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Beyond Tobacco: Tabacalera, A bridge between the Philippines and Spain

Perhaps the most important company in the Philippines at the end of the nineteenth century and until mid-twentieth century  and certainly the main tobacco company in the country, the Compañía General de Tabacos de Filipinas, more popularly known as Tabacalera, is still a stranger to many of us. However, having existed for more than a century, the history of Tabacalera plays a significant role in the economic history of the Philippines and in Philippine-Spanish relations.

For the very first time, the Embassy of Spain in the Philippines, in partnership with the Ayala Museum, and with the sponsorship of S & R presents Beyond Tobacco: Tabacalera. A bridge between the Philippines and Spain, a glimpse to the past through the history of Spain´s very first multinational company based in the Philippines in 1882. Curated by Prof. Martín Rodrigo, historian from the University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain, the exhibit will be open to the public from the April 21 until July 6 at the Ayala Museum in Makati City.

The exhibit retraces the history of the company through a selection of images, maps, books, art objects and antiques that have been loaned by Spanish and Philippine institutions as well as private collectors. It showcases the luxury of its offices in Manila and Barcelona, the life in its haciendas in Ilocos, Tarlac and Negros; the variety of its businesses (tobacco, sugar, alcohol, maritime transport, etc.) and its cultural legacy; over a hundred years of history of a company that was able to survive deep historical, political and social changes both in the Philippines and Spain.

Bringing together researchers from Spain and the Philippines

The history of Tabacalera, as large and complex as the society in which it happened to live, has attracted historians and researchers from Spain and the Philippines. The tobacco monopoly and the foundation of the Compañía General de Tabacos de Filipinas, the company’s ability to adapt its business to the new political situation, its legendary cigar brand “La Flor de la Isabela” and its cultural legacy have, among others, been the subject of numerous studies.

Given the historical and public interest in Tabacalera, we are preparing a catalogue that includes essays written by Filipino and Spanish historians, researchers and authors. Dr. Benito Legarda, Jr., John Silva, María Dolores Elizalde, Josep María Delgado, Saul Hofileña, Prof. Arcadio Malbarrosa, Gloria Cano and journalist Ramón Vilaró have, among others, contributed to this catalogue that aims to bring closer the history of the company to a wider public with the analytical and conceptual rigor that we would expect from such renowned authors.

In parallel with the exhibit, a series of talks and round table discussions will be held at the Ayala Museum to complete the whole picture of the company’s history and impact not only on the Philippines but also on the rest of the world.

Biblioteca Filipina: the cultural legacy of Tabacalera

The Aparato Bibliográfico de la Historia General de Filipinas, published by Philippinologist Wenceslao E. Retana in 1906, is considered one of the best historiographic work on the Philippine archipelago which was “first published in order to make the world aware of the great library -the richest and most important bibliographical collection on the Philippine Islands – owned by the Compañía General de Tabacos de Filipinas.” (Gloria Cano, Researcher – University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona).

In 1913 the collection was sold to the National Library of the Philippines, becoming the Library’s core Filipiniana collection. “Thereafter, donations and purchases of other collections continued, including that of Jose Rizal’s, but there would be no other Filipiniana collection of the number, the breadth, and the vintage as that of the Tabacalera Collection.” (John Silva, Executive Director – Ortigas Library Foundation).  Sadly, World War II and the Japanese occupation displaced the cultural legacy of Tabacalera, a collection that shows the important role that the company played in the Philippines, going far beyond tobacco.

Scheduled lectures:

April 23, 2014: “Beyond Tobacco”
by Prof. Martin Rodrigo (the curator of the exhibit) and Marçal Sanmarti, Researcher. Both from University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona (Spain)

May 17, 2014 “The cultural legacy of Tabacalera: the Biblioteca Filipina”
by Mr. John Silva, Executive Director, Ortigas Library Foundation

June 14, 2014 “The transnational dimension of the Tabacalera”
by Prof. Jose Maria Arcadio Malbarosa,  DLSU
Prof. Maria Luisa Camagay, UP

For more inquiries, email





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