Splendid MS64 Panama-Pacific Fifty Dollar1915-S $50 Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Octagonal MS64 NGC. Public celebrations are an age-old phenomenon. Two thousand years ago, in ancient Rome, contests of strength and gladiator combat at the Colosseum (then known as the Flavian Amphitheater) and chariot races at the Circus Maximus served not merely as entertainment, but typically occurred as part of a period of celebration declared by the emperor to mark special events. The reason might be the successful conclusion of a war, an unusually fine harvest, or especially the beginning of the reign of a new Caesar. Centuries earlier, the Greeks called the public to contests of physical abilities at various sports, of which the games at Olympia are the best remembered but were not unique at the time. No doubt there were gatherings to celebrate events even before history recorded them.
It took a modern humanity, however, to create festivals called "world's fairs"--huge expositions of mankind's achievements intended to draw public attention to a particular site but celebrating works and staging entertainments, contributed by countries far and wide.
Energy was gathering across the American nation at the turn of the 19th century to hold another gigantic fair. Within memory of most adults living at the time, there had been world's fairs. Philadelphia had hosted the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, marking our first century as the United States and held where patriots first declared their liberty. Chicago had mounted an even grander World's Columbian Exposition in 1892-93, a celebration of the 400th discovery of America which, in its physical dimensions, became a colossal complex of streets and canals and buildings that simulated a city. In 1889 and again in 1900 there had been the Paris Exposition. St Louis, Missouri, put on its own world's fair in 1904, to celebrate the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. Largest in scope of all fairs to date, it had featured a complex of grand, neo-classical exhibition palaces, as had the Columbian Exposition. Its formal name was The Louisiana Purchase Exposition; among its numerous attractions it hosted the 1904 Summer Olympic Games the first Olympics ever held in the United States (the ancient sporting games were revived in Athens as the modern Olympics in 1896). All of these fairs had been largely commercial enterprises, generating capital for the host cities and for the organizing committees, but proceeds were commonly used for some public good. The idea of another world's fair was taking root.
The residents of San Francisco had been hit hard when the earthquake destroyed much of the city in 1906. Nine years later the rebuilding was almost complete and it was time to display what the city had accomplished. A world's fair would be the best way to demonstrate not only the accomplishments of the city of San Francisco, but to also celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal. Thus, it was logical that San Francisco would be the city selected to host the next world's fair and simultaneously showcase both events.
Perhaps the most striking statue at the Panama-Pacific Exposition was one called "Fountain of the Earth," which depicted human progress from birth to death. The artist who created it was also chosen by the U.S. Mint to produce the biggest of the commemorative coins that were to be sold to the public at the fair. He was Robert Aitken. While mint engravers Barber and Morgan had been assigned the task of creating the half dollar for the fair, as well as the gold quarter eagle, Charles Keck's design for the gold dollar was used. Each is neat and distinctive, but most impressive of all were the two similar designs chosen for the fifty dollar gold pieces, which remain the largest gold commemorative ever struck in the United States. Their style was crafted by the talented Aitken. The two hefty, dramatic, and utterly gorgeous gold coins simply defied the ability of almost all of the 18,000,000 fair-goers to be owned. They were very similar in style but of a small yet dramatic difference.
A helmeted Greek goddess Athena (symbol of wisdom and of warfare, as well as of the practical arts) occupies the obverse of each. Her helmet is that seen on a number of classical coins, but this time it is plumed, with the date 1915 in Roman numerals on the top edge of a shield held in front of her torso. She could easily also be seen as an image of Liberty. On the reverse is another allusion to antiquity, the owl of Minerva seen on other classical Greek coins, but this owl is decidedly modern, seemingly alive and patiently seated upon a branch supposedly surrounded by Ponderosa pinecones, native to California. The octagonal version had dolphins placed in the eight angles on each side to symbolize ease of passage through the Panama Canal.
This particular octagonal has the usual finely granular surfaces with an overlay of bright satiny luster. There are no obvious or detracting marks apparent on either side to the unaided eye. Truly a masterpiece of modern engraving.(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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