The History of Philippine Money at the BPI Museum and Library Cebu

Inside the BPI Money Museum in Cebu

When one visits Plaza Sugbo in downtown Cebu City, people flock to the Basilica del Santo Niño, Magellan's Cross and the Cebu City Hall. In the same plaza, one hardly notices the small Neoclassical building that houses the BPI Museum and Library. This is one of the best-kept secrets in Cebu. I only learned of the existence of the museum through the social media postings of historian, Professor Ambeth Ocampo.

If this particular structure (which opened a few months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941) looks similar to the Manila Central Post Office or the National Museum of the Philippines Fine Arts (the old Legislative building) or even the Cebu Provincial Capitol, it's because it was designed by none other than Filipino architect-extraordinaire Juan Marcos Arellano.

That portion of land beside the Basilica was sold by the Order of San Agustin (Augustinians) to the Bank of the Philippine Islands in 1924. The friars badly needed funds for a mission that they were planning at that time. One must also remember that this was during the American Colonial Period wherein the Friar Orders where encouraged to sell most of their land possessions.

BPI Money Museum Cebu Facade

Aside from the museum and library, the building is home to the BPI Main branch and a law office. The building was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1991.

I've always wanted to tour the BPI Museum but even though it's free and open to the public, one must make an appointment in order to view their exhibit. A couple of weeks ago, I jumped at the chance to explore the museum when an invitation was extended to the Cebu Bloggers Society.

It’s pure coincidence that a month ago I happened to buy a book by Tahanan Publishing called Cashaysayan: A History of Philippine Money at Fully Booked. The book is designed for young readers but adults will find it informative and entertaining as well. A few weeks after reading the book, the invitation came along. It's like the universe was telling me something. Armed with my book as a guide, I spent an afternoon at the museum.

The BPI Museum and Library which opened in 2011 is the only gallery dedicated to Philippine Money and the history of it in Cebu. It also has its own in-house curator in the form of Mr. Carlos Ledesma Apuhin who happens to be a co-author, together with Professor Jose Eleazar Bersales, of Salapi: The Numismatic Heritage of the Philippines. I actually have this book in my wish list.

While I was taking photos of the exhibit hall, I couldn't help but compare it to the Gringotts Bank in the Harry Potter series or even the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank in Mary Poppins. It had that air of formality with its marble columns, high ceilings, and white walls.

The museum contains coins and paper bills from the Spanish Colonial Period to the 21st century Philippines. It also includes artifacts like one of the first Automatic Teller Machines in Cebu and Japanese Samurai swords from World War II.

I've created a list of some of the significant facts that I learned that afternoon:

1. Macuquinas (Cob coins)

The oldest coins that the BPI Museum has come from the reign of Fernando II of Aragon and Isabel I of Castile. The macuquinas were dated between 1492-1516. Cob coins were irregularly shaped because they were "cut or shaped by hand". These were silver coins minted in Mexico, Peru, and Bolivia. These types of coins were in production until the 17th century.

Macuquinas or Cob Coins

2. Dos Mundos

The design of the pillar dollar or Dos Mundos was considered one of the best that has ever been produced. It showed two crowned globes for the Old and New worlds, the Pillars of Hercules (for the Straits of Gibraltar), the Spanish Coat-of-Arms, the Latin name of the king, and the royal motto (Plus Ultra).

Dos Mundos coins were also called 'pieces of eight' or ocho reales by pirates plying the Caribbean islands. One pillar dollar was equal to eight reales. The Spanish silver dollar was the accepted world currency at that time.

Dos Mundo Coins

3. Chopmarked Coins

The value of the coin was not the denomination but the silver content it had. In order to ensure the purity of silver, Chinese merchants would put their chop marks on the coins. Thus, authenticating them by placing their personal stamps.

19th Century Chopmarked coins

4. Pesos Fuertes

In 1851, the first Philippine bank opened under the reign of Isabel II. It was named after the second female Spanish monarch, El Banco Español-Filipino de Isabel II. By 1852, a Royal Decree allowed the bank to print and issue paper money. These banknotes were called Pesos Fuertes or strong pesos.

Peso Fuertes

When Isabel II was deposed as monarch, the bank was renamed as El Banco Español Filipino. During the American Period, the bank had another name change, it became known as the Bank of the Philippine Islands.

5. Counterstamped Coins

By the first decades of the 19th century, Spain started losing their South American colonies through independence. Since most of the coins in circulation came from these ex-colonies through the galleons, Spanish authorities in the Philippines started counter stamping them with the realm symbol.

1832 8 Reales Mexico Counterstamped coin

6. The Conant Coins

In 1903, the first Philippine system of currency under the American regime were minted in San Francisco and Philadelphia. The coins were named after Charles Conant who developed the new monetary currency. They were designed by Filipino artist, Melecio Figueroa.

It would have been better if some of the displayed coins would also show the image side of either a standing woman with an anvil or a seated muscled man.
Another unique feature of these American-era coins was the half-centavo which was made of bronze.

Philippine Conant Coins

7. Classical Beauties

El Banco de Español Filipino or The Bank of the Philippine Islands printed a collection of paper money (both in Spanish and English versions) known as the "Good Luck Women" in 1908. When I saw samples of these bills in the BPI Museum, I got super excited.

El Banco de Español Filipino Paper Money 'Good Luck Women'

8. The English Series

When the Philippines gained its independence from the United States of America in 1946, one of the first things that the new republic created was the Central Bank. This institution will be the sole authority when it comes to printing money.

From 1949 - 1973, the Central Bank of the Philippines circulated a total of 8 paper denominations: 1, 2, 5, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500. Philippine heroes and presidents were featured on these paper bills.

Philippine Money: The English Series

The BPI Library which is open to the public from Mondays to Saturdays, 9AM-5PM is located at the third floor of the historic landmark. They welcome book donations. You can contact them at 032-412-3442.

Schedule your visit to the BPI Museum at 032-318-3533. You can also send an email at The tour can accommodate 40 people at one time.