So-Called Dollars


Medals commemorate opening of United States Mint in Manila, Philippine Islands, July 16, 1920--only overseas mint ever established by our country.

Discovered by Ferdinand Magellan 1521, conquered by Spain 1565 and ruled by her for more than 300 years, Philippine Islands were ceded to United States by treaty Dec. 10, 1898, following Spanish-American War. Filipinos, unable to obtain complete independence from U.S. after war, started guerrilla warfare Feb. 4, 1899; finally crushed with capture of their leader, Emilio Aguinaldo, March 23, 1901.

As conciliatory act, U.S. in 1903 began to strike special series of Philippine Islands coins to replace Spanish colonial issues then in use; coins struck at both Philadelphia and San Francisco Mints, 1903-1908 at former and 1903-1920 (1 centavo only in 1920) at latter. These issues have become the only "colonial' coinage ever struck under U.S. authority. In meantime, Bureau of Mint, U.S. Treasury Department, proceeded with plans for Islands to have own mint; Insular Treasurer A. P. Fitzsimmons named Mint Director ad interim May 20, 1919; electrically operated coining equipment made in Philadelphia Mint machine shop; mint formally opened following year.

Medals designed by Clifford Hewitt who installed equipment and taught natives its operation; dies by George Morgan of Philadelphia Mint. Issue limited to 2,200 Silver and 3,700 Copper pieces; sold for $1 and 50 cents, respectively. Silver pieces .750 fine, standard composition for Philippines coinage of the period. Only 5 Gold pieces reportedly struck: One was presented to President Woodrow Wilson and one to the U.S. Secretary of War, three retained in the Philippines were lost during World War II.

Remaining inventory at Manila Mint moved to Corregidor before fall of Manila in 1942, then dumped in Manila Bay to avoid capture by Japanese army. Recovery efforts began in 1942, continued for many years. Recovered examples show rough, corroded surfaces from exposure to sea water; never-submerged examples rarer.

Photos courtesy of John Dean

Obv. Pres. Woodrow Wilson, bust facing to l.; above, around, President • of • the • United • States; beaded border.
Rev. Justice, kneeling l., scales in upraised r. hand, rests l. hand upon shoulder of nude youth who is pouring planchets from cornucopia into coin press; above all, around To Commemorate the opening of the Mint; below all Manila P.I. / 1920 (incuse in oval); microscopic M to r. behind l. foot of Justice.

HK-449 Silver, .750 fine. 38mm.
HK-450 Copper.
HK-1031 Gold.

HK-435 to HK-448b