April 25, 2008

The 1903 – S One Centavo: An Accidental Discovery

It was another Sunday morning and I was preparing to attend the Bayanihan Auction last February 19, 2006. As usual, I got-up that early morning, reviewed the auction catalogue, blocked-out the items I am interested which I usually do using highlighters before I set off to the auction venue. Every auction day for me is a thrilling adventure because this is the only chance you could see some rarities, touch it, review it, and otherwise purchase it defending on how much you are willing to spend or if you really have the money to compete and win the bid. As for me, I usually carry just enough money to satisfy my interest add some missing coins or either replace the poorer grade coins that I have of my USPI (United States and Philippine Island) collection. I usually concentrate with this era because this is far I know in terms of knowledge and expertise in the Philippine coins. I usually skip the Philippine-Spanish coinage because of a limited number of resources that would help me appreciate it more.

It was great to see the guys again bringing their new finds and showing them to the other guys. Bragging their newly discovered oddities, varieties, or errors either to be proud or to appreciate the price of their items---where it is also common to see the trade of buying and selling coins.

It was already 11 o’clock in the morning when I arrived at the venue, which was held at the Quezon City Sports Club. I registered and got my number---the number thirteenth if I remember it correctly, picked-up my blue paddle before I headed-out to the display tables and inspected each and every item on the floor---of course, that I had not done properly which I will prove later. It was normal for the prospecting collectors to usually look at the finer graded coins or coins which are perhaps known to be candidate for rarities and just eying for the true good finds. As usual, poorer graded coins or common dates were left for the new collectors or neophytes in the hobby, which I observe is a common trait in numismatic, to help them (the new collectors) start with their own collection. As for me, I was not vying for coins that day but I was more focused inspecting the paper ephemeras and stamps, which were commonly offered by this particular organization. I was really surprised to see some of the best rare finds in this section particularly documents relating to the Philippine Revolution which are very scarce and truly prized in any conditions. Perhaps some of the most attractive items where documents signed by Dr. Maximo Viola which we know is a very close friend of Dr. Jose Rizal and if not for the man, Noli Me Tangere would not have been printed without the earlier providing some financial assistance. I was also looking at telegraphic letters and postcard particularly the one that has this rare oval handstamp going to Yokohama Japan, which I have read is a rarity in the world of philately.

It was only later I reviewed the coins at the other section that I noticed there were some good coins on the table. There were about two to three scarce coins but none of them appeared very interesting because they were not that rare based on the professional’s judgment. Except for some coins starting at thirty pesos at the open category, most them are just the usual dinner at the table as I may say so.

It was already 1:45 when Mr. Raffy Fermin, the program auctioneer announced that the bidding would be starting in just a couple of seconds. I headed straight to my chair at the second row prepared my pen to take account of the realized price, hold on to my paddle and focused on the announcer’s call. I barely noticed that a friend of ours, Prof. Eros or “Prof” as everyone calls him sat down about three rows far from where I was sitting. I ‘m quite aware of Prof. Eros presence since the man is a known scene steeler during auctions because of his humorous gestures like the way he raises his paddle and his sudden interruptions which could usually cause the lost of bearings for the other guys who were vying for their respective prizes.

As the event progressed, there were numerous hurrahs and awes coming from the back probably collectors had won their longed prizes or items appreciated at spectacular value. But to my surprise there were also lots of expression of annoyance and intimidation among the crowd---and of course, it was not hard for everyone to point out who was the cause of the commotion---it was Prof. Probably for the new attendees it was an unusual scene but for most of us who have known Prof for the past events it was only a normal event. I had noticed that Prof was vying for a set of ugly One Centavo series graded between Very Good to Fine condition when I glanced on him at my back. Some of the veterans were smiling as I saw Prof grabbed to his paddle and raised it as straight as he could which was particularly noticeable with the professor’s gestures. The first call was thirty, seconded by thirty-five, forty, until the sole competitor gave-up and let it go at seventy pesos leaving the happy professor triumphant with his prize. Everyone knew that the professor deserved the winning because of the fact that nobody wants to possess ugly coins especially those coming from common dates. “Nugnog” is the local term for coins of such grades, which could have been probably derived from the word “bugbog” or tortured or physically unrecognizable because of natural factors or human handling. I checked the catalogue and noticed it was a series of One Centavo coins of 1903, 1919, 1921, 1934, and 1936 that the professor now technically owns.

The event proceeded smoothly until we’ve finally concluded it with the last few remaining items from the ANTIQUES ETC. section which where I had also bided for a celadon bowl that finished at thirty pesos if not for the small detached but repaired piece could have commanded a higher value other than the awarded amount. Of course nobody vied for that item for that reason and thus, I won. I hurried up to the announcer’s table and lined-up to claim for the items I won. I was very happy because I had won some items, which are spectacular rarities that other collectors haven’t noticed but went for only thirty pesos, which I will write on to my next article. On my way there, I noticed the Professor and smiled at him. He seemed to be very excited otherwise because he went straight to the table and requested for the voucher immediately as if seems he’s the only person who should be attended to. Well, nobody minded the professor because it was normal to see Prof to act in such a way except for the fact of course, that doesn’t catch much of respective attention because everyone thinks that he’s just a scavenger or a foolish collector digging the spot where everybody had plundered. He was amongst the early batch of winners who emerges victorious with their trophies. Showing their prizes and justifying why they’ve cornered it at such amount, collectors assembled in pockets to finally conclude their personal victories including myself, Edward Chua and his brother, their friend George, and professor who went outside and sat around the table just outside the function room where the auction was held. We checked out on our catch and each one of us told his own knowledge about our new possessions. Of course, I was the sole member of the group who is knowledgeable about stamps so even though I got a rare Scott attached to a postcard for thirty pesos, it wouldn’t catch any attention so I decided to grab the professor’s find and started scrutinizing each coin. It was normal to us to share some advises, comments, or stories to increase our knowledge or to scoop some news about the industry and other topics. Then the most unthinkable happened, I noticed that the One Centavo coin of the professor bears a large S mintmark which has never been reported before and which the whole numismatic industry has never been aware of existence. To my excitement, I suddenly exclaimed “Pare, meron bang 1903-S?” (S-San Francisco Mint) Hey, Is there a 1903-S? (pertaining to the One Centavo coin I was holding) looking Edward straight in the eye. Edward dropped his jaw for a few seconds before coming-up with a hesitant response “Sigurado ka?” Are you Sure? Edward grabbed the coin from my hand and took a glance. He was otherwise in shock to hold a coin that doesn’t exist. It was very sharp in my head that the sudden thought of a fairy tale story, which has a similar ending, entered my mind. A magnificent Swan emerges from the Ugly Duck whom after all these years had survived the journey and remained mysterious until such time that it was proper to shed those ugly gray feathers and reveal its real identity. All of us were in hysteria as we concluded that I have discovered a unique pattern of the 1903 coinage. The rest was history!

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