Thursday, December 25, 2014


Now here's a tiny trinket box--with dimensions of just  4 in. x 6 in. x 2.5 in.--made of narra, decorated with a relief carving of a farmer taking rest under a mango tree from his day's toil. Across the dirst road stands his nipa hut, shaded by a coconut tree, and flanked by a haystack. Looming in the horizon is a mountain. Souvenir carvings bearing Filipiniana motifs such as this were much in demand by tourists--and this box was especially made to cater to such market. Handicraft centers in Manila, as well as in Pampanga (for the U.S. market ) thrived till the 70s--offering similar items as monkeypod carvings, wall plaques (featuring farmers, dancers), ethnic busts, carved Filipinana chests (our versions of camphor chests) as well as lazy Susans. Today, a few shops exists, selling cottage industry products along the streets of Ermita, and in Angeles City, Pampanga--but the quality has really matched those made in the 50s, when even small items such as this trinket box, were handcarved with fine details, and finished so handsomely.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


In the U.S. one hot collectible field is Railroadiana--which refers to artifacts or items of current as well as defunct railways no longer in operation.This very rare specimen-- a small milk pitcher from the Manila Railroad Company is one such example. Passengers were served hot meals and drinks by uniformed railway staff, using tableware--plates, coffee cups, saucers-- bearing the MR logo. This surviving piece from the 30s, was offered by by a Manila collectible shop and it took little convincing for me to acquire it, as it's not only unique, but is also full of history.

The Manila Railroad Company was one of the largest domestic corporations in the Philippines from 1917 -1940's which the Philippine Government acquired in 8 Jan. 1917. Its railway lines totaled 1,140.5 in 1941, located in Luzon.  The lines extended from San Fernando, La Union, in the north, to Legaspi, Albay, in the south. The more important branches are the Paniqui-San Quintin, Tarlac-San Jose, Bigaa-Cabanatuan, San Fernando-Carmen, Calamba-Batangas, and College-Pagsanjan. The company was taken over by the U.S. military during World War II, to be used for the defense of the Philippines. The Manila Railroad Co., suffered irreparable losses from which it has never recovered, thus ending its operations.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


Time was when the Philippines was the largest exporter of Manila rope, made of abaca hemp. The country became world-famous for this prized product and one of the first companies to establish a rope business was the Manila Cordage Company which started as a subsidiary of Tubbs Cordage Company of San Francisco on February 20, 1924, Manila Cordage Company, a subsidiary of Tubbs Cordage Company of San Francisco, began operations at the junction of Cristobal and Otis streets in Paco, which had easy access to the Pasig. Its basic raw material was abaca, also known as Manila hemp, which by then was a much sought after commodity in North America.
It  began operations at the junction of Cristobal and Otis streets in Paco, which had an easy access to the Pasig River. Manila Cordage made ropes of all sorts from abaca, which was to be known worldwide as Manila hemp, a much sought after commodity in North America in the 20s-50s decades.
As the company grew, Manila Cordage marketing became more sophisticated, and by the early 50s, it produced merchandising materials and selling aids such as this tin sign that featured a range of products with their special specifications and dimensions. Signs such as this were given to hardware shops and provincial distributors (in this case, J. Rodriguez of Cagayan) to facilite the ordering of the products. It measures 10 in. x 22 in, and is backed by a thick cardboard. 
The invention of synthetic ropes put a dent on the Manila rope business, but the products remained important as they are eco-friendly, and they are specially required by certain businesses like oil drilling and construction. To this day, the Manila Cordage Co. is still a flourishing business with its facilities located in a world-class industrial hub ensuring a future for the rope that made Manila famous!