If you’re going to find a Philippine counterstamp coin its probably going to be this type, probably the round version, and its probably going to be a Mexican royal coin. From this we can deduce that the political dimension of this countermarking was taking a back seat to the needs of commerce. And we can see a little bit of fiat cheating by the government in the countermarking of base Bolivian coins and even baser coins of Cundinamarca in Colombia. Official sanction of base coins always meant that there was a cash flow problem. They needed coins on the street. Anything would do.
Ferdinand died at the end of 1834 and was replaced by queen Isabel, therefore the counterstamp was replaced as well. The countermarking was applied to minor coins, and latterly on previously countermarked coins - everything. These Isabel marked coins are scarce.
In 1837 Spain gave up and recognized the independence of most of the new American states. The countermarking was then abandoned.
Collecting these countermarks is interesting, and not merely because they are expensive and good investments. One can approach the collection of countermarked coins in several ways. One can go simple with a single example of the mark on any old coin, or on every size. Or you can go for every type of
undercoin, which can become a rather large undertaking. Extremists can collect by undertype and date, which is the next thing to getting every one you see. A middle path is probably to be recommended.
Another thing that happened in 1834, aside from a new monarch, was that the protective trade policies that had suppressed commerce in Manila were removed and the port opened to visits by foreign ships. This had been going on under the table for decades, but now it was legalized, providing a big shot in the arm to the local economy. With the abandonment of the countermarking project Manila opened up to the foreign specie that was flooding the world. The vast majority of it was Mexican.
As the 19th century progressed a middle class of sorts emerged, trade and agriculture developed, even a bit of industry, rope manufacture, etc. Education was advanced and people started to think differently, like about things like freedom and independence. Not much, just a little. News came in from abroad. Things were happening all over.
Spanish coinage went decimal in the 1850s and they decided to make colonial coins again after a long sleep. For the Philippines it was silver minors, 10, 20, and 50 centimos, and gold 1, 2, and 4 pesos. The first series of these had queen Isabel’s portrait, struck between 1861 and 1868, with various overdates. For the silver 1868 is the most common dates by far. For the gold there are some common dates, some scarce, but the big difference is in the denominations. 1 and 2 pesos are far more common than 4 pesos. A lot of the little ones were mounted, so get out that magnifying glass when you’re looking at them.
There are some patterns of the 1850s which might or might not be authorized. They’re rare.
They had a bit of trouble in Spain after the death of Isabel, with several different government of various kinds, a pretender making claims, an abortive republic. The discontinuity lasted until the ascension of king Alfonso XII in 1880.
During the troubles the colonial coinage lapsed, not to be resumed until Alfonso. The only common date for the Alfonso coins is 1885. The others are quite scarce. Gold 4 pesos with that king’s face are very rare.
A final Spanish issue, a silver peso, was brought out in 1897 with the face of the new king, the boy Alfonso XIII. This coin is not rare, but is popular, being as it is the only colonial crown. It marks the end of an era. The Spanish ship of state was about to collide with an American iceberg, so to speak.
The 1890s was an interesting decade, worth a brief
overview of world conditions before focusing in on our current subject:
the coinage of the Philippines. Of particular interest to us coin
people would be the economic situation of the world, for such conditions
determine directly the kind of coins that get made for us to pore over
and collect. And, of course, behind the economics are the governments
that make the monetary instruments “for the facilitation of trade,”
responding to events, sometimes producing them. The governments are
run by people, often these people are possessed of distorted and unstable
personalities. Enormous projects are undertaken for private and personal
reasons. This is as true today as it was 100 years ago. Good
thing, I suppose, that we’re looking at 100 years ago.
The dominant economic factors at the end of the 19th century were mostly new. There was precision mass manufacture, of, for example, guns, farm implements, textiles, etc. This gave the possessors of factories a crushing advantage over those who did not possess them. There were railroads and steamships, which permitted the transport of enormous tonnages of stuff at revolutionarily low rates. In a few places there was electric lighting, which permitted people to keep their factories open 24 hours a day if they wanted to. All brand new factors.
