1915-S Panama-Pacific Fifty, MS62
1915-S $50 Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Octagonal MS62 PCGS. In
1911, President William Howard Taft selected San Francisco, which
had recovered remarkably from the devastating earthquake of 1906,
to be the site of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition
(PPIE), celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal and the 400th
anniversary of the discovery of the Pacific Ocean. Representative
Julius Kahn of California introduced a bill in Congress on June 3,
1914 advocating the issuance of commemorative coins for the PPIE,
as had been done for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in
Chicago and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis.
Congress passed the legislation on January 13, 1915 and authorized
the production of 25,000 gold dollars, 10,000 quarter eagles, 3,000
quintuple eagles (equally divided between round and octagonal
format), and 200,000 gold dollars. President Woodrow Wilson signed
the bill into law three days later on January 16.
Popular Octagonal Gold Issue
Only 645 Pieces Distributed
Artist Robert Aitken was selected to design the fifty dollar gold coins, modeled after the famous California 'slugs' of the early 1850s produced by Augustus Humbert of the U.S. Assay Office and the 1877 half union patterns. In a letter to interim Mint Director Frederick P. Dewey dated January 15, 1915, as cited in Roger Burdette's Renaissance of American Coinage 1909-1915, Aitken wrote of his design:
"...as the exposition stands for all that wisdom and industry have produced, I have used as the central motif of the obverse, the head of the virgin goddess Minerva. She is the goddess of wisdom, of skill, of contemplation, of spinning and of weaving, of horticulture and agriculture. Moreover, she figures prominently upon the seal of California. This head will make a beautiful pattern in the circle and the use of the dolphins on the octagonal coin do much to add to its charm, as well as express the uninterrupted water route made possible by the canal.
"Upon the reverse I use the owl, the bird sacred to Minerva, also the symbol of wisdom, perched upon a branch of western pine, behind which is seen the web of the spider, suggesting Industry.
"With these symbols, as full of beauty in themselves, I feel that I have expressed the larger meaning of the exposition, its appeal and intellect."
Farran Zerbe, a prominent dealer at the time, was sanctioned with the coins' distribution. However, only 645 examples of the 1,509 octagonal fifty dollar gold coins minted in 1915 were sold. The remaining 864 pieces were melted. The issue's high face value was unaffordable for most visitors, and the widespread sale of imitation slugs and medals as souvenirs during the exposition made many potential buyers suspicious of the quintuple eagles' legitimacy. The low distribution total makes the 1915-S Octagonal Pan-Pac fifty a scarce issue in today's market, although most of the examples issued are still extant.
This attractive MS62 specimen offers vivid orange-gold surfaces, with lemon-yellow highlights and vibrant mint luster throughout. The design elements are well-detailed and the surfaces show the minimum number of minor contact marks for the grade. Eye appeal is outstanding for this marvelous commemorative gold issue.(Registry values: P7) (NGC ID# BYHP, PCGS# 7452)
Weight: 83.59 grams
Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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