Garys September Coin of the Month

Septembers Coin of the Month (Volume 2, Number 1) is an NGC AU-55, 1897 close date, Cuba Souvenir Peso.

Modeled after the Columbian Exposition Half Dollar, the purpose of the 1897 Cuba Souvenir Peso was to raise money for the Cuban Revolutionary Party and their war for independence against Spain. On May 10, 1897, the head of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, Don Thomas Estrada Palma, placed an order with the Gorham Manufacturing Company for three million souvenir pesos. As per their agreement, delivery of the first ten thousand coins was to be within sixty days.

Among those ten thousand coins (minus 30 defective strikes) are three distinct types, of which my coin is the type 2 close date featuring the right star below the 97 baseline. The other two types are the type 3 close date with the star above the 97 baseline and the type 1 wide date. The 1897 Cuba Souvenir Peso is 36 mm in diameter and weighs 22.55 grams. The metallic composition of this coin is 90% silver, and 10% copper with an actual silver weight of .6525 ounces. Mintages are as follows; 828 Type 1s minted in Philadelphia, 4,286 Type 2s and 4,856 Type 3s minted in Providence, Rhode Island. Curiously, these were the only souvenir coins delivered.

The Cuba Souvenir Peso sold for one dollar each with the promise to redeem them after the war to honor the faith and investment in liberty of those who purchased them. When Cuba finally became independent in 1902, they honored their commitment by exchanging the souvenir peso for one dollar.

In 1897, the Silver Cuba Peso Souvenir contained about thirty-eight cents worth of silver, which meant that after expenses the Cuban Revolutionary Party would make a handsome profit from the sale of these coins. Unfortunately, the order for three million pieces never materialized. However, with the entry of the United States into the Spanish-American War in 1898, the need for the Cuban Revolutionary Party to raise money for their independence became a moot point.

Based on a design by Estrada Palma, medalist Phillip Martiny prepared the plasters and engraved the dies for the 1897 Cuba Souvenir Peso. The obverse of the souvenir peso features a bust of Lady Liberty modeled by Leonor Molina. Leonor was a Cuban-American relative to the treasurer of the Cuban Revolutionary Party and as such became the face of the revolution. The motto PATRIA Y LIBERTAD inscribed around the rim of the obverse translates to COUNTRY AND LIBERTY.

The reverse features the Cuban Coat of Arms as the central device behind which is a fasces surmounted by a Phrygian cap and an oak and laurel wreath. The top portion of the coat of arms displays a key over the water between two landmasses with the sun rising behind it. This represents Cuba as the key to the gulf, geographically located between the Florida Keys and the Yucatan Peninsula. The rising sun represents Cubas emergence as an independent state. The bars on the lower left portion of the arms represent five Cuban provinces. To the right of the bars is a palm tree representing the Cuban countryside. The fasces crowned by a Phrygian cap are representative of the people united by liberty. The oak branch represents strength and the laurel branch honor and glory.

Responding to Spanish abuses, including, arbitrary governance, excessive taxation, and human rights violations, the first organized conflict for Cuban independence began in 1868 with the 10-year war. This conflict eventually ended in a stalemate and the Spaniards retaining power, but also gave the slaves who had fought with the insurgents their freedom.

A group of Cubans who had not signed on to the agreement ending the 10-year war started the next war, named the little war (1879-1880). This war concluded with a crushing defeat of the insurgents.

The founding of the Cuban Revolutionary Party by Jose Marti followed in 1892. Their objective was to raise money for the Cuban War for Independence and establish a government after the war. Based largely in New York, many of this organizations early fund-raising activities occurred in the United States.

Armed conflict in the Cuban War for Independence began in 1895. While the American public was sympathetic to the revolution, the United States economy profited from Cuba resulting in the US Government officially taking a neutral stance in the conflict. Consequently, in an effort to quell the violence and pursue a diplomatic solution with Spain, the US Government enforced a naval blockade on ships carrying arms and supplies to the Cuban insurgents.

All this tension finally came to a head with the sinking of the battleship USS Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898. The American Press anxious to sensationalize the news against Spain to gain a competitive edge in circulation, (a practice called yellow journalism) whipped up a public fervor for war. Furthermore, this occasion presented an opportunity for America to flex her emerging naval muscle worldwide. Consequently, the United States declared war with Spain on April 25, 1898. Interestingly in 1974, research into the USS Maine incident by Admiral Hyman George Rickover concluded that the explosion came from inside the ship and was likely caused by the spontaneous combustion of coal fumes.

After crushing the Spanish Army and Navy, the war came to a quick close with The Treaty of Paris signed on December 10, 1898. As a result of the war, the United States gained control of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Moreover, were not the Cubans persistent about their independence, the US would have likely annexed Cuba. Consequently, on May 20, 1902 Don Thomas Estrada Palma was inaugurated Cubas first president and the Cuban flag flew over Havana for the first time. Today Puerto Rico and Guam remain as US territories.

In the end, there are multitudes of what if questions that would have profoundly changed history had not the Spanish-American war occurred. Most assuredly, it would have also affected the numismatic history of the lands involved with this war. For instance, there might not be a Guam and Puerto Rico quarter and no Philippine US Territory coins. History is strange that way, which is what makes it so fascinating.

This post marks the first year of my Coin of the Month articles. I hope you have enjoyed reading Volume 2, Number 1 of the Coin of the Month. Until next month, happy collecting!
Gary