All the new factories needed raw materials to keep producing things. A scramble for resources ensued amongst the industrializing nations, all of them save one located in Europe. A very small handlful of nations these were that were capable of projecting power into the rest of the world, overthrowing local governments and appropriating those lands into their more modern systems, albeit at rather unfair and exploitative terms. We lump the appropriations under the general rubric of “colonialism."
We can count those colonizing nations of the late 19th century on our fingers. Britain, far and away the greatest colonizer, France the distant runner up, wannabe countries Germany and Japan, those old, worn out remnant Spains and Portugal with their bits and pieces. Russia had busied itself for much of the century annexing territory in Central Asia. Denmark had a couple of islands in the Caribbean. Belgium took a big piece of Central Africa.
And, analyzing the situation, asking themselves if this was a good idea, were the businessmen, and their elected representatives, of the country that had become, without anyone really noticing, the richest in the world. That being, of course, the United States of America.
American businessmen and other visionaries had been thinking about colonies, or suitably democratic substitute, since the very beginning of the nation. What else, after all, was that western expansion thing all about? More recognizably colonial were the several plans floated at various times to “acquire” Central America in one way or another, usually with one eye toward the building of a canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans.
During the 1880s the big colonialist nations went on a tear, carving up Africa and big chunks of Asia, nailing down all kinds of strategic materials and lucrative crops, setting the cowed populations of those lands to various kinds of more or less forced labor in the extraction of those commodities. Lots of money was made. It looked like a lucrative system, though later on some of the practitioners, and, later still, all of them, would learn that they had actually lost money on these colonial operations. But in the late 19th century colonialism was what was happening. American big business decided it wanted some of this kind of action.
At the same time there was a kind of economic war going on between, more or less, big business and small business. The tendency toward concentration of capital in relatively few hands has been fixture of human history. Time after time the rich got richer, the poor got poorer. Time after time a tipping point was reached and a crop of rich people got themselves ruined through wars or revolutions.
In the late 19th century there was essentially a worldwide economic system in place based on the relatively free circulation of silver and gold coins. Many countries made their gold and/or silver coins equal in value to that of other countries for convenience or relative advantage. Small business was done in silver. Big business was done in gold. Contracts would frequently specify payment in one or the other metal. Both metals floated on the open market. A lot of silver flowed to China. A lot of gold flowed to England. At various times governments would set their coinage ratios in terms of one or the other metal. The reasons could be projective, being attempts to give an advantage to either big or small business, reactive, as would be the case if a new source of one of the metals opened up, or ideological/political, an example of which might be Bryan’s “free silver” crusade.
Silver was “the standard” during much of the 19th century, but in the 1890s, for various reasons, the world, or all of it that mattered, went on “the gold standard” This meant that the silver was defined in terms of its gold value. The value of silver rose at that time, and silver dollars disappeared from circulation, many going to China, many resting in government vaults. If you didn’t have enough business to do it in gold you suffered. If you had gold you were doing fine. You got richer.
As the 1890s chugged on American big business was looking for things to do, and thinking, as was the habit in those days, about overseas territories with underutilized resources of materials and people. They developed an ideological framework that would permit them to feel good about foreign adventures, and started trying some muscle flexing exercises, such as the takeover of Hawaii, which took place in a number of stages over a number of years and was substantially in place “just in time” for the critical episode of modern Philippine history; the Spanish-American war.
The surface events that led up to that war involved a revolt in the Spanish colony of Cuba. Cuba had been the object of covetous speculation by various groups in America for a number of decades. Spain was generally considered to be a backward, toothless old has-been country. The revolt dragged on, the American press generally complained about the situation and expressed sympathy for the rebels. Spain remonstrated, the American press told Spain where to put it. Pressure grew. Then came the incident of the sinking of the Maine.
If I’m not mistaken, it is now official US government opinion that the explosion that sank the Maine was an accident, though there are still people who blame Spain one way or another. At the time, 1898, the incident was whipped into a froth by the American press. Spanish and American investigating committees reached different conclusions. McKinley felt that he was forced by the situation to demand freedom for Cuba. Spain told America to mind its own business. The next step was a blockade of Cuba, then a declaration of war by Spain, reciprocated in short order by the USA.
