leper colony currency of Culion

Perez, Gilbert S. (Gilbert Somers), 1885-
Numismatic Notes and Monographs
American Numismatic Society
New York
Worldcat Works




Open access edition funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Humanities Open Book Program.


Table of Contents




By Gilbert S. Perez

The interest of the people of this country during the past year has been directed to the condition of the sufferers from leprosy in the Philippine Islands, through a successful campaign for funds to aid the doctors charged with stamping out this terrible disease. There is every reason to believe that a few years will see great changes there, and that after the efforts now to be instituted shall have achieved their high aim, there will come a time when the currency used in Culion will have become another of the records of bygone things whose facts and whose past are called to mind by coins the intrinsic value of which is far surpassed by their historical significance.

Nothing will bring to the mind of the outside world the absolute isolation of the leper patients of Culion so vividly as the currency which the Philippine Government has issued for the use of the inhabitants of that lonely island in the China Sea. In that spot about 5,300 patients await the time when death shall have made an end to their suffering or medical skill afforded them the much desired negative test which restores them to their homes and to their loved ones. Strangely enough in 1923, of the 34 who were released from Culion, three decided to remain in the colony. Perhaps it was because they foresaw the glances of fear and horror they would receive from friends and neighbors when they returned to their homes, officially cured but still carrying with them the stigma of the living death from which they had recently escaped.

The most extensively used drug in Culion is the iodized ethyl ester which may be considered as the standard compound for fighting the disease. If treatment is taken shortly after the appearance of the symptoms, the chances for recovery are very bright. During 1922, more than 500 were declared negative, of which 292 were paroled or discharged and the rest kept under a two-year period of observation. Leprosy is no respecter of persons and the patients on the island include exgovernors, lawyers, doctors, teachers, and men of wealth as well as laborers.

Although the Culion Leper Colony was established in May, 1906, the first issue of coins was not placed in circulation until 1913. This issue was struck in aluminum in the die establishment of Frank & Co., Manila. The design is a simple one, the coins resembling the ordinary hacienda token. On the obverse is the caduceus; around this is the legend "Bureau of Health," with the date 1913 between two stars. On the reverse appears the value numeral surrounded by the legend "Culion Leper Colony Philippine Islands." The denominations struck were the ½-centavo, 5-centavo, 10-centavo, 20-centavo, and the peso all made of aluminum.

The second issue (1920) of similar design and also struck in aluminum comprises the 10-centavo, 20-centavo and peso. These were coined at the government mint at Manila.

As aluminum deteriorates very easily in a tropical climate, and because of the corrosive effect of the disinfectants in use, it was found advisable to change to an alloy of copper and nickel for this currency, the proportion being 75% of copper and 25% of nickel.

The third issue consists of the twenty-centavo of nickel and one-peso pieces struck in nickel bronze; it was instituted in 1922.

In 1925, a radical change was made in the design and the coins now have the appearance of a regular currency. The obverse shows the bust of Dr. José Rizal, the Filipino patriot who was executed in Manila in 1896; the reverse the new seal of the Philippine Health Service. One denomination only, the peso, was struck by the Philippine Mint.

In 1927, one-centavo and 5-centavo pieces were minted. The effigy of Mabini was used in the one-centavo piece and that of Rizal in the five-centavo piece. While these coins were being struck at the Manila mint, the die of the one-centavo piece was broken and had to be replaced. Nearly all of these coins were defaced and melted and a new die made. The last die was less carefully executed—it shows only one button on the coat instead of the two buttons of the broken die.

