Piloncitos is the earliest form of precious metal based currency of the Philippines. It is likely made of pure gold with a weight ranging between .5 grams to more or less than 3 grams.
Piloncitos is not exclusively found in the Philippines as most collectors and local historians have agrees. Similar type of gold can be found in some regions of Indonesia which they call massa.
The earliest written account of Piloncitos was made by our national hero, Jose Rizal himself. According to Rizal, he found the gold nugget while tilling the soil of Dapitan. He himself coined the word piloncitos, which basically describe the coin’s unusual shape. They are round and stamped with what looks like the pre-Spanish baybayin character “ma,” leading historians to guess that it could be short for “Ma-I.
Even before the Thai moved southward from their original home in China, the lucrative sea trade between the South China Sea and the Bay of Bengal established several maritime empires such as Sailendra-Srivijaya and Majapahit, which controlled coastal areas of modern Indonesia, Burma, Malaya, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
In an era before coined money was widely used, Indo-Pacific beads were made first at a site called Aakmidu in South India ca. 200 BC. The manufacture then moved in sequence to Ceylon, South Thailand, Java and finally Malaya. By about 1200-1300 AD the larger Majopahit beads, excavated today in the interior of Java, had supplanted it. Since these factory sites have been dated, archaeologists now use the beads to date sites, though whether beads rose to the level of metals, salt, cloth, and cowries as “standard” trade goods is uncertain.
The first indigenous metallic coinage in the region, ca. 750-850 AD, comes from the Javanese kingdom of Sailendra (Chinese: Ho-ling). These roughly dome-shaped silver of irregular weight bore stamps of a flowing vase, and the sandalwood flower (quatefoil). By 850 AD weights had been standardized at 20 rattis to a Massa of about 2.4 grams. Silver and gold coins of Massa and fractional denominations were issued until about 1300 AD, with changes in shape and quality of inscription marking periods of issue. The gold Piloncitos of the Philippines are a late offshoot of the gold coinage, while the beanlike silver “namo” series, of the Malay isthmus was presumably an offshoot of the silver and may have evolved into the bullet (pod-duang) coinage of Sukothai in Thailand.
Past local numismatist like Dra. Anita Legarda and Gilbert Perez made some research regarding this coin but only few specimen were found and no further study nor specimen have surfaced recently aside from those what have been found.
What fascinates historians and numismatists alike is why piloncito can only be found in the Philippines and unlike its counterpart gold massa that are vastly present in the Southeast Asian region.