Queen Isabella II in the Philippines

What does a foreign monarch, Queen Isabella II of Spain have in common with some of our heroes like Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini ?  Well, they all have monuments built in their honor, have been featured in our coinage and paper money (bank notes) and in our postage  stamps. Add to that, places have been named after them in the Philippines.

The monument of Queen Isabella II in Intramuros, Manila. Behind the statue is the gate named after her, Puerta de Isabel II.

The base of the monument which is enclosed with an ornate gate. They don’t make and design them like they used to.

Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), the country’s oldest bank founded in 1851, was established by a royal decree during her reign. The first name of BPI was Banco Español Filipino de Isabel II. The first bank notes was issued through this bank and was known as pesos fuertes (strong) and had a portrait of the Spanish Queen.

Bank note issued by what is known today as Bank of the Philippine Islands. (Photo courtesy of wikipedia)

Having at one point collected stamps and coins, I came across my stamp stock book which contained some early Philippine stamps. The postage stamp was invented in England in 1840 to pre-pay mail or letters sent. Its usage spread to other countries and territories. In 1853 a royal decree was issued by Queen Isabella II and it was carried out during the term of Governor General Antonio Urbiztondo for the pre-payment of correspondences in the islands and hence the issuance of the first postage stamp in the country.  The stamp showed the profile of Queen Isabella II and although there was already a postal system in the islands prior to 1854, February 1, 1854  is considered as the official date when the Philippines issued its first  postage stamps.

The first postage stamps issued were intended for domestic use in the islands and  bore the crudely drawn profile of Queen Isabella II. The stamp  was patterned after  the Spanish stamp issue of 1853. The country’s first postage stamp bore the date of 1854 y 1855. It was hand  engraved by an unnamed Spanish officer and it was printed by Plana, Jorba y Cia in Binondo, Manila. Compared to its Spanish (peninsula) counterpart, the local version had the unflattering portrait of the queen. There’s a story that when this local stamp reached the Queen’s attention, she was so displeased with the way her image was engraved, that she forbid its use on mails going to Spain.

The effect of what was mentioned above, was that there was a royal decree instructing that postage stamps to be used for Spain and other countries should be printed in Spain and the former one, can still be used domestically or for interior mails. In order to provide uniformity in quality and aesthetics, stamps were printed in Spain but those that were printed in the islands were done by M. Perez y Hijo in Manila.

Postage stamps with the Queen’s profile lasted until 1868, which was  the year she was deposed. The remaining  stamps that has her image was overprinted with HABILATADO POR LA NACION (rehabilitated/made valid by the nation) most likely made to reflect the change of regime  and of the  monarch.

Hand stamped overprints “HABILATADO POR LA NACION”

Commemorating 100 years of the first Philippine stamp in 1954

A souvenir sheet for the 150th Anniversary featuring the first postage stamp issued in the Philippines when it was a colony of Spain. The original stamp had the profile of Queen Isabella II.

Next are the coins, for what monarch will not have his or her imprint on the country’s coinage, moreover if it was an empire. As mentioned above, after the Queen was deposed, stamps bearing her image were overprinted. The coins that first appeared to bear her mark are called countermark or counterstamp coins showing her initials YII with a crown on top. This was done since the coins in the country during this time came from Latin America (coins from this part of the world was still widely accepted for commerce) such as Mexico, Peru etc. But with these former Spanish colonies revolt and independence from the mother country, they begun minting their own coinage. Since trade were still conducted between Latin America and the Philippines which was still a colony, the “insurgent” coins were still accepted and circulated. The solution was to have them countermarked or counterstamped (some use the term interchangeably although there’s a relatively minor difference between the 2 terminologies.)  This was to “stamped” out what the authorities deemed as subversive features of the coin or  marked it to signify the approval of the authorities that the coin is fit for circulation.  Although it was in 1828 that the decree on these now foreign coins were made to have these “rehabilitated”  for use in the Philippines.  But it was in October of 1832 that another  decree was made to make a simpler and smaller countermark/counterstamp with the initials of F.7 ° for King Ferdinand VII and after his death, the initials that were stamped was Y.II. for Queen Isabella II, his daughter and successor.

Countermark or counterstamp of the initials of Queen Isabella II on a Peruvian coin. This was done to make the coin valid to circulate in the Philippines. (from a private collection.)

This practice of counterstamping was stopped in March of 1837 after Spain recognized the independence of its former Latin American colonies.

A series of coins were minted bearing the bust of Queen Isabella II  in various denominations and containing the  precious metals of silver and gold. The denominations were 10, 20 and 50 centavos. The 1, 2 and 4 pesos were minted in  gold.

Silver —- Isabella II 1868 20 centavos; Approximate weight: 5.2 grams, Diameter: 23mm; Composition: 90% silver; Mintage: 1,126,400 Edge: Reeded; Mint: Manila (private collection)

The reverse side of the coin above. A 20 centavos Queen Isabella II coin minted in Manila. (private collection)

Isabella II 1866 4 pesos; Approximate weight: 6.8 grams; Diameter: 21.5mm; Mintage: 44,000; Edge: Reeded; Mint: Manila; Remarks: Very rare date and second rarest in the series. (private collection)

The reverse side of the 4 Pesos gold coin (above) minted in Manila.

Interestingly, the last dates on these coins were 1868 but on some of the denominations were minted beyond this date and  as late as 1874, but all of these coins were still dated 1868.

And  that is how the Spanish Queen, who has never set foot  in these islands, has had a very strong influence on our history and images of her as well as her memory are still with us today.

Monument of Queen Isabela II when it was still in Malate

From Underwood and Underwood. Keystone-Mast Collection UCR

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Thanks to Mr. Nigel Gooding (a very helpful Philippine stamp collector) and his website which is very well researched, informative and helpful. For those interested in Philippine stamps, most specially during the colonial period or those who wanted to know about this subject: http://www.nigelgooding.co.uk/

Another link about Philippine philatelic which is also quite extensive as well as assembled and  put up with great passion is the website of the late Abe Luspo: http://www.philippinephilatelist.net/

Thanks to Mr. Eldrich Yap for his numismatic expertise and for sharing some of his precious coins in his collection.

Books on the subject for those curious or interested:


COINS, MEDALS and TOKENS of the PHILIPPINES – Aldo P. Basso Chenby Publishers 1968

A BRIEF HISTORY OF PHILIPPINE POSTAGE – for the Philatelic Exhibit (April 17-April 28, 2001) to commemorate BPI’s 150th Anniversary. Published by Bank of the Philippine Islands 2001




4 Responses to Queen Isabella II in the Philippines

  1. Ana Marie Ridriguez Villanueva e Pacheco

    Interesting. I am very interested in anything about our colonial past. Thank you very much for sharing this to us. I think the Philippines should still have included the Queen in one of our coins or bills as she was a very important icon in our history.

    • Thank you for taking the time in visiting my blog. There still so much to discover in our history. Like I was even surprised on the prolific use of Queen Isabella’s “imagery.” Possibly even comparable in usage of her image and name with some of our “own” historical figures like Rizal, Mabini etc.

  2. Hi,
    I’m doing a research on land grants by Queen Isabella II to the Filipinos during her reign. Particularly interested in land grants in Davao City and nearby provinces. If you know of any resources, books or websites kindly share.
    Amado Z. Pasion

    • Thank you for visiting Mr. Pasion. This is the first time that I’ve heard of land grants given relatively late in the Spanish period and under Queen Isabella II, sounds quite interesting. I tried looking for resources about this, but came out blank. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help with your query.

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