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    Outstanding 1915-S Panama-Pacific
    Fifty Dollar Octagonal, MS67

    1915-S $50 Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Octagonal MS67 NGC. The Panama-Pacific fifty dollar octagonal gold commemorative piques several collecting interests. It is one of just eight classic gold commemoratives, those produced from 1903 to 1926. It reprises the gold pieces first produced by Augustus Humbert in 1851 as United States Assayer of Gold in California, thus recalling the heritage of private and Territorial gold issues. It is a large coin, having the approximate size of four quarters arranged in a 2x2 grid, and a weight of about 15 of those quarters. Every auction appearance of the Pan-Pac octagonal commands interest, and the commemorative has been popular since it was released during the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915.
    Shortly after the United States started work on the Panama Canal in 1904, Reuben Hale and other members of the San Francisco Merchant's Association proposed an exposition. Not only would the event celebrate San Francisco's status as the major West Coast port for canal traffic, but it would also mark the 400th anniversary of Vasco Nuñez de Balboa's discovery of the Pacific Ocean. The disastrous 1906 earthquake put a hold on those plans, but only temporarily. Roger W. Burdette (2007) elaborates: "The rebuilding of San Francisco seemed to stimulate fundraising for the exposition and some individual pledges exceeded $250,000 ... the exposition was seen by San Francisco businesses as a unique opportunity to '... draw the attention of the world to San Francisco' and promote it as a "playground of America" for tourists.' "
    That last sentiment proved prescient, as people came from all over the United States to view the magnificent displays. The crowds included politicians and celebrities such as Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, Eddie Rickenbacker, Thomas Edison, and Helen Keller. The Liberty Bell was there, shipped from Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The Ford Motor Company set up an assembly line in the Palace of Transportation, producing a car every 10 minutes for a few hours each afternoon. The promoters of the exposition did not hide their enthusiasm, stating in the exposition brochure that "the Panama-Pacific Exposition is an encyclopedia of modern achievement. You are afforded an opportunity to make a comparative study of the methods and manners of modern civilization ... such an event will not occur again while you live." Lest the motivation for the event be forgotten, the full-color cover displayed a larger-than-life man pushing apart the earth to make way for the canal.
    The authors of the exposition brochure declared that the various architects, artists, and landscape gardeners had built a city that was "straight out of a beautiful dream." For numismatists, there were commemorative coins and a souvenir medal from the U.S. Mint. The coins included a silver half dollar, a gold dollar, a gold quarter eagle, and two types of a "quintuple eagle" or fifty dollar coin, one round and the other octagonal. Both medal and coins were to have been struck by the Mint on-site, but concerns about the legality of minting U.S. coins at a non-official mint location resulted in the moving of coin production to the nearby San Francisco Mint. Legislation limited production of the fifty dollar coins to 3,000 pieces, equally divided between the two styles. Designs for the coins were solicited both internally, from engravers Charles Barber and George Morgan, and from outside through lists of capable artists provided by the Commission of Fine Arts.
    Robert Aitken, a New York artist on the commission's list as a possible coin designer, was officially notified on January 21, 1915, that he had been selected to prepare designs for the fifty dollar gold coins. Aitken, who had been persistent in his desire to obtain a design commission for the exposition, was ahead of the game. He had notified Mint Director George Roberts in November that he was willing to "take up this work" immediately, so that the process would not be compromised because of time constraints. Aitken delivered sketches of the obverse and reverse designs to acting Mint Director Frederick P. Dewey (Roberts had resigned November 15, 1914) only two days after receiving his authorization to proceed. After several weeks of negotiation between Aitken and Treasury officials (extensively documented in Burdette's Renaissance of American Coinage 1909-1915), Aitken's designs were approved in early March.
    The obverse of both fifty dollar coins depicts the Roman goddess Minerva, while the reverse displays an owl, said to be sacred to Minerva and a symbol of wisdom. Some suggest that the motifs alluded to the need for America to be watchful and prepared on the eve of this country's involvement in World War I, already raging in Europe. The basic round and octagonal designs were the same, everything from the outer text ring inward, though reduced in size for the octagonal piece. On both obverse and reverse Aitken placed an unbroken circle of dolphins into the spaces provided by the angled corners of the octagonal design. Dolphins were considered friends and guardians of sailors, and were symbolic of the new connection between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans provided by the Canal.
    The allegorical nature of Aitken's designs received mixed reactions both during design negotiations and after the coins were released. Though some thought the symbolism appropriate, others complained that the designs were nothing more than copies of ancient works. Despite the promotional efforts of the enigmatic and sometimes controversial Farran Zerbe, president of the ANA from 1908 to 1910 and the person in charge of the exposition's coin and medal department, most of the fifty dollar coins went unsold and were melted.
    This offering is one of the 645 coins sold either during the exposition or shortly thereafter (though the later sales may have violated the terms of the authorizing legislation). The presentation of this piece is amazing. Surfaces are exceptionally clean, with no toning spots or significant marks, indicating the piece has been carefully treasured and protected for nearly a century. Sharply struck, lustrous surfaces gleam with an orange-tinted, honey-gold patina. Though fifty dollar Pan-Pac octagonals are not uncommon in auction offerings, in this state of preservation the coin is extremely rare. Neither NGC nor PCGS has certified an example finer than MS67, and this sample is one of only four listings at that grade in the NGC Census Report (9/08). A rare and beautiful example of a historic issue, this coin is truly a "numismatic sensation" that will be a highlight of the most discriminating collection.
    From The Scott Rudolph Collection.
    See: Video Lot Description(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 Scott Rudolph Collection ]

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2009
    7th-11th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 23
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 11,565

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