“Remember the Maine” was the rallying cry which led the United States into the Spanish-American War of 1898. Although later investigations suggested that the explosion which sank the battleship U.S.S. Maine at Havana, Cuba was probably caused by the spontaneous combustion of coal dust rather than a Spanish saboteur, Americans of that time were itching for a fight. Cuba was the last of Spain’s New World colonies, and the Cubans had been fighting for their independence since 1895. Spanish atrocities against the rebels enraged American opinion makers, and the intervention of the United States into this struggle was probably inevitable; the Maine catastrophe only hastened it.

Backed into a corner by the Americans’ demand for complete withdrawl, Spain somewhat reluctantly declared war on the United States on April 24, 1898. Exactly one week later, on May 1, Commodore George E. Dewey and his ships confronted the Spanish fleet within Manila Bay, Philippine Islands, another of Spain’s few remaining outposts. His nearly total destruction of the Spanish fleet was performed without the loss of a single American life, and U. S. Army troops soon went ashore to occupy the islands. After similar though more costly American victories in Cuba, Spain ultimately sued for peace. A formal treaty was signed late in 1898 which granted independence to Cuba and ceded Puerto Rico, Guam and The Philippines to the United States. A protracted guerilla war then followed between American troops and the Filipinos, who had already proclaimed the islands an independent republic. This rebellion all but ended with the capture of Filipino leader Emilio Aguinaldo in 1901.

The establishment of civilian authority under sovereignty of the United States required, among other things, a workable coinage system. The few Spanish coins which remained in circulation were worn and did not convert well into the regular U. S. coinage introduced in 1898. The U. S. coins were themselves valued too highly for the poor economy of The Philippines. A solution was found with the introduction of a hybrid coinage in 1903. These pieces were denominated in pesos and centavos, like the Spanish coins, but they were made to standards which were either identical to those of United States coins or very similar to them. The silver pieces were in fact coined to the very same standards, yet the silver dollar-sized peso, legally convertible to U. S. gold and silver coinage, was valued at only 50 cents American.

All of these coins bore a single reverse design, the federal shield surmounted by an American eagle clutching an olive branch in its right claw and a bundle of arrows in its left. Around this appeared the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the date of coinage. The obverse of the minor coins (the half centavo and one centavo, both coined in bronze, and the copper-nickel five centavos) featured the semi-nude figure of an adolescent native, seated at an anvil and holding a hammer in his right hand. In the distance is seen the smoking volcano of Mt. Mayon, located on the main island of Luzon. The statement of value appears above him in English, while the name of the archipelago is written below in Spanish as FILIPINAS. This employment of Spanish is curious, given the islands’ recent history, yet it remained for some years afterward the principal language of the educated class. For the silver coins (ten, twenty and fifty centavos, plus the one-peso piece), the standing figure of an adolescent female was utilized. She is clad in a long, flowing gown and holds in her right hand a hammer resting atop an anvil, as seen on the minor coins. Behind her is again Mt. Mayon, an almost perfectly conical volcanic mountain northeast of the capital city of Manila. These designs are credited to Filipino sculptor Melecio Figueroa, who lived just long enough to see his coins enter circulation.

Coinage began in 1903 at the Philadelphia and San Francisco Mints; the former carry no mintmark, but pieces coined at San Francisco bear a tiny letter S which appears beneath the dot at the lower-left of the reverse. These coins were successful from the outset, the sole exception being the half centavo. For reasons which remain unclear, it was rejected by the public, and its coinage for circulation ceased after 1904. As with the other denominations, proofs were struck 1903-06 and again in 1908. Unlike the others, however, the half centavo was discontinued altogether after 1908 and all remaining pieces were melted.

What seemed to be a success story turned into a nightmare beginning in 1905. The standards for the four silver coins had been established during a historic lowpoint in the price of silver, and its value was now rising. By the end of that year, the bullion value of the USA/Philippines silver coinage exceeded their face value, and these pieces rapidly disappeared to be either hoarded or melted. Only pesos were coined for circulation during 1906, and nearly all of these were subsequently melted, creating the rarest collectible coin in the series. All of the silver coins were reduced in both size and fineness beginning in 1907; they were coined at these lowered standards through 1945, all the while remaining convertible to regular coins of the USA at the rate of two-for-one.

A new branch of the U. S. Mint was opened at Manila in July of 1920. With the exception of the years 1944-45, all of the remaining USA/Philippines coins were struck at the Manila Mint. Beginning in 1925, these carry an M mintmark; this is located in the same position as before.

The reduction in the size of the silver twenty-centavo piece (this odd denomination was a concession to the old Spanish system) which resulted from the new standards adopted in 1907 left it about the same size as the copper-nickel five-centavo coin. With similar reverse designs, the mistaking of one for the other was inevitable, and this caused periodic losses to the those who didn’t examine their coins carefully. (In two separate instances, the die for one denomination was actually used to coin the other!) The solution was to reduce the diameter of the five-centavo piece, beginning in 1930.

The transition from protectorate to commonwealth, which occurred November 15, 1935, was commemorated on a set of three coins dated 1936-M. The fifty-centavo piece shows facing portraits of outgoing Governor-General Frank Murphy and incoming President Manuel Quezon. They are portrayed again on one of the peso coins, this time in profile, their busts overlapping. This same configuration is used for the other one-peso commemorative, but on its obverse the subjects are President Quezon and President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt. This is a very rare instance of a living U. S. president appearing on a United States coin. The common reverse for all three coins depicted the arms of The Commonwealth of The Philippines. Featuring elements symbolic of Spain, The USA and the islands themselves, it was adopted as the common reverse for all regular-issue coins beginning in 1937.

During the opening months of the Pacific War, The Philippines was overrun by Japanese Army units in a series of painful and costly withdrawls by the combined American and Filipino forces. To prevent their capture, more than 15 million pesos in silver coins were removed from the Treasury at Manila, hastily boxed, then dumped into Caballo Bay, an inlet of the greater Manila Bay. Learning this, the Japanese captors used forced labor to retrieve a small portion, but the bulk of the silver was raised after the war by U. S. Navy divers and contractors.
During the war years, the Manila Mint was not operational, and no coins circulated in The Philippines. When the Americans retook these islands from Japan beginning in October, 1944, they carried with them new coinage of the USA/Philippines series. These were coined at the Philadelphia, San Francisco and Denver Mints (the latter bore a D mintmark). The minor pieces were of slightly different standards, a concession to the shortage of certain metals during the war years. These coins quickly replaced the Japanese “funny-money” scrip and Filipino/American guerrilla notes then in use, and they remained a legal tender for many years after the islands became the independent Republic of The Philippines, July 4, 1946.

Diameter: 17.8 millimeters
Weight: 30 grains
Composition: .950 copper, .050 tin & zinc
Edge: Plain
ONE CENTAVO (1903-41)
Diameter: 24 millimeters
Weight: 40 grains
Composition: .950 copper, .050 tin & zinc (1903-41)
.950 copper, .050 zinc (1944)
Edge: Plain
Diameter: 21.2 millimeters
Weight: 77.16 grains
Composition: .750 copper, .250 nickel
Edge: Plain
Diameter: 19 millimeters
Weight: 75.16 grains
Composition: .750 copper, .250 nickel (1903-41)
.650 copper, .120 nickel, .230 zinc
Edge: Plain (1944-45)