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Cuba’s Historic 1937 A.B.C. Silver Peso

As the late dean of Cuban numismatics Thomas Lismore once wrote, “There cannot be many occasions in modern times when the coins of a 13 million issue have become such rarities.” He was referring to the 1937 silver Peso of the Republic of Cuba, struck at the Philadelphia Mint with a bold design first introduced in 1934. The obverse presented a modernistic, streamlined half-length Liberty bust facing right toward a radiant 5-pointed star from the country’s Arms and its flag, la Estrella solitaria, the Lone Star. The reverse bore the Cuban Arms, statement of fineness and weight (those of a U.S. silver dollar) denomination and REPUBLICA DE CUBA.
This handsome type was first struck in 1934, following the violent overthrow of Cuban dictator General Gerardo Machado, president 1925-1933. Initially a nationalist and reformer, Machado (born 1871, died Miami 1939) had fought in the War of Independence against Spain, entered the political arena and served as president through the prosperous 1920s. With the arrival of the worldwide Depression he became increasingly authoritarian, relying on a brutally effective secret police force known as the Porra, and survived several attempts to overthrow his rule. He finally stepped down after a major uprising directed by an underground organization known only as the “A.B.C.” The existing Cuban coins with Arms and Star continued in circulation, and most of the new “A.B.C.” Pesos went into permanent storage at the Banco Nacional de Cuba to serve as backing for newly issued Silver Certificates.
Some 80 million silver Pesos were held in bank reserves until 1951, when most were sold for their contemporary value as silver bullion. The Bank, in keeping with the traditions of courtesy that permeated Cuban society before the Castro years, reserved a small supply of each A.B.C. date for future collectors. By some oversight, all bags of 1937 coins ended up on the Havana dock for loading aboard an anchored freighter, but workers dropped one of the sacks, which burst and scattered coins in all directions. Not all were recovered, and the few escapees are the source of virtually all 1937 Pesos accessible to collectors in 2011. An attractive NGC AU-55 example of this historic coin is Lot 23181 in Stack’s Bowers Ponterio’s November 2011 Baltimore auction, a pleasing example of one of the great under-stated rarities of all modern Latin American coinage.

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