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    1915-S Panama-Pacific Octagonal Fifty
    Attractive MS63 Example

    1915-S $50 Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Octagonal MS63 NGC. Too much celebrity can be a bad thing. Witness the case of one Audrey Munson, who saw her career peak as a sculptor's model and actress. For a decade in New York, she was variously known as "Miss Manhattan" and the "American Venus," becoming the model of choice for a host of painters and sculptors. By 1915 her star shone so bright that she was named by Alexander Stirling Calder to be the chosen model for the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. Posing for 80% of the sculptures and murals in the exposition, she then became known as "Miss Panama" and "The Exposition Girl." Her fame led to a brief film career in silent movies. In the 1916 Thanhouser Company film Inspiration, she became the first legitimate theater actress to disrobe fully on-screen. Censors were reluctant to ban the film, fearing they might also have to ban Renaissance art.
    By 1919 Munson had moved back to New York with her mother. Unfortunately, an infatuated would-be suitor, Dr. Walter Wilkins, murdered his wife so that he could marry Munson. Munson and her mother fled to Toronto, where authorities caught up with the pair and questioned Munson. Her statement that she and her mother had moved to Canada and were present there when the murder occurred mollified the authorities, but the negative publicity effectively ended Munson's film career. Wilkins was tried and found guilty of murder, but hanged himself in prison before his death sentence in the electric chair could be carried out. In 1922 Munson, unable to find a job, attempted suicide, beginning a long slide into mental illness and paranoia. In 1931 a judge had Munson committed to a psychiatric facility for treatment, where she remained for the next 65 years until her death--at age 105.
    Munson's remarkable life story intersected with some of the most famous coin designers, sculptors, and architects of the era in New York and San Francisco. She posed for literally dozens of public monuments in New York over a decade, and reputedly modeled for 40 pieces in New York's Metropolitan Museum. She probably posed for the Day and Night sculptures of Adolph A. Weinman--future designer of the Mercury dime and Walking Liberty half. Although the original Day and Night sculptures have been destroyed, they can now be seen in drawings in the subway of New York's Pennsylvania Station. One of Weinman's Panama-Pacific Exposition sculptures that Munson posed for was the figure Descending Night from Fountain of the Setting Sun. Roger Burdette has pointed out that the model for the dime and half dollar--who wished to remain anonymous--remains unidentified, although conjecture has centered around both Elsie Stevens and Munson.
    Robert Ingersoll Aitken was a noted architect and sculptor, as well as the designer of the Panama-Pacific round and octagonal fifty dollar coins. Munson posed for several of Aitken's works at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, including the Earth figure in the Court of the Universe and the two female figures on the reverse of the official exposition medals of 1915 (HK-399 to -401), pieces that were struck in silver, brass, and gilt.
    It is even conceivable, given Aitken's (and Munson's) artistic record, that Munson may have posed for the face of Minerva on the fifty dollar round and octagonal coins. Today Munson is all but forgotten, although a single print of one of her films, Purity, was discovered in a French archive in 2004. The 1915-S Pan-Pac fifties are celebrated rarities in their own right, and among the most lasting impressions of the famed exposition. This is a pleasing example of this curious and popular octagonal fifty. A couple of shallow marks on Munson's (or Minerva's) face account for the grade. Both sides exhibit satiny mint luster and light orange-gold color.
    From The MJT 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.

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    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    July, 2011
    7th-10th Thursday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 20
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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