Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Laguna Copperplate Inscription Purchase Story

Below is the story prepared by Ramon N. Villegas regarding the source of the Laguna Copperplate Inscription. Antoon Postma gave us a signed copy of the story which can be downloaded here. The Laguna Copperplate Inscription came from Albert Dealino of Siniloan, Laguna. Albert Dealino and several individuals from Pila, Laguna (Barcenas, Estrada, Ambrocio etc) are second generation antique dealers. Their parents were porcelain brokers during the great Laguna pot rush in the 1960s which haunted the National Museum and brought happiness and sorrow to collectors. The stores of these traders can be seen along the highway from Labuin, Pila, Laguna to Duhat, Sta. Cruz, Laguna..

Re: Provenance of the Lumban Codex

After a conversation (5 July, 1990) with Fr. Antoon Postma, I attempted to independently verify the alleged providence of a metal plaque inscribed with an old Southeast Asian script, which came to the attention of the National Museum in the first half of 1990. It was purported to have come from Laguna. There were some suggestions however, that if the artifact were not a forgery; then it may have come from a non-Philippine site. The plaque’s seller, Venancio Magbuhos is known to handle pieces from other Southeast Asian countries.

Magbuhos confirmed to this writer, however, that the piece came from William (Bill) Elwell, a coin dealer in A. Mabini, who bought it from Albert (Abet) Dealino, another coin dealer, originally from Siniloan, Laguna but also residing in Metro Manila.

I had the opportunity to interview Dealino on the 10th and 12th of this month. He has been known to me for over twelve years, as a generally trustworthy dealer of antiques. He learned from his father Manuel, a dealer since the 1960’s, whose antiquarian training came from the late Don Felipe Hidalgo.

Dealino acquired the Codex for P350.00 in August 1989. The strange writing on metal intrigued and challenged the numistmatist in him. He tried to decipher the script, looking up his college history textbooks. Giving up, he exhibited it in the bourse of the Philippine Numismatic and Antiquarian Society (PNAS, founded 1929). Scores of viewers saw it (including this writer, who miserably failed to realize its importance at that time). Dealino tagged it at P5,000.00, and nearly gave it to collector Vicenta Escobar’s counter-offer of P3,000.00. Fellow PNAS member Elwell bought it at Dealino’s asking price, and subsequently passed it on for double to Magbuhos, who offered it to the National Museum.

Dealino acquired the Codex from a source he had cultivated over many years: workers in a sand and gravel quarry in the delta of the Pagsanjan River, in Sitia Wawa of Lumban town. On the to Dealino’s hometown, Siniloan, the workers had been trained by Dealino to watch out for artifacts as sand or gravel was conducted to trucks via conveyor belt. The workers had, over time, recovered coins, gold ornaments, stones adzes, small clay and porcelain artifacts, jade ornaments and others. Dealino pays them token amounts for each find, but shells out beer money even when there are no finds.

The Lumban quarry is near a gravesite, already opened by pothunters years ago, on the west bank of the river, some kilometers inland from the shore of the lake. There, Sung and Ming porcelain, though “not as good as those found in Pakil” (on the Eastern shore of the Lake), were found. Presumably, alluvial deposit built up the present delta, but the site must have originally been the mouth of the river. Pothunters had also opened up minor sites in Pagsanjan town, upriver.

Dealino knows of no other metal finds of like size or technology in that area: no mirrors, containers, bowls, utensils or the like. However, gold ornaments found in the same manner over the years include a Palawan-type “Ling-ling-o” ornaments (A. Gutierrez); a ring with zoomorphic figures on the shanks (B. Yap); a garment clasp (R. Villegas) and other ornaments (W. Villareal).

From these interviews we may include:

a. The codex was a surface find in Sitio Wawa, Lumban, Laguna on or shortly before August 1989.

b. The site’s assemblage of artifacts and its geological character indicate alluvial deposition. It must be pointed out the out that August is the beginning of the rainy season proper.

c. The Lumban Codex may be reasonably associated with the ancient Lumban or Pagsanjan settlements.

Addendum: The manufacture of large objects of metal, such as this plaque, requires a degree of skill and knowledge of metallurgy different from the crafting of small ornaments of gold. The latter is quite malleable. The presence of almost pure native gold did not necessitate knowledge of refining and forming techniques. The working of base metals on the other hand would have required knowledge (and availability) of imported copper and tin, and annealing and forming techniques. The absence in that site of related artifacts of similar manufacture suggest, that we cannot, at the moment, attribute to the Lumban Codex to an industrial tradition in that locality.

(Signed) Ramon N. Villegas

Makati, 14, July 1990

Cc: Fr. Antoon Postma

Dr. Alfredo Evangelista


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