Lower-Mintage Round 1915-S Panama-Pacific Fifty Dollar, MS621915-S $50 Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Round MS62 PCGS. The famous numismatist and promoter Farran Zerbe was able to get himself put in charge of the Panama-Pacific Exposition's Coin and Medal Department, which was to strike and issue the commemoratives, souvenir medals, and award medals. He also displayed over 20,000 pieces from his collection in an immensely popular exhibit titled Zerbe's Money of the World. Anthony Swiatek and Walter Breen (1990) write that "Zerbe's efforts did more than anyone else's for decades to put coin collecting on the map."
The Act of Congress that authorized these commemoratives specified that 1,500 examples of each of the Octagonal and Round fifties could be issued. That number, plus an additional nine Octagonal and 10 Round pieces for assay purposes, were struck during the course of the Exhibition. Despite Zerbe's efforts, however, the high issue price of these pieces prevented many from selling. The cost of one $50 piece was listed at $100 (although it apparently included a half dollar, dollar, and quarter eagle at no