The 54-year embargo on buying Cuban merchandise is still in effect, but President Obama’s re-establishment of diplomatic relationships with the country has caused speculation that the restriction could be coming to an end. Will this open up a new market in Cuban coins and collectibles?
Cuban coins cannot currently be traded openly in US markets, due to the Trading With the Enemy Act, the coins are available in international markets, and experienced a boom during the 70’s and 80’s, as interest in world currency increased.
Cuban coins from the first six decades of the twentieth century are prized by collectors; they display a technical skill in coin-making equal to that of American coins of the time. One of the most popular is the 1915-16 gold peso, engraved by Charles E. Barber. Before 1962, Cuban coins were produced by the US Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing; afterward, the coins were contracted out to Soviet Czechoslovakia while coining began at the Cuban Mint in Havana.
Since 1962, seven denominations have been circulated: the 1, 2, 5, 20, and 40 centavos; and the 1 and 3 pesos. Six of those are still in circulation; the 40 centavo has been withdrawn.
Cuba has several kinds of currency that are of particular interest to many collectors: visitor’s or tourists coins, and commemorative or themed coins.
Visitor’s coins were used between 1981-89 in 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 centavos, as well as the 1 peso. This currency created some tension, since ordinary Cubans removed from the tourist trade were paid only in standard pesos, and could not purchase some goods and services. Demonetized in 2001, these coins were replaced by Canadian-made Convertible Pesos (CUC) known as chavitos, and originally valued at $1 US. In 2013, government announced it is phasing the CUC out.
Commemorative and themed coins from Cuba are abundant and highly collectible in other markets. The most common themed coins from Cuba are the ones produced for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN’s World Money Programme. First debuted in 1981 for World Food Day, Cuba produced FAO coins through 1996. FAO Coins International Catalog lists 25 Cuban FAO coins (including 8 proofs) produced at the Cuban Mint in Havana, with mintages in 4,000-7,000 for business strikes, 500-1000 for proofs, in compositions in copper-nickel, nickel-steel, and .999 fine silver.
One of the best collectibles is the 1985 “40th Anniversary of the F.A.O.” proof. It is .999 silver, and only 500 were made; it retails for approximately $100 in other markets.
Coin Week states, “Cuba also struck a number of collector coins in gold. Gold coins come in denominations of 50, 100 and 200 pesos. 500 pieces were struck for collectors, starting in 1977 with the release of a 100 peso gold coin commemorating the 60th year of Lenin’s Socialist Revolution. Only 10 pieces were struck, making this one of the most difficult Cuban issues to acquire.”
When sanctions are formally eased, expect to see exceptional Cuban coins entering the open market. American collectors who have been holding on to such coins will be the first to benefit from trading, but the Cuban Mint is likely to take the opportunity to bring new novelty coins to market.
While we cannot sell Cuban coins until the embargo is lifted, we do have a selection of other world coins available.