In 1925, Director of Health Fajardo recommended that the special coins in circulation at the Culion Leper Colony be adopted for the inmates of the Manila Leprosarium. Insular Auditor Wright objected on the ground of illegality. He said, however, that should the Attorney General rule otherwise he would be perfectly willing to abide by the decision. On April 20, 1926, Attorney General Jaranilla announced his opinion that Director Fajardo's plan would not violate Section 13 of Act No. 1754 which prohibits the use of tokens. Two thousand 10-centavo pieces and 1,500 of the peso pieces of the third issue were transferred from the Culion Leper Colony to the San Lazaro Hospital. On October 23, 1926, 2,000 of the 10-centavo and 1,500 of the one-peso of the third issue were transferred from Culion to San Lazaro. On August 12, 1927, 10,000 of the new one-centavo piece and 6,000 of the new five-centavo piece were issued to the San Lazaro Hospital.

The Mint and Health officials did not take cognizance of the similarity in size between the regular five-centavo nickel and the one-centavo leper coins and it is not uncommon to find in circulation, a leper colony one-centavo piece which has netted the inmate of San Lazaro a profit of four centavos. It is, therefore, very probable that these will be recalled and a coin of different size issued by the Health Bureau and the Philippine Mint.

On July the first, the following regulations governing the use of special Culion coins were issued by the Bureau of Health:


Regulations Governing the Use of Special Culion Currency

"As a sanitary measure and with a view to stopping the circulation of special currency at present observed among the non-lepers in Culion and elsewhere who have commercial dealings with the inmates of the Colony; and also the circulation of the Philippine currency inside the Colony proper, the following regulations are hereby issued to take effect July 1, 1925:

(1) In all money transactions in the non-leper settlement, only the Philippine currency shall be used.

(2) In the Colony proper, the legal currency shall be the special currency, commonly known as "leper money," expressly made for the exclusive use of the inmates thereof.

(3) All non-lepers having special currency in their possession should exchange same for Philippine currency at the office of the Disbursing Officer during work days (except Sundays and legal holidays).

(4) All those inmates having Philippine currency in their possession should exchange same for special currency at the Culion Store in the Colony proper during work days (except Sundays and legal holidays).

(5) All exchanges shall be made at par value.

(6) The use of Philippine currency for the payment of any kind of transaction, commercial or otherwise, to the inmates themselves or to non-lepers, is not permitted inside the Colony proper. Likewise, the circulation of special currency in Balala, Jardin and Culañgo is strictly prohibited, said circulation being absolutely confined within the Colony.

(7) Any non-leper vendor desiring to sell merchandise to the inmates, such as foodstuffs, building materials, etc., shall first obtain the necessary permit to do so from the Chief of the Colony, or his authorized agent, which permit may be issued him with the understanding that such vendor shall strictly comply with the existing regulations governing currency.

(8) All payments from such commercial transactions with the inmates shall be made in special currency which should be deposited with the authorized representative of the Disbursing Officer to be found at the gate, who shall issue a receipt for the amount received. This receipt may be presented at the office of the Disbursing Officer for exchange with Philippine currency.

(9) The Chief of Police and his agents should, see that provisions of these regulations are strictly complied with. They are empowered to arrest or to report to the proper authorities any person violating any of the provisions hereof.

(10) Any person found violating any of the provisions of these regulations shall be punished by a fine of not more than FIFTEEN PESOS (15), or imprisonment not to exceed One Month, or Both.

Jacobo Fajardo Director of Health Approved: E. A. Gilmore Secretary of Public Instruction"

The Japanese government has made a special study of the Culion Leper Colony and has established a similar colony in Japan. All of the rules and regulations pertaining to the Culion colony have been adopted by the Japanese government in the administration of the Japanese Leper Colony. A set of the Japanese colony tokens varying in size and shape, of japanned brass are illustrated on Plate III.


