Financing Cuba’s Independence from Spain



Early in 1897, two years into the third war against Spain for Cuban independence, the head of the Cuban Revolutionary Junta and President of the Republic at Arms, Don Tomas Estrada Palma, is hard at work in New York City raising money to pay the Cuban revolutionary forces and purchase supplies and weapons in support of the war.

On March 12, a New York “wheeler-dealer” named Andrew J. Cone, writes Estrada Palma suggesting the mintage of a coin to raise money for the Cuban cause. The idea appeals to Estrada Palma and he delegates the negotiations to Octavio Zayas Adan, the Junta’s Finance Commissioner.  On May 10, Estrada Palma signs a contract for 3 million coins with an initial installment of 10,000 coins due in 60 days. They contract the American sculptor and designer, Phillip Martiny, to prepare the plaster casts and first set of dies.

A beautiful young Cuban woman by the name of Leonor Molina, a cousin of Mr. Zayas,  posed as the model for the Liberty head on the coin.  She was born in Camagüey, Cuba in 1879 and died in Miami, Fl in 1955 at the age of 76.  In life she wore a gold striking of the souvenir peso presented to her by her cousin but unfortunately that piece disappeared before her death.

They contract with the Gorham Manufacturing Company of Providence, RI to strike the coins. Due to concerns raised by attorney Jerome Carty about the wording which included “UN PESO”, the design undergoes several changes and as a result, three separate varieties of the coin are struck replacing the original denomination with “SOUVENIR”.

In July, Gorham strikes 858 silver (there are some very rare bronze trials of all varieties) coins known today as the “Wide Date or Pat 97” variety (first coin, notice the widely separated numbers in the date and the “Pat 97” on the base of the neck). Thirty of these are later destroyed as defective. Today there are 82 specimen graded by one of the 3 major coin grading companies, with 8 in this grade (MS-64) and 11 in higher grades.

On August 3rd, the company strikes 4,286 silver coins known today as the “Star Above” variety (second coin, notice the start to the right of the date appears aligned with the date’s center line). The die broke the same day.  Today there are 66 specimen graded by one of the 3 major coin grading companies, with 7 in this grade (MS-64) and 10 in higher grades.

On August 20th, the company strikes 4,856 silver coins with a new die known today as the “Star Below” variety (third coin, notice the star to the right of the date appears slightly below the date’s baseline). Today there are 95 specimen graded by one of the 3 major coin grading companies, with 10 in this grade (MS-63) and 23 in higher grades.

The full original contract is never completed and Cone eventually grants all rights for the coin design to the Junta.

Today, I am the proud owner of the three coins pictured and a piece of Cuban history.