Cuba was a Spanish colony until the USA took it after the 1898 war.
Many tokens were in use in the last quarter of the 19th century, chiefly for paying --and likely, for controlling-- agrarian labor. A similar situation existed in Puerto Rico and several Central American republics. One of the reforms of the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s was the abolition of the use of tokens (“fichas”) for paying labor.
Even in the perfect democracy of the USA, tokens were used in comparable “company stores”, as a spirit-crushing feature of the labor-&-capital dynamic.
Cuba also saw the usual use of advertising tokens (“storecards”). These are often less plain than the hacienda tokens. Less common are tokens with an exchange value, issued by small businesses --the familiar “good for” token so common in the USA, or in Germany (for beer). There are, however, some attractive, mid-19th-century pictorial transportation tokens, and at least one shellcard made in France, for a brothel.
The Cuban series suffers from the lack of a good catalog. Compare, for example, the Gould catalog for Puerto Rico (ca1962). The PR series also benefited from the attention paid by collectors like Vaia and Roehrs, as well as their “children”, like Archilla-Diez. Of course, the political and economic advantages of PR vs Cuba have everything to do with these matters. Puerto Rican tokens are collected as if they were AMERICAN. Which they are, sort of. Nonetheless, while I have known, and sold to, many collectors of PR tokens, most were from Puerto Rico. I have never met or corresponded with ANYONE who was living in Cuba; all the collectors are stateside. (This is not true of Cuban medals.)
The Rulau catalog of Latin American tokens has a decent Cuba section, but it is still sketchy. The prices mean little and often nothing, nor would it be fair to expect much accuracy.
The many CASINO TOKENS from the debauched pre-Castro decades are much studied and collected by the casino chip crowd. About 10-15 years ago, supply and information began to emerge from Cuba --moreso than is true of other tokens.
There are also Cuban tokens from the US occupation period, including some US military tokens (See Paul Cunningham’s military token catalogs). These are not common. As they are now about 75-100 years old, they naturally gain in collectors’ perception of desirability. As rarity becomes more important to today’s now-advanced collectors, they are subject to considerable price appreciation.
Ah! PRICES. When I started collecting foreign tokens in the 1970s, Latin American tokens in general were avidly sought by a coterie of USA-based collectors, and a few in some of the home countries. Regarding Cuba, commoner pieces like the 1884 Un Racion of Central Santa Lucia (in Gibara) sold for maybe $15 VF. The 1888 token with the banana bunch, or a small-value token of Marques de Montelo, would have been considered scarce and would have sold for perhaps $40. Really scarce pieces might not bring more; who knew what was scarce or rare, anyway? Pieces were so infrequently seen -- I could not collect 20 different in 20+ years. Only a few auction houses, like Jess Peters and Henry Christensen, were ever likely to list Latin American tokens, and the fixed-price lists, 1965-85, were token-deprived, for all countries. Sometimes Alfred & Augusta Szego would have a fair offering of tokens, but the seven issues (1979-1985) of my Bosco Numismatic Quarterly, with their thousands of tokens at fixed prices, pretty much stand alone. (And YES, I still have some copies available.)
In the “Chicago” International Coin Fair, held annually 40 miles from Chicago amid a banal tangle of highways and hotels, Heritage conducts an all-foreign-&-ancients auction event. The 2011 sale included a 153-piece lot of Cuban tokens, mainly classic 19th-Century issues but some junk and MANY duplicates. I viewed the lot, which brought $8050; I was the underbidder, bidding mainly for resale. Today, I don’t think I’d come close. If you Google
Heritage auction Cuba tokens Dana Roberts April 2011
you should go right to this auction lot. There are a fair number of pictured tokens. There have been 1500+ page views and, regardless of when these page views took place, they indicate a strong level of interest.
In my 1997 Hal Walls auction, I sold a few very early Cuba tokens/storecards for $300-400. There have been some Cuban tokens on eBay, nowhere near as good, which have sold for $300-400 but in general eBay is not much help for gaining knowledge of prices.
I am planning to list some pieces myself --I’m writing this in November, 2012-- so that is what inspired me to write this guide. If you have questions or comments, you can reach me by checking my About Me page.
--Paul Bosco (eBay i.d. “paulbosco”)
PS. Gustave Flaubert taught that a writer should use "le mot juste" (the exact word). So I guess I should locate the CICF "amid a soul-crushing tangle of highways and hotels". Mind you, this is a decent show. But it's not Chicago, it's not particularly international, and it's in a very boring place.