The war was short, swift, and involved, for strategic reasons, the Philippines. I’ll skip the details. In 1899 the USA had Cuba, Puerto Rico, some miscellaneous islands in the Pacific, and the Philippines, in which it spent the next several years suppressing an armed independence movement at great cost in life, money, and materiel.
OK, there’s the American empire. Here are the colonies. What to do with them? America thought it was a different thing than those other colonial powers. All of them had official ideologies involving uplifting of the native populations, and all of them were quite obviously putting extractive profits ahead of any kind of altruism. America felt that it should and would be different. It would really uplift the subject peoples. Yes.
The long and brutal war against the Philippino independence fighters immediately introduced significant shades of gray into the dream of uplifting tutelage. When the smoke cleared in the early years of the 20th century administration proceeded along the general track of colonies at the time. Money was poured in, profits were pulled out, things got done. Some of it was good, some bad, a lot kind of mixed. The stated goal of the American presence in the Philippines was that they would leave some day, when, in their opinion, the locals were ready to go it alone.
Among the things that America decided needed to be done was the establishment of a sound local economy, a thing that had never really been attempted in the Philippines. Arguments between proponents of a “gold standard” currency and a free silver group were resolved in favor of gold, though no coins of that metal were contemplated or struck. Designs were submitted, and those of one Miliceo Figueroa, a Philippine artist living in California, were adopted.
Starting in 1903 coins were struck at the Philadelphia and San Francisco mints, a first series with the USA shield on the reverse. In 1906 increased value of silver caused a coinage crisis around the world and the silver content of the Philippine coins was reduced, about 34% for the peso and about 61% for the minors. One might wonder why the contemporary USA coinage did not undergo a similar reduction, and the answer has two parts: on the one hand, production of high value silver dollars had ceased in 1904, and on the other it was thought that the country could afford to keep the lower value minors unchanged. But the Philippines got their money changed, and much of the old heavy stuff was melted.
There is a not inconsiderable interest in the collection of the Philippine coins of the American occupation, and has been for a number of decades. A number of pamphlets have been written (I have Neil Shafer’s 1961 effort in front of me as I write), and there has been a string of specialist dealers promoting the series. One of the currently active ones is Ray Czahor, who runs periodic mailbid auctions of Philippine material only. His contact information: Ray Czahor, Cookie Jar Collectibles, Box 597, Columbia, MD 21045.
You want to know the details of something, you ask the specialist. Ray was generous with his expertise. As usual, mintage figures do not tell the whole story, and prices in the catalogs can be misleading. So, if you have a mind to, get out your Standard Catalogs and compare notes. The 1903 half centavo is common, 1904 less so. No one liked them and they did not circulate to any extent, which is why they are usually found in high grade. As is typical of American coins, when an issue is not working they keep making them anyway for a while, thus the 1905-08 half centavos in proof only. I’ll get back to the proofs.
Though I have not personally seen all of the 1 centavo dates, I have actually abstracted most of them from recent batches poundage, albeit in low grade. This includes the scarce 1915S, but, interestingly, no 1931, 1932, or 1934. Ray says they’re all available in high grade, a function of guys bringing back the low denominations as souvenirs over the years.
Varieties of 1 centavo mentioned in Neil Shafer’s book: “United States Territorial Coinage for the Philippine Islands”: 1908S “horned S,” 1908S with repunched mintmark and first 2 digits of date, and the 1918S “large S.” The 5 centavos of the US shield series are all tough in high grade, even in nice circulated for that matter. I have pulled a number of the early dates - 1903-18, out of recent poundage, but the average condition was “lousy corroded.” None of the 20s and 30s dates were found. Overall, the later early 5 centavos, of reduced size, are somewhat scarce.
5 centavos varieties: 1918S mule with 20 centavos reverse. The shield on the mule is about 8.5mm wide. On the regular coins it is about 7mm.
10 centavos of both large and reduced size have been reasonably easy to find in circulated grades, including the low mintage 1904 and 1909S. They are rather difficult in high grade. The 1910S is not known to have been struck, and all known specimens have been condemned as fakes.
