1915-S Panama-Pacific Exposition $50. Octagonal. MS-64 (PCGS).
Richly Original Near-Gem 1915-S Pan-Pac Fifty in Octagonal Format
From the same source as the Panama-Pacific $50 Round in PCGS MS-63 that we are also offering in this sale, this Octagonal piece was acquired at the exposition in 1915 and retained in the same family until consigned to this auction. The coin has only recently been certified by PCGS, and it is making its first appearance in the numismatic market. Beautiful medium-gold surfaces are bright, "fresh," and possessed of full softly frosted luster. There is hardly even a single trivial sign of handling, and the eye appeal alone could easily support an even higher grade. An impressive near-Gem that is sure to raise paddles high on the auction floor in Baltimore.
The net mintage after melting for the Pan-Pac Octagonal Fifty is only 645 pieces. These coins, like their Round counterparts, were designed by Robert Aitken and display the goddess Minerva or Athena as the central design element on the obverse. The helmet pushed back over the top of her head signifies peaceful intentions, while her shield is inscribed with the date 1915 in Roman numerals. The obverse border is inscribed with the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA above and the denomination FIFTY DOLLARS below, with the motto IN GOD WE TRUST in the upper-left field. Aitken's reverse depicts the owl of Athena, symbol of wisdom, perched atop a branch of ponderosa pine with the Latin motto E PLURIBUS UNUM in the right field. The inscription PANAMA-PACIFIC EXPOSITION is above and the location of the exposition SAN FRANCISCO is below, with the S mintmark of the San Francisco Mint tucked in behind the right-most pine cone. The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 was held to commemorate completion of the Panama Canal, so the extra dolphin border seen on the Octagonal (but not the Round) examples signifies the continuous waterway created by opening of the canal.
The coin we are offering in this lot comes with the original black leather case in which it was acquired at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915. The case grades VF with a functional clasp and the only detraction of note being the partial separation of the right side of the lid. (Total: 2 items)
Numismatic Reflections by Q. David Bowers
Farran Zerbe, late president of the American Numismatic Association, had the franchise for distributing the 1915-S Panama-Pacific coins. The offering was unprecedented at the time and consisted of five different issues: Half Dollar, Gold Dollar, Quarter Eagle and two formats of the $50. These were offered for sale at the Exposition itself, in different forms and holders. The $50 coins could be purchased singly for double face value or $100, or as part of a set. After the Exposition closed, Zerbe took certain remaining sets and enclosed them in a copper frame, glass fronted, suitable for displays in banks and elsewhere.
With great optimism the San Francisco Mint struck 1,500 of each of the two different shapes of $50 pieces. It was hoped that the pieces could be struck on the Exposition grounds, but technical aspects made this impossible, and production was accomplished within the San Francisco Mint. In addition to the 1,500 pieces, an extra six of each were made for assay purposes. At the Exposition the public favored the octagonal shape, as this evoked the history of the California Gold Rush, during which time similarly-shaped pieces or “slugs” were issued by Augustus Humbert, who was designated by the Treasury Department as the official California Assayer of Gold.
After the fair closed and the framed sets were made, unsold remainders were returned to the San Francisco Mint and melted, yielding net distribution of less than half of the original mintage for each of these pieces.