USA Coin Album: America’s Far-East Coinage

Posted on 4/13/2021

Philippines silver coinage was sporadic.

My series of columns on United States coinage struck for the Philippines from 1903 to 1945 concludes with a look at the several denominations of silver pieces.

To summarize what was related in earlier installments, the Philippine peso was valued at two to the USA dollar. Its fractions consisted of coins valued at 10, 20 and 50 centavos. Initially, all four denominations corresponded in size to comparable issues of United States coinage, but an abrupt rise in the price of silver forced a reduction in both size and fineness starting in 1907.

Silver certificate notes backed by the Philippines Treasury pesos circulated alongside the coins for several years, but peso coinage was suspended after 1912. The fractional issues remained in production, but not all denominations were coined annually. In fact, the 50-centavos was suspended from 1910 to 1916, but its minting resumed in 1917 to combat a shortage of silver coins that arose during World War I. This conflict prompted a steady rise in the price of the metal, forcing silver coins from circulation in Europe and, for a time during 1920 endangered America’s domestic coins, too.

In the Philippines, silver coins were hoarded for their bullion value and fractional currency notes briefly took their place. The San Francisco Mint produced record numbers of 10-, 20- and 50-centavos during 1918, and these dates remain among the more available issues in uncirculated condition. In fact, so many were struck that production was suspended for most of the 1920s while existing supplies met the needs of commerce.

The Manila Mint opened in 1920, and it struck all of the Philippine coins until production ceased in 1941 due to World War II. Because of the suspension of silver coins during the 1920s, it was not until 1928 that the M mintmark finally debuted on a small production of 20-centavos. These are the rare “mules” described in last month’s column. The minting of 50-centavos pieces remained suspended after 1921, as no more were evidently needed for circulation.

The denomination was not struck again until 1936, which was only as part of a three-coin set commemorating the establishment of the Commonwealth of the Philippines the previous year. All of the silver coins struck from 1936 through the end of the series in 1945 bear the Commonwealth arms on the reverses.

Among the more plentiful entries in the USA/Philippines 20-centavos series
are the 1904-dated coins of the Philadelphia Mint.
Click images to enlarge

Among the pre-Commonwealth issues, many are quite collectible. Most of these, however, are scarce in Mint State and genuinely rare as gems. The few 10-centavos pieces that are available as gem type coins include 1904(P), 1918-S and 1935-M. The first of these is ideal for illustrating the original issue that was the same diameter as a USA dime.

There are 19 certified NGC MS 65. A further 13 are graded MS 66 and three as MS 67. The latter two dates are of the reduced diameter, starting with 1907. For 1918-S NGC has certified 19 pieces as MS 65 and five as MS 66. The great rarity of this series is 1910-S, of which just a single specimen has been certified by NGC (AU 55).

Within the 20-centavos series, the most common issue at the gem level is by far the 1904(P), with 12 certified by NGC as MS 66 and two tied for finest at MS 67. (The great availability of this date is due to the fact that souvenir sets of 1904(P) coinage were sold at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition held in St. Louis that year.) Among the reduced-size issues of 20-centovos coins, 1918-S has an NGC-certified population of seven in MS 65 and just a single MS 66. All others are scarce to rare in gem condition.

A good candidate for a high-grade type set is the 1918-S 50 centavos.

Click images to enlarge

For the 50-centavos series, 1904(P) is once again the ideal type coin for an example of the large diameter issue of 1903 to 1905. NGC has certified 13 as MS 65, while three are tied for finest as MS 66. All other dates and mints are rare at the gem level and are typically only sought by Philippines specialists.

None of the Commonwealth issues are common in gem condition, aside from the 1936 commemorative and the liberation issues of 1944 and 1945. Pesos are a replay of the 50-centavos series. Only 1904(P) is collectable at the gem level, with nine certified as NGC MS 65 and five as MS 66. Among the reduced-size issues of 1907 to 1912, the 1908-S entry is the most available, with seven certified by NGC as MS 65 and a lone piece certified as MS 66.

This 1936-M 50-centavos piece features busts of Frank Murphy and Manuel Quezon.
It marks establishment of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, as indicated by the date inscribed on a rising sun.

Click images to enlarge

Among issues having the Commonwealth reverse, the commemorative pieces are readily available in high grades. These consist of one 50-centavos and two one-peso coins, all dated 1936-M. The lesser denomination features facing portraits of Frank Murphy, outgoing governor-general, and Manuel Quezon, incoming president. The first of the pesos features overlapping busts of Quezon and Murphy, and the second features overlapping busts of Quezon and USA President Franklin Roosevelt. All of these coins are particularly interesting, as they are rare examples of living persons appearing on United States coins.

For regular issues bearing this reverse, there are only a limited number of entries from the Manila Mint, yet all are available as gems. Particularly common are the liberation coins produced at the Denver and San Francisco Mints during 1944 and 1945, which were shipped to the Philippines as the islands were recaptured from Japan.

David W. Lange's column, “USA Coin Album,” appears monthly in The Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association.

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