10 centavos varieties: 1909S over S and 1914S with long and short crossbar to 4.
Same comments for 20 centavos as for 10 centavos. 1904 is the scarce date, but is available. 1928, a rush order at the Manila mint, was struck using the reverse die for the 5 centavos, and is common.
20 centavos varieties: 1905S with recut S and 1 of date, and for 1916S “horned S” and also “tilted-open” and “straight-closed” 6.
50 centavos include the odd 1903S, 2 pieces known, maybe 3, one sold a few years back. 1904 is scarce but available. Some dates are available in high grade, but a lot of the XF or better coins I’ve seen have hairlines from cleaning. There are no die varieties.
1 peso coins include the uncommon 1904, the scarce 1906S, most of which were melted (beware of fakes), and the 1911S and 1912S, most of which were kept in the bank at Manila as backing for the silver certificates, and were subsequently dumped in Manila Bay when the Japanese invaded. Some were salvaged, but they are ugly enough that they have not had much presence in the collector market. The other dates are fairly common. As with the 50 centavos, a lot of the high grades are found with some cleaning. Oh well. Proofs were made as sets, both for diplomatic use and for sale to collectors. Ray Czahor says they are all available, though expensive. Some of the unsold coins were put into circulation. I’ve run across the 1903 50 centavos a couple of times. Ray says he’s never seen any of the 1903-08 coins as original sets in original cases, if indeed there were cases.
Bear with me for a moment while I propose a theory
of why World War II happened.
In Japan the military people who I shall refer to as “bandits” saw an opportunity in the extreme weakness of China. They thought: “They are big, we are little. If we wait until they get their act together we Japanese are finished. This is our only opportunity. Let’s take it.”
And they did.
Over in Germany Hitler and a bunch of military people were thinking “Russia is huge. If they get their act together we Germans are through. This is our only opportunity. Let’s take it.”
And they did too. They calculated that they had, through modern communications media, an immensely improved ability to mobilize and control their people towards a set of goals. They were not dummies, and realized that their industrial and economic strength was not supreme, but it was not going to get much better unless they had the resources of land and stuff they needed to expand. Germany and Japan, even in the depths of the depression, were the preiminent economies of their respective regions, but unless they eliminated their competition, as they saw it, they would lose out in the long run. So they rolled the dice.
In retrospect we can say that they played their cards badly on both a micro and a macro scale. Micro because they evidently believed their own particularist supremacist ideology, which caused them to behave very badly toward the inhabitants of the lands they conquered and to waste resources on meaningless objectives like exterminating the Jews. Macro because they failed to keep the USA out of the war.
Both Germany and Japan realized from the beginning of their venture that if the USA got involved they would lose. The USA, essentially without a serious military in 1940, was the still richest and most powerful country in the world, and they knew that only extreme political navigation, or great good luck, or some deus ex machina like a death ray or an atom bomb could possibly allow them to prevail against the USA.
But in the midst of the war they found themselves critically short of checks and balances. Hitler had no one to tell him he was wrong when he waited too long to invade Russia. Japan allowed Roosevelt to manipulate them into imagining that a “knockout punch” might do the trick. So they rolled and lost. Here we are.
This little disquisition on “the” war bears directly on the subject at hand, which is Philippine coinage. A lot of coins were dumped in the ocean when the Japanese invaded. A number of commemoratives were struck honoring heroes and events of the war. It was not some kind of flash in the pan.
The occupying Americans put together a system that looked like the American government in the first decade of the 20th century. One of the problems with the American system is that money can buy a spot further up in the line. In America itself there are checks and balances that sort of work to some extent, but in the Philippines the “practice” government of the first decades the big players got almost all of the action and built their advantage into the system in a way that caused problems later. Traces of those problems show up in the coinage.
In 1935 the Philippines stopped being an occupied colony with a toy government and became a “Commonwealth.” There was a big party in Manila to
celebrate the occasion of the signing of various papers marking the start of a proposed 10 year transition to full independence. The same guys were in power though, and the USA military was still all over the place.
