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    1915-S Panama-Pacific Fifty Dollar, MS61
    Commemorative Token of Wisdom and Industry

    1915-S $50 Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Round MS61 NGC. Neoclassicism was a dominant influence on many United States coin designs, particularly in the decades immediately following the turn of the 20th century, but perhaps no single design was as bold in this regard as that of the Panama-Pacific fifty dollar commemoratives, struck in San Francisco in 1915. Robert Aitken's representation of the Roman goddess Minerva and an owl was strongly symbolic of America's outlook on the triumph of completing the Panama Canal and the advancement in industry which it represented, as well as the rebirth of San Francisco following the devastating earthquake of 1906. Minerva, the Roman equivalent to the Greek goddess Athena, was the goddess of wisdom, arts, trade, and strategy, or, per the official description, "The Goddess of Wisdom, Skill, Contemplation, Spinning, Weaving and of Agriculture and Horticulture." The war strategist aspect of Athena was not as heavily worshipped in Roman mythology as it was in Greek, although Minerva's typical depiction with a shield and/or a spear characterizes the protective aspect of her nature. Whether or not an intention of Aitken's at the time, this symbolism was well-suited for the period leading up to America's entrance into the World War.

    Minerva's consistent association with an owl identifies her most strongly with the quality of wisdom, which was intended to represent the Panama-Pacific International Exposition's theme of wisdom and industry, or, in the words of Aitken, to express "the larger meaning of the Exposition, its appeal to the intellect." Aitken's association was fitting, particularly due to the location of the Exposition in San Francisco, California and the history of that state. The Great Seal of the State of California, adopted in 1849, portrays Minerva as symbolic of California's acceptance directly into Statehood without first being a U.S. territory -- in Roman mythology, Minerva sprang from Jupiter's head fully matured and armed with weapons and knowledge. This was no doubt also part of the thinking involved when the goddess and her sacred owl were depicted on various Confederate currency notes in the South in the 1860s. Minerva later appeared on the California Pacific International Exposition half dollars of 1935 and 1936, accompanied by the grizzly, the state emblem, which is also depicted on the 1925 Diamond Jubilee half dollar.

    The rich symbolism of the Pan-Pac fifties, combined with their scarcity and sheer heft (comparable in size to the fifty dollar "slugs" issued by the United States Assay Office during the Gold Rush) ranks them among the most sought-after commemoratives ever issued by the United States Mint. Moreover, collectors have two different varieties from which to choose. The round variant, here offered, is slightly scarcer than its octagonal counterpart, with a distribution of only 483 coins. This piece is well-struck and displays satiny honey-gold luster. Minor evidence of handling limits the grade, but there are no distracting abrasions.

    The Renaissance of American Coinage produced some of the most beautiful circulating coin designs ever issued by the United States, but the commemoratives of this period are equally rich in neoclassical symbolism and artistic merit. However, perhaps none so much as Aitken's fifty dollar gold piece.(Registry values: N7079) (NGC ID# BYHP, PCGS# 7451)

    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 Dates
    July, 2015
    9th-12th Thursday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 16
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