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1915-S Panama-Pacific Round Fifty Dollar
Exceptionally Pleasing MS63 Example

1915-S $50 Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Round MS63 NGC. The artistic career of Robert Ingersoll Aitken is intimately connected with San Francisco, and the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 in particular. Aitken, a San Francisco native, was born in the year that city's mint began churning out millions of Morgan silver dollars under the newly enacted Bland-Allison Act. Over the course of a long career, Aitken became best-known as a classical portraitist and figural sculptor. Beginning as a painter, he had his own studio by the time he was 18 years old. In 1897 at age 19 he studied for a short time in Paris, where he turned to sculpture. He spent much of his career teaching in New York at the National Academy of Design.
Among numismatists, Aitken is best known for his work on the spectacular round and octagonal fifty dollar gold pieces commemorating the 1915 Pan-Pac Exposition. Among medallists, however, Aitken is equally well known for another work: the official award medals of the exposition, also known as so-called dollars and numbered 399 to 401 in the Hibler-Kappen reference. He also created many other sculptural works for the exposition, including the Fountain of the Earth; four heroic sculptures depicting Earth, Air, Fire, and Water; a bust of President William Howard Taft; and a statue of Michelangelo.
Numismatists of today greatly prize the colossal gold commemorative fifty dollar coins depicting the goddess Minerva on the obverse and an owl on the reverse; their rarity in both absolute and conditional terms further increases their appeal. Interestingly enough, however, numismatist-entrepreneur Farran Zerbe, the driving force behind the five-coin Pan-Pac commemorative program, was disappointed in Aitken's design for the fifties. Zerbe wrote in The Numismatist in 1918:

"With everything so favorable there were great expectations, hence the greater the disappointment. Robert Aitken, deservedly noted sculptor that he is, had and lost the opportunity. Had Mr. Aitken essayed to place the class of art and relief on the $50 gold pieces that he gave the souvenir medal ... it would have been more fitting."

Aitken's work on the fifties, as mentioned, is viewed much more favorably today. Due to their large size and the softness of their gold composition, some examples show contact marks that keep them from the Gem level, where they are highly elusive. But many extremely appealing examples exist in the lower Mint State grades, as well as a few AU specimens. This is an exceptionally attractive piece that has only one mark of note, located on the cheek of Minerva. The surfaces are even orange-gold with soft, satiny mint luster.
From The MJT Collection.(Registry values: N7079) (NGC ID# BYHP, PCGS# 7451)

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Auction Dates
July, 2011
7th-10th Thursday-Sunday
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 11
Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
Page Views: 2,244

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