In 1897 a small group of Cuban refugees got together in New York City to see how they could raise some money to fight the Spanish.
Cuba was under the rule of Spain and they wanted independence for their country. They decided to issue a silver crownsized coin to raise money, but putting a denomination on it would have been illegal at the time. So they denominated it ‘Souvenir’.
In 1965 three American coin dealers sat in bar in Cleveland, Ohio waiting for the coin fair to start the next day. A plan was set in motion to issue a new Cuban Souvenir Peso to try and free Cuba from the rule of Fidel Castro. One of the militant groups at the ill-fated invasion at the Bay of Pigs, Alpha 66, agreed to accept a contribution for every piece sold. So the Agency for Cuban Numismatics in Exile was founded, by Richard Margolis, Paul Weinstein and Richard Lobel.
A metal fabricating company was founded in New York City, to engrave and strike the 1965 issues. They were in a loft and we called them ‘Louis of Fulton Street’. It was Richard’s job to stay in the city and make sure things got done.
They did a brilliant job and we charged $12.50 per silver coin in a display case. We had three different edges made before the United States Government stepped in and confiscated the dies.
We had issued about half of the mintage of each design. Over the years the 1965 Cuban Souvenir Peso has become more and more collectable and in 1974, we even had someone in the Dominican Republic make copies of the rare lettered edge variety. It wasn’t till someone had some of the coins graded and slabbed that the market took off.
One day, Richard was sitting in his office in 1985 and came up with the idea of making a coin to honour the 20th anniversary of our 1965 issue. They are listed in Colin Bruce’s wonderful catalogue of Unusual World Coins published by Krause Publications. If the 1965 issues could be listed why not a 1985 issue?
Richard hired the Tower Mint in London to engrave the dies and strike the coins. They made a first set of dies which didn’t meet my requirements, so a second better set of dies were made. The coins were struck and it took almost 35 years to sell out.
Then people started to slab the 1985 Cuban Souvenir Coins. Our friends in the US started telling us that both the 1965 and the 1985 issues were bringing what we still think are crazy prices.
The 1965 has brought as high as $1,500 and lower grade examples as much as $450, the 1985 is bringing slightly less money.
We were looking through a list of some of the coins and medals we have struck over the years, it runs to more than 350 different items. The 1965 Cuban Souvenir will always be Richard’s favourite as it was his first. Then we found on the listing the 1985 Cuban Souvenir dies. We spoke to our friends at the Commonwealth Mint in Birmingham because they are known for the high quality of their work. They strike coins for different countries and they produce coins to Proof 69 and Proof 70 quality, which is as high a grade as you can get.
It is very important to get the highest grade possible when you are going to slab coins for re-sale. We spent months discussing it and they finally agreed to strike a very limited number of coins in the highest quality possible. We agreed to then give the dies to a museum when they were finished, so these would be the last ones ever to be struck. We had 1,000 made in Proof in gold plated metal, 1,000 made in proof in silver plated metal and these will only be sold as pairs and the price is going to be just £24.50 the pair.
We also had 250 pieces struck in Proof Sterling Silver, each is individually numbered on the edge from 001-250, the first 10 numbered pieces are in Richard’s collection.
Then we had just 50 pieces made in Piedfort Proof Sterling, again each individually numbered on the edge 01-50, and again, Richard kept the first 10 pieces. They look fantastic, as they are double the normal thickness.
We then had just 5 pieces struck in Proof 22ct Gold, and once again Richard is holding one back.
The first issue by Tower Mint was in proof like condition, the Commonwealth Mint pieces are in highest grade of Proof condition.
We sell nothing as an investment, but I would not be surprised if, that when some get to the States, that their prices will be substantially above what we are asking you for them. The dies are in a museum and none can ever be struck again. Each coin comes in a protective capsule, the silver and gold pieces come with a numbered certificate of authenticity.