When the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American war of 1898, the Philippines became a United States possession. Unlike other colonial powers the U.S. always had intentions of giving the Philippine Islands full independence once the inhabitants were given educational opportunities and the basis for good government was established.
By 1935 “Nation Building” had progressed to the point where the Philippines were ready to make the important transition from a U.S. Territory to a self-governing Commonwealth. A Constitution for the Philippines was approved, and on November 15, 1935, the Philippines were granted Commonwealth status, with a promise of full independence by 1946.
To commemorate this important event a three coin commemorative set was struck by the Manila mint in 1936. The set consisted of a Fifty Centavos, and two One Peso Coins. The coins were designed by Ambrosio Morales, a Professor of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines. The two commemorative Pesos were struck in .800 fineness silver. The Fifty Centavos was struck in .750 fineness silver. The three coin set had a face value of 2.5 Pesos, equal to $1.25 in U.S. Dollars, and sold for $3.13. Adjusted for inflation that price would be $51.19 in 2012 dollars (a bargain today compared to the current issue prices of silver commemoratives). Ten thousand three coin sets were produced. An additional 10,000 Fifty Centavos were produced for individual sale.
The obverse of one of the Pesos features the portraits of the first President of the Philippines, Manual L. Quezon, and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The obverse of the other commemorative Peso and the commemorative Fifty Centavos features portraits of President Quezon and Frank Murphy, the last U.S. Governor General of the Philippines, and first U.S. High Commissioner for the Commonwealth of the Philippines.
One of the unique features of the obverse designs was that they all featured dual portraits of individuals who were living at the time. The Roosevelt-Quezon Peso was only the second time that a living U.S. President had been depicted on a coin issued by the United States.
The common reverse for the 1936 commemoratives depicts the seal of the Commonwealth of the Philippines with United States of America placed above and the date centered below. The Mint Mark appears to the left of the date. This Commonwealth Reverse was used on all USA/Philippine business strikes from 1937 through 1945.
Design elements of the Commonwealth Reverse incorporate the rich history of the Philippines. The eagle perched atop the shield, of course, represents the United States. The shield used was an adaptation of a design used for the official seal of The Government of the Philippine Islands which appeared on Philippine paper money starting in 1905 (Allen 2008). The three stars at the top of the shield represent the three main geographical regions of the Philippines: Luzon, Mindanao, and the Visayas. The oval in the center of the shield depicts a modification of the Coat of Arms of the City of Manila which dates to 1596. A castle surmounted by a crown is in the upper portion of the oval. The mythical creature in the lower part of the oval is a half lion and half dolphin holding a sword with guard and hilt. The lettering on the Scroll beneath the shield reads Commonwealth of the Philippines.
Despite the popularity of U.S. commemorative coins at the time the 1936 Commonwealth commemoratives sold poorly and many were on hand in the vaults of the Philippine treasury at the outbreak of World War ll.
When Japan invaded the Philippines the contents of the Philippine Treasury was moved from Manila to the Island fortress of Corregidor. During the winter and early spring of 1942 U.S. submarines, outward bound on war patrols from their base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, ran the Japanese naval blockade to bring in much needed ammunition and supplies for the American and Philippine defenders. Slipping into Corregidor under cover of darkness they would unload their precious supplies and fill their ballast tanks and storage spaces with the gold and silver reserves of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. After completing their war patrols the subs offloaded the gold and silver rescued from the Philippines at Pearl Harbor. From there it was transferred to the U.S. mainland where it was kept in safe keeping until the end of the war.
When it became apparent that Corregidor was about to fall the remaining silver coins, including many of the ill fated 1936 commemoratives, were crated and thrown into the sea near Corregidor to avoid their seizure by the Japanese. Since the war many of these coins have been salvaged however these sea salvaged coins are typically heavily corroded from their long immersion in salt water.
Due to the large number of 1936 commemoratives that were lost or subjected to environmental damage during World War ll the number of surviving Gem quality specimens is far less than the original mintage. All of these coins are rare in MS65 or above and a matched Gem quality set is quite difficult to assemble.
United States Territorial Coinage For The Philippine Islands by Neil Shafer (Whitman Publishing Company, 1961)
The Copper Coinage of The Philippines by Dr. Gilbert S. Perez in Philippine Numismatic Monographs Number 19 (Philippine Numismatic and Antiquarian Society, 1975)
U.S/Philippine Coins 6th Edition 20008-2009 by Lyman L. Allen (Published by Lyman Allen Rare Coins, 2008)