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    1915-S Pan-Pac Octagonal Fifty, MS62
    Robert Aitken's Numismatic Masterpiece

    1915-S $50 Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Octagonal MS62 PCGS. The Panama-Pacific Exposition was larger and more prestigious than any previous major fair held in America. The occasion of the event was the completion of the Panama Canal, and the exposition also served to celebrate the rebirth of San Francisco after a devastating earthquake and fire in 1906. Moreover, the series of commemorative coins issued for the Pan-Pac Exposition not only surpassed those of previous expositions in number but also in artistic merit and numismatic significance. Art was a central theme of the Pan-Pac Exposition, and great care was taken in selecting appropriate designs for the commemorative coins, which included four denominations in five different types. The authorizing legislation read in part:

    "The words, devices, and designs upon said coins shall be determined and prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury, and all provisions of law relative to the coinage and legal-tender value of all other gold and silver coins shall be applicable to the coins issued under and in accordance with the provisions of this Act; and one-half of the issue of $50 gold coins herein authorized shall be similar in shape to the octagonal $50 gold pieces issued in California in eighteen hundred and fifty-one; and the entire issue of said $50, $2.50, and $1 coins herein authorized shall be sold and delivered by the Secretary of the Treasury to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition Company at par, under rules and regulations and in amounts to be prescribed by him."

    From the beginning, Robert Aitken's design for the fifty dollar gold piece was viewed with moderate enthusiasm by the Commission of Fine Arts, but Treasury Secretary William McAdoo was only satisfied with the work after Aitken made minor adjustments that included the removal of a spider web element in the design that McAdoo believed was "not accepted as a symbol of industry, if that was the artist's meaning, but the contrary." Aitken's use of Minerva, goddess of wisdom and agriculture, and her owl, a symbol of wisdom, along with a Roman numeral date, recalled the classic designs of ancient Greek coinage and art, which heavily influenced much of the art and architecture throughout the Exposition grounds.

    As the Act of January 16, 1915, dictated, the fifty dollar gold piece was issued in two varieties -- one round, the other octagonal, being modeled after the "slugs" struck by the U.S. Assay Office in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush. Aitken prepared only one design for both varieties, a decision that is generally attributed to the swiftness with which the Mint sought to have the coins in production. However, on the octagonal version, in the angles created around the border by the unique planchet shape, Aitken placed swimming dolphins, which were described as representing the uninterrupted water route made possible by the Panama Canal.

    Coinage of the fifty dollar gold pieces was limited to 1,500 examples of each variety, of which only 483 round and 645 octagonal pieces were distributed. The remaining coins were melted after the close of the Exposition. Surviving examples of either variety are highly sought-after today and represent the crowning acquisition of any classic commemorative coin collector. This octagonal piece, although graded only MS62, delivers eye appeal suggestive of a higher grade. Both sides are straw-gold and luminous, and only under a loupe do faint lines and few marks become noticeable. Truly an outstanding example of this storied and important classic commemorative issue.
    From The Kadison Family Collection. (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.

    View all of [The Kadison Family Collection ]

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    Auction Dates
    July, 2018
    12th-15th Thursday-Sunday
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