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Round 1915-S Panama-Pacific Fifty Dollar
A Satin-Surfaced Near-Gem

1915-S $50 Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Round MS64 NGC. CAC. Numismatists have long known that most of the 1915-S fifty dollar Panama-Pacific coins, both round and octagonal, were melted as unsold. Even though they are momentous commemorations of one of the most popular world's fairs in our nation's history--the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, held in San Francisco--their high cost made them prohibitive for all but the most well-heeled collectors.
Another contributing factor to their rarity today, however, is less well-known, one that centers around the life and times of the numismatic huckster Farran Zerbe. The spotlight first lands on Zerbe as the entrepreneur behind the 1903 Louisiana Purchase-Jefferson and McKinley gold dollars. Zerbe touted the gold dollars as wonderful investments despite their $3 price tag, considered excessive by many observers. The gold dollars were a disastrous flop, falling in price well below $2 within a year, even though 215,000 were melted as unsold. The 1904-1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition gold dollars that followed also saw their sales affected. Two-thirds of them were eventually melted, and Zerbe was again the driving force, although his name was not officially associated with them.
The follow-on failures of the 1904-1905 Lewis and Clark gold dollars ensured that no more commemorative gold coins would appear for another decade, until the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific exposition. The unabashed Zerbe proposed an ambitious five-coin slate of commemorative coins, from silver half dollar through the round and octagonal fifty dollar gold pieces. The five pieces in a glass-covered copper frame, with a face value of $103.50, cost $200, or a double set (to show both sides of the coins) would go for $400. Four-piece sets with the buyer's choice of round or octagonal fifty dollar coins went for $100, against a face value of $53.50. Bowers writes in the commemorative coins Guide Book:

"Zerbe's reputation in the numismatic community was so poor that when the ANA decided to hold its annual convention in San Francisco in 1915, only a handful of members showed up, fewer than 20 in all--setting a record for poor attendance unequalled before or since. The coins themselves, as beautiful as they are to contemplate and own today, followed the usual Zerbe pattern of hype and overblown expectations. Vast quantities remained unsold and were melted, including the majority of the two largest coins, the octagonal and round $50 gold pieces."

The silver lining in the tale is that the round Pan-Pac fifties have, by far, the lowest net distribution of any classic commemorative coin at 483 pieces, and the octagonal is second, with a net mintage after melting of 645 coins. This is a lovely, satin-surfaced example of the rarer of the two variants. The surfaces show only the tiniest imperfections, visible only with magnification. This is an exceptionally well-preserved Round fifty that will fit nicely in a collection of high-grade 20th century rarities or a complete set of commemorative gold coins.
From The R.K. Banister Collection.(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# BYHP, PCGS# 7451)

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Auction Dates
August, 2010
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 7
Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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