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1915-S Panama-Pacific Octagonal Fifty, MS64
A Capstone of the Classic Gold Series

1915-S $50 Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Octagonal MS64 NGC. CAC. Collectors of the "classic" or "legacy" 1903-1926 period of U.S. gold commemoratives sometimes dismiss the so-called "modern" commemorative series. For silver commemorative U.S. coins, the "modern" era dates to 1982, when the George Washington commemorative halves debuted. Modern gold commemoratives harken back to the 1984 Olympic ten dollar gold coins, the first such in more than a half-century. Modern gold bullion coins premiered in 1986 with the popular American Eagle sets in four denominations (or weights).
In order to understand the Panama-Pacific round and octagonal coins and their incredible popularity, it is helpful to remember that at one time, they were both "new modern gold commemorative U.S. coins" as well as, broadly speaking, "gold bullion coins."
In that context, an interesting recent publication sheds new light on the Pan-Pacs: Eric Jordan's 2010 Modern Commemorative Coins. A primary reason that the Pan-Pacs are so rare today is that they were considered enormously expensive. Containing proportionally 2.5 times the gold content of a double eagle, they were sold for double face value, or $100 each. This was at a time when, for example, a proof Liberty Head double eagle could be obtained for only a few dollars over face. A Ford Model T touring car could be bought, brand-new, for $490.
Jordan writes of collecting in the era from 1906 to 1936:

"... while we can look through today's coinage books and say that we would have acquired for our collection a 1916-D Mercury dime, a 1916 Standing Liberty quarter, a matte proof gold Indian type set, a matte proof $20 gold Saint-Gaudens, all the key date fractional gold, at least one 1915 Pan Pac $50 commemorative gold and a 1936 proof set, the likelyhood [sic] of us actually having done so if we lived and collected in that era is remote. The reason is every coin listed other than the dime and quarter was an unpopular modern [issue] rejected by the collecting public at the time of its issue."

While collectors of the era may have loved the neoclassical Robert Aitken designs and themes, $100 for a single-coin souvenir of the Panama-Pacific Exposition, no matter how aesthetically pleasing and desirable, was a considerable outlay.
The present example of the 1915-S octagonal shows orange-gold patina over satiny surfaces. Magnification reveals a few tiny marks on Minerva's face and the owl, nothing distracting, and the strike is sharp throughout both sides.(Registry values: P7) (NGC ID# BYHP, PCGS# 7452)

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Auction Dates
January, 2012
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 8
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