First Issue-1913 Denomination Pieces Pesos
½-centavo 17,000 85
1-centavo 32,500 325
5-centavo 6,600 330
10-centavo 6,600 660
20-centavo 10,000 2,000
1-peso 8,600 8,600

Aluminum-Struck by Frank & Co., Manila

Second Issue-1920 10-centavo 20,000 2,000
20-centavo 10,000 2,000
1-peso 4,000 4,000

Aluminum-Struck at the Philippine Mint

Third Issue-1922 20-centavo 10,155 2,031
1-peso 8,280 8,280

Nickel Bronze-Struck at the Philippine Mint

Fourth Issue-1925 1-peso 20,000 20,000
Fifth Issue-1927 1-centavo 30,000 300
5-centavo 16,000 800

Nickel Bronze—Struck at the Philippine Mint

There are two varieties of these 1927 coins, one is well executed with the legend "For a healthy nation" in the ribbon under the seal of the Bureau of Health. In the new die of this issue the ribbons show no inscription.


  • 1. Peso. Obv. in center 1 Peso, surrounded by the legend, culion leper colony and philippine islands. Rev., Caduceus with legend, bureau of health, * 1913.* Aluminum. Plate I.
  • 2. 20-centavo. Obv. similar to No. 1, but with value 20 centavos. Rev. similar, but letters without serifs. Aluminum. Plate I.
  • 3. 10-centavo. Obv. similar to No. 1, but with value 10 centavos. Rev. similar to No. 1. Aluminum. Plate I.
  • 4. 5-centavo. Obv. similar to No. 1, but with value 5 centavos. Rev. similar to No. 1. Aluminum. Plate I.
  • 5. 1-centavo. Obv. similar to No. 1, but with value 1 CENTAVO. Rev. similar to No. 2. Aluminum. Plate II.
  • 6. ½-centavo. Obv. similar to No. 1, but with value ½ centavo. Rev. similar to No. 2. Aluminum. Plate II. Philippine Mint.
  • 7. 1-peso. Obv. similar to No. 1, but dated 1920. Aluminum. Plate II.
  • 8. 20-centavo. Obv. similar to No. 2, but dated 1920.
  • 9. 10-centavo. Obv. similar to No. 3, but dated 1920.
  • 10. 1-peso. Obv. similar to No. 1. Small incuse in field, PM (Philippine Mint). Rev. philippine health service 1922 surrounding caduceus. Nickel bronze. Plate II.
  • 11. 20-centavo. Obv. similar to No. 2, but value 20 centavos. Rev. similar to No. 10. Nickel bronze.
  • 12. 1-peso. Obv. bust of José Rizal. Legend, culion leper colony philippine islands. Rev. philippine health service * 1925 one peso.* In center, seal of the Health Service. Nickel bronze. Plate III.
  • 13. 5-centavo. Obv. similar to No. 12, but letters without serifs. Rev. similar to No. 11, but 5 centavos instead of 1 peso and date 1927. Nickel bronze, rare. Plate III.
  • 14. Similar but less carefully executed. No inscription in the ribbon under the seal. Nickel bronze.
  • 15. 1-centavo. Obv. similar to No. 12, but with bust of Mabini. Rev. similar to No. 13, but with value one centavo. Excessively rare. Nickel bronze. Plate III.
  • 16. Similar to No. 15, but less carefully executed—no inscription in ribbon. Nickel bronze.


Culion Leper Currency

Plate I


Plate II


Plate III


Numismatic Notes and Monographs

  • Sydney P. Noe. Coin Hoards. 1921. 47 pp. 6 pls. 50c.
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  • Sydney P. Noe. Medallic Work of A. A. Weinman. 1921. 31 pp. 17 pls. $1.00.
  • Gilbert S. Perez. The Mint of the Philippine Islands. 1921. 8 pp. 4 pls. 50c.
  • David Eugene Smith, LL.D. Computing Jetons. 1921. 70 pp. 25 pls. $1.50.
  • Edward T. Newell. The First Seleucid Coinage of Tyre. 1921. 40 pp. 8 pls. $1.00.
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  • George F. Hill. Attambelos I of Characene. 1922. 12 pp. 3 pls. $1.00.
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  • Edward T. Newell. Alexander Hoards. IV. Olympia. 1929. 31 pp. 9 plates. $1.50.
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