The change of status was commemorated with a pair of peso coins and a 50 centavo in 1936. A large number of these coins were dumped in the ocean ahead of the Japanese invasion, making nice specimens rather expensive and hard to find. These coins, pairing a living Philippine leader with a significant living foreigner, established a tradition of coins with such juxtapositions.
Regular Commonwealth coinage began in 1937. The people-with-hammers types of the obverse remained, on the reverse the American shield was replaced by a newly designed Philippine emblem. There was no regular issue peso. The coinage separates out in terms of availability.
Pre-war coins are not so common and are hard to find in uncirculated, those of 1944 and 1945 are common in uncirculated. The reason? Simple. The pre-war
coins disappeared during the Japanese occupation, replaced with the well known paper “Japanese Invasion Money.” The Japanese found and melted a lot of the little silver 10 & 20 centavos. The Americans dumped all of the stuff in the treasury vaults into the sea. The 1 & 5 centavos coins became worthless. Adds up to difficult collecting, though it can be done. The 1944 and 1945 coins on the other hand, are, or were until recently, available in uncirculated by the roll.
The end of the war came just in time, from the Philippine point of view, for the fulfilment of the promised independence on the promised schedule. As before in the changeover to commonwealth status, there was not a great deal of change on the ground. The American presence was still pervasive, though a gradual diminution began which continued through the end of the 20th century until today, when the American hand is mostly unofficial and administratively nil.
The first coins of the new republic were the MacArthur commemoratives of 1947, another case of a live foreign guy on a coin. The MacArthur coins used to be very common and very cheap, but the prices have increased significantly in the last few years.
No other coins were struck until 1958, at which time a series of base metal minors was put on the street. The designs, amazingly (to me at least), are the same old people-with-hammers. American influence, perhaps, with America’s long-lived coin types as models. Or maybe they just liked those types. The coins are common, especially the 1958 date, but as is so often the case, immediate availability of a given date of a given denomination might be iffy and might require some searching. Four silver commemorative coins of this period (1961 to 1967) are common and easy to find.
Ferdinand Marcos was elected president in 1965. He was a guy who attracted different and strong opinions, though I think that there is close to a general consensus that he lost it at the end, sending his goons to kill one of his political oponents as soon as the guy got off the plane and all. And of course, his public career started with a murder too, in 1935, of which he was first convicted and later cleared. In between there are versions of what happened, but he was in the public eye quite a bit. You can collect a number of different banknotes of various eras with his signature. In 1965 he was elected president, more or less fair and square.
Marcos started out his rule doing a lot of apparently popular things. He tightened up the bureaucracy and finances, encouraged foreign investment, built infrastructure, also sending troops to fight with the Americans in Vietnam and prosecuting a war against ongoing guerilla struggles by communists and Muslims (Moros) in the Philippines itself.
Part of Marcos’s vision, if you will, was the promotion of Philippine “authenticity.” Starting in 1967 the official language of the Philippines was changed from English to Tagalog, and the coinage changed as well. This was not actually a coinage reform, just a change of spelling. Nevertheless, the types changed completely, the modules as well. At more or less the same time the link between the peso/piso and the dollar was cut. The new style circulation coins are cheap in the catalog, and “should” be easily available. As types they certainly are, but as is so often the case with modern coins, some dates, for no apparent reason, are very hard to find. This probably has more to do with the import habits of dealers than any intrinsic scarcity. Most “worthless” coins, which is what Philippines minors are, will only get into the hands of dealers, and hence those of collectors, if the dealer, or a friend or relative, brings back a roll or a few from some trip undertaken for some
other reason. I, for example, do not get on a plane, go somewhere, and bring back significant weight of the local money, possibly breaking the local export law, so that I can sell a few coins to the date collectors for fifty cents each. No one else does either. So date stocks are rarely comprehensive amongst the world coin dealers. And, to the best of my knowledge, there is no one actually resident in the Philippines who is supplying the modern Philippine coins to the collectors of the world.
