BPI museum in Cebu – A Museum on Money

As you know, I don’t write much about local travel and tours. I realized that I should, as recently since I got back from living overseas I have been traveling more locally and discovering how wonderful the Philippines really is.

Thankfully, blogging has opened up a lot of opportunities that I may have overlooked. I have yet to discover the museums within 5KM of me. Thus, when I received an invite to the BPI Museum from the Bank of the Philippine Islands, I said yes immediately.

BPI museum in Cebu

The Bank of the Philippine Islands or BPI has had a long banking history in the Philippines. As the oldest bank in the Philippines and also the oldest in Far East Asia, no bank paints a clearer historical picture than the Bank of the Philippine Islands.

Until that point, I had no idea there is a museum dedicated to the history of banking and money in the Philippines. BPI museum is free entry but is on an appointment basis only.

Take note that you need a confirmed appointment prior to visiting the museum. Please call the number to book an appointment at their landline (032) 318-3533.

Why learn about money and banking?

Because it’s fun, duh.

Also because it’s important to understand how money works.

Money’s most basic function is as a transactional tool, a means of exchange. Today, modern technology such blockchain and cloud technology has enabled money to become democratized.

Fintech e.g. the notorious cryptocurrency where money is 100% digital—power has transferred from banks to masses; and cryptocurrency has decentralized money in a form of a public ledger where everyone can gain access to.

We have certainly gone a long way from barter and trade a thousands of years ago. Since then, money has evolved into many forms: trade goods, animals, precious metals, bank notes, swiping with plastic…

It is clear to see that money isn’t a tangible, physical product. Rather money is a trust system; a very effective system to enable people to collaborate in a massive scale—not in terms of dozens or hundreds, but of millions, billions of people from all over the world.

Money, I dare say, is even more effective than religion or politics in organizing people to collaborate.


With a few other bloggers, we were invited by BPI to have a tour around the museum with the in-house curator and historian, Carlo Apuhin.

The BPI Museum and Library opened in 2011 that showcased the history of money and banking in the Philippines. BPI was formerly known as El Banco Español Filipino de Isabel II.

The namesake of the bank was after Queen Isabella II, but was deposed because some groups in Spain refused to recognize having a female as the sovereign head of Spain. Very sexist, yes, but it was the 1800s after all. Upon the formal abdication of the Queen, the bank changed its name to El Banco de Español Filipino.

  • The building

Located a stone’s throw away from Magellan’s cross along Magallanes Street, the museum is housed in a neoclassical style building built in the early 1900s. It had the timeless appeal as in found in classical buildings: high ceilings, marble furnishings, white-washed walls.

In 1991, the building was declared a National Historical Landmark. The building is designed by the famous Filipino architect Juan Marcos Arellano, and one can see his JMA initials immortalized into the building’s window grills.

The building was the site of the bank’s third branch in the country, the first and second being in Manila and Iloilo, respectively. The bank opened in 1924, and miraculously survived during the WWII and Pearl Harbor bombings.

  • Coins and bank notes

We start with admiring the gold coins from the Spanish period, going back to as far as the late 1400s. The impressive coin collection reminded me of Spain’s complicated relationship with money.

In the 15th century, Spain was the wealthiest nation in Europe, having conquered and colonized a vast part of the world. 1492 was the transcendent year for Spain—bringing in gold and new riches from the New World. It was the the time of boom for Spain, the golden ages, and they were the most influential power in Europe in the medieval period. The influx of gold was both a blessing and curse for Spain.

Despite their almost seemingly unlimited access to gold and silver, Spain declared bankruptcy nine time between 1557 and 1666. In an effort to pay off their debts, Spain over-mined their gold mines in Americas and flooded the European markets with the precious metal.

The Spanish failed to realize basic economic forces at work: overflow of supply in the market meant a significant drop in the value of gold. Looking at the coin collection really reminded me the very valuable lesson on money: the money’s financial value is not on the intrinsic material in itself: neither the precious metal it was minted on or the paper it is printed on.

Of course, it was much more complicated than that and there were a lot of factors (e.g., wars, inflation) that contributed to the bust of the economy.

  • Other Artifacts

Have you ever seen a 100,000 Philippine peso bill? you need a brown envelope if you want to carry this around! There are only 1,000 printed and circulated in the world in commemoration of the Philippine Centennial Celebration. One of them is currently displayed at the museum.

We saw ledgers that bear names of depositors, meticulously writing debit and credit notes by hand, in a beautiful calligraphy style handwriting that reminded me of my grandfather’s.

One of them is currently displayed at the BPI museum. We saw ledgers that bear names of depositors, meticulously writing debit and credit notes by hand, in a beautiful calligraphy style handwriting that reminded me of my grandfather’s.

It’s amazing how we lost the art of handwriting because of computers, and to see calligraphy done in something as mundane as in accounting books in the early 1900s!

We also got to see items such as the vault, teller’s cages and bookkeeping machines that were used back in the day. I can imagine how the whole place must be abuzz with clicks and clacks and all the activity on a typical bank day.

BPI is also the first to put up an ATM machine in the country. The original one currently sits at the museum–and is as big (and is probably as noisy) as a washing machine.

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