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    1915-S Panama-Pacific Fifty, MS66
    Iconic Octagonal Gold Commemorative
    Tied for Finest at PCGS

    1915-S $50 Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Octagonal MS66 PCGS. The 1915-S Panama-Pacific fifty dollar gold pieces were struck as part of a five-piece commemorative coin program issued in conjunction with the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition. The Exhibition was held to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal and the recovery of San Francisco from the disastrous earthquake of 1906. The five-coin program was conceived by coin dealer Farran Zerbe, who acted as distributor of the coins, and Congress signed the authorizing act on January 16, 1915. The set include a silver half dollar, a gold dollar, a gold quarter eagle, and two fifty dollar gold coins, one round and one octagonal.

    While all five coins featured original artistic designs, the octagonal fifty dollar pieces, designed by Robert I. Aitken, were undoubtedly the stars of the program. The obverse featured the helmeted head of the goddess Minerva (wisdom), with a dolphin in each of the eight corners, symbolizing the newly opened waterway between the oceans. The reverse displayed an owl (sacred to Minerva) perched on a Ponderosa Pine branch. Despite the Classical symbolism of the design, the coin has a distinctly American flavor, as the octagonal shape evokes memories of the iconic U.S. Assay Office fifty dollar slugs issued during the Gold Rush era, one of the most colorful periods in American history. As well-known art historian Cornelius Vermeule noted, "These coins were a tour de force, dated to be sure, but unusual enough in all respects to be worthy of what American numismatic art could achieve when creativity and Mint technique worked in unison."

    Initially, the five coins were offered individually, or in a set housed in a black leatherette case with velvet lining. The round and octagonal fifties sold individually for the same price, $100 per piece. This was more than the average collector could afford, so sales were not brisk. Of the 1,500 octagonal fifties minted (outside of assay coins), only 645 were sold. The round version faired even worse, with only 483 examples sold. Later in the program, Zerbe offered the coins in a variety of different packages to encourage flagging sales. He commissioned local jeweler Shreve & Co. to design glass-fronted copper frames to display sets of the five different coins. Double set frames were also available, to exhibit obverse and reverse of all five coins at once. The five-coin set in a frame cost $200, essentially just the price of the two fifty dollar pieces, with the other coins and frame as a bonus incentive. The double set arrangement cost $400.

    Most of the fifty dollar coins were saved by contemporary numismatists and the majority have been well-preserved over the years. The octagonal fifties began appearing at auction at least as early as lot 500 of the Cook-Conover Collections Sale (B. Max Mehl, 11/1916). Lots 500-504 of the sale comprised a five-piece set of 1915-S Panama-Pacific commemoratives, with the coins offered separately. After lot 504, Mehl noted:

    "The above five coins were issued in a specially designed plush case and metal frame under glass and sold at $200 for the set. The sale of these coins has been discontinued. Bids will be entertained for lots 500 to 504 inclusive as one lot. The plush case to be included."

    The coins sold as a set for the original asking price of $200. Although the 1915-S Panama-Pacific fifty dollar gold coins were too expensive for contemporary collectors, they have achieved a popularity with present-day numismatists that is second-to-none, and prices realized have risen accordingly. The current record for an octagonal fifty is $289,671, brought by the MS67 NGC specimen in lot 10443 of the San Francisco Signature (Heritage, 7/2005). Although the round fifties are less available than the octagonal pieces in lower grades, series specialist Anthony Swiatek believes the two issues are equally rare in grades above MS65.

    The present coin is a magnificent Premium Gem, with vivid orange-gold surfaces that show hints of canary-yellow and lilac. This piece has been impeccably preserved, with no sign of rim bruises or mentionable surface flaws. The design elements are sharply detailed and vibrant mint luster radiates from both sides. The terrific visual appeal is a match for the high technical quality. Tied with three other coins for finest-seen at PCGS (10/16), this rare American gold commemorative is a must-have specimen for Registry Set enthusiasts.
    From The Sounder Collection, Part II.(Registry values: P7)

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# BYLX, PCGS# 7452)

    Weight: 83.59 grams

    Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper

    View all of [The Sounder Collection, Part II ]

    View Certification Details from PCGS

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2017
    4th-9th Wednesday-Monday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 13
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,796

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
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