Driving home the supply-demand conundrum (which DIDN’T come first) was the experiment with the Franklin Mint during the 1970s. The mint, and many
countries, tried marketing proof sets, commemoratives, etc. and they all eventually decided that the game was not worth the candle. One of those countries was the Philippines. Today a few of those Franklin products are fairly common. 1975 and 1979 proof sets comes to mind. They turn up over and over in the boxes of FM proof sets that someone hauls out of their closet to bring to someone like me. Others, though, are quite hard to find. Matte coins, for instance.
Marcos was relected in 1969, fair and square, more or less. His first project was an overhaul of the 1935 constitution. The constitutional convention, which featured a bribery scandal, was a document that gave his office greatly increased power and allowed him to run for a third time. Very conveniently, a series of bombings in Manila, plausibly attributed to communists, gave Marcos an excuse to impose martial law in 1972. The law stayed martial for nine years.
Along with repression of the opposition and maintenance of public order Marcos then set out a number of programs of social and financial reform under the rubric “New Society.” The vision was sort of corporate-statist, the model was sort of Italian fascist. Rich and poor people were supposed to work together for the good of the country. Some large holdings of “underused” land and industrial plant were seized and earmarked for distribution to the needy. However, what actually happened was what seems to happen every time these confiscation schemes are tried. Corruption immediately becomes apparent, connected people get the stuff, the poor remain, as always, with us. So in Marcos’ Philippines. Some of the old oligarchs (the Aquinos, for example) became outs. Others made their deals and stayed on the inside. Elections in the late 70s were “problematic.”
As martial law dragged on a proliferation of commemorative coins occurred. The coins were made in copper-nickel, silver, and gold. Some of those coins are quite common. 1970 Marcos-Pope Paul springs to mind. Even the gold version is relatively common. There are others. But some of those 1970s coins are somewhat tough as types, let alone such exotica as the 1977 25 piso KM217 in Franklin Mint uncirculated, mintage 324, and priced at $30.00. Obviously a very popular coin.
That is the “problem” with modern Philippines coins. Only a few have market draw, usually for reasons that have nothing to do with the Philippines. Marcos-Reagon. People like those coins. Pope John Paul. They like those coins too. The others, in the typical display case at the typical show... yawners. The gold coins, when they are seen, first question anyone asks is “how much above bullion.” Answer, usually, too much.
Martial law was lifted in 1981 when the pope refused to visit unless that was done. In the 1980s Marcos’ regime started to fall apart. Lots of money disapeared from the treasury, incompetent family members were given important government posts, Marcos himself was sick, unrest grew. The assassination of “out” oligarch and former senator Benigno Aquino in 1983 put the reputation of the Marcos government in the dumpster. Elections held in 1986 resulted a dispute over who won, followed by massive street demostrations. The army defected, and Corazon Aquino, widow of assassinated Benigno, became president.
The instability generated by the events of the 20th century continue to play out today, with the president involved in various electoral and corruption scandals.
They seem to have pretty much forgotten about commemorative coins. The modern circulation stuff is so low value no one has it to sell to collectors. Well, actually I have a bit of it. Piso as I write is worth a bit less than 2 USA cents. I have a 5 sentimos dated 2002 (date not listed in the catalog). I have them in circulated condition! Tells you something about the economy in the Philippines.
Let's quickly run through the always interesting and popular leprosarium coinage. Leprosy used to be a highly feared infection. Still is, sort of, though now we have treatments and it is known to be not so highly infectious. But until the advent of antibiotics after World War II there were no good treatments. Nerve damage and scar tissue development tended to produce extreme ugliness in victims and people got horrified and chased lepers away. Charitable people gathered them together in isolated communities where they were taken care of. The general idea was to keep them completely separated from uninfected people, thus the thought of separate tokens for the leper camps, sorry, colonies.
In the Philippines they set up a remote island, Culion, as a home for lepers, and starting in 1913 a number of tokens were made for use there. There are a total of 19 pieces in the series. The 1913 coins are all aluminum. The half centavo is the most common, and is usually found in uncirculated. The others are scarce to rare, and are usually found worn and corroded. 1920 coins are scarce. The 1922 peso with straight wings is reasonably common, a variety with curved rings is rare. The 1925 peso is the most common of the series in circulated condition. Further issues of 1927 and 1930 are scarce.