Although as previously mentioned all three silver pieces carried the same reverse design, Dr. Valderrama had drawn an alternative design for the 25 centavos piece at the request of Dr. Martinez Saenz, which included the famous Marti phrase “Con todos y para el bien de todos” (with all and for the good of all) in five lines on a scroll. Due to time constraints, the original designs submitted to the Philadelphia mint, sharing the reverse design, were hastily approved by Dr. Valderrama during his visit to Philadelphia in 1952. However, he publicly invited General Batista to consider the alternative design in an open interview in Bohemia magazine in early 1953.
Starting in late 1952 the brass 1953 centavos pieces were being struck at the Philadelphia mint, followed by the 25 centavos pieces through May 1953, which created a 6 month window of opportunity to introduce changes to the design of the larger 50 centavos and peso pieces. Although the details of how the changes came to be are not clear to us, it is conceivable that Dr. Valderrama’s public and private invitations to consider the alternative design had an effect and avoided what would have otherwise been a monotonous reverse design in this series. The 50 centavos reverse design adopted the scroll design initially sketched out for the 25 centavos pieces, and the peso piece adopted a design based on an enlargement of the chief of the national shield.
Top grade NGC*
Top grade PCGS*
* As of publication of this post on April 4, 2020.
The official mintage figures for the 1953 Marti Centennial are summarized in the table above, ranging from 1,000,000 peso coins to 50,000,000 centavo pieces. All four coins in the series can be considered common, but they are surprisingly hard to find in gem uncirculated condition. Except for two 25 centavos examples graded at MS 66 by NGC, no other pieces from the 1953 series have been higher than MS 65 by either NGC or PCGS, one or two grades lower than what’s seen with the other First Republic series. Actually, the poor quality and condition of the 1953 Marti Centennial pieces drew early criticism from the public and the numismatic community, with the Cuban Numismatic Society officially protesting (see clip below). Contemporary studies from The Cuban Numismatic Society and by Thomas Lismore estimate that about or less than 4% of the coins directly from the mint bags (70 out 2,000 coins) were devoid of bag marks and scratches, which they attributed to the hastily produced coins, design flaws such as the low rim and poor quality of the coin blanks which showed brown spots.
We hope this article adds some dimension to an otherwise underappreciated series of Cuban coinage. Art, politics and history coming together in a truly remarkable numismatic story.
As usual, feel free to build with your own comments and/or insights, and to ask questions if we left any details out.