Art/Style/Travel Diaries

León Gallery breaks record for most expensive Philippine coin sold

‘Barilla’ coins are coveted for their rarity—and this one went for P1.4 million

Lot 115, A 1732 Philippine Barilla A Philippine Barilla, with the words “BARRILLA ano de 1732” inscribed on the obverse and the stamp of the complete middle of the coin bearing the complete coat of arms of Manila. Consistent with the 1728 issuance of the Barilla. The coin is uniface with a weight of 21.75 grams and a diameter of 24.40mm and a thickness of 4.80mm. The feel of the coin shows that it is made of heavy metal though a thorough XRF study must be done to determine the precise metal content of the coin.

León Gallery has made another record, this time not for fine art, but for a pocket-sized piece of Philippine history.

Just 118 lots into the first day of the León Exchange 29th Online Auction, the country’s leading auction house broke the record for the most expensive Philippine coin ever sold in the country: an 1899 barilla dating back to  the First Philippine Republic, when the country had just declared independence from Spain. The barilla commanded a striking sum of P1.4 million, nearly 29 times its modest starting price of P50,000. Less than five minutes into the bidding the coin was won in this stunning bid.

Lot 117, A Pair Of Philippines Barillas (1731 And 1740), Both rare auction pieces bear some deposits due to long storage. 
1. Barilla, 1731. With the BA Monogram on the obverse surrounded by ‘Manila 1731.’ The reverse displays the castle symbolizing the coat of arms of Manila. It is important to note as a validation of authenticity that this coin has a medal alignment. Weight: 10.52grams, Diameter:
19.75mm and Width: 3.85mm.
2. Barilla, 1740. With the “BA” monogram surrounded by ‘Ano De 1743’ in the obverse, that appears to have been double struck. The reverse has the coat arms of Manila with the castle at the top and the sealion on the bottom. It is important to note as a validation of authenticity that this coin has a coin alignment. Weight: 9.38grams, Diameter: 20.61mm and Width: 3.31mm.

In an interview with León Gallery, antique and history buff and investment banker Sandy Lichauco says that among the four lots of barillas offered in the auction, the now-record holder was the one he knew “would be the best performer, given its historical value.”

Lichauco explains: “The other barrillas came at a time when there was a need for loose change in a growing economy in Manila. But this token or this particular barilla was suspected to have been used specifically for a particular area at a very important time in our history: at the time when General Lawton won the battle of Laguna de Bay and the need for small change had to be addressed.”

He continues: “I say ‘suspected,’ because the only source of information for it is the account of Dra. Angelita Legarda (the noted numismatist and collector), who had specifically written about the coin and its ‘suspected use’ in a monograph of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas back in 1978, at the same time she had received this specific coin from a collector. So again, the historical value and strength of the provenance of the coin is the reason why it ‘outperformed’ the other coins in the auction.”

Lichauco adds that he “was pleasantly surprised and very happy” upon hearing the news of this record-breaking success. “For a while, I was doubting whether any buyers would come in given that the coins, all five barrillas, were not certified by a third-party grader (TPG). But the results proved otherwise, and showed the strength of the history behind the coins and the strength of the provenance of these coins,” he says.

Lot 118, A Token From The Revolution, The only known article on this coin was written by Dra. Angelita G. Legarda M.D. in the Barilla Monograph Vol. V. No.3 1978 of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas in 1978. Unlike the previous Barilla coins offered which are dated in the first half of 18th century, it is suggested that this piece came from a much later vintage. The coin bears 1899 date on the obverse which is
from the First Republic era and bears the value ‘2’ on the side of the triangle that surrounds the letter ‘L.’ Legarda wrote that the letter ‘L’ might stand for the word ‘LAGUNA.’ While on the reverse, though badly corroded, the letters ‘RF’ are stamped in one case or even punched twice. This could stand for ‘Republika Filipinas.’ According to Legarda these coins were related to General Lawton’s triumph in Laguna De Bay after the capture of Malolos. It is believed that these pieces were among the tokens manufactured by the Generals of the Revolution to meet their needs in Southern Tagalog. Not much information surrounds these pieces given that the mintage may have been very low because the troops were embroiled in battle and constantly on the move. But if Legarda’s interpretation of the letter ‘L’ as symbol of ‘Laguna’ is accepted, this specimen could be on the short list of very rare and elusive coinage of the Revolution. It is the only extant specimen that may well have been used by Dra. Legarda as reference in her article in the 1978 Monograph of the BSP. Coin is crudely minted. Weight 13.38 grams. Diameter of 20mm and width of 5mm.

Asked about the significance of this auction, Lichauco notes: “It shows that there are still ‘real collectors’ out there who are willing to buy a coin because of its history. The fact that it is record-breaking is a testament to this fact, that there is really no amount of money that can be paid for the true understanding and experience of owning a part of our history.”

León Gallery’s barilla offerings are accompanied by a copy of a memo of receipt dated June 7, 1978, issued by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ money museum and signed by Legarda herself. This document gave authenticity to the value of these historic coins.

The three other barilla lots also sold for very impressive prices: a pair of barillas from 1731 and 1740 selling for P793,056, a 1732 barilla going under the hammer for P552,736, and a 1722 barilla racking up P444,592.

The barilla, the origin of the Filipino word barya, was the Spanish colonial government’s response to the need for fractional currency or small change “at a time when the Spanish silver cobs and Dos Mundos 8 reales circulated in the Spanish Philippines,” according to the León Gallery catalog. Barilla coins are highly coveted by numismatists because of their rarity; only a limited number of these coins were minted and circulated, and were valid only in Manila.

Lot 116, A 1722 Philippine Barilla, A very rare and probably only surviving sample of this very early Philippine Barilla with the words ‘BARRILLA MANILA 1722’ written on the obverse, with no stamp of the coat of arms of Manila on the reverse but only the tower component. These are indications that this could be an earlier Barilla than the 1728 Barilla, given that most of the uniface barilla that were discovered have the words ‘Barilla Ano De,’ and had the full coat of arms of Manila. The coin is uniface, with a weight of 35.81 grams and a diameter of 27.28mm and a thickness of 6.69mm. The feel of the coin suggests that it is made of heavy metal; a thorough XRF study must be done to determine the full metal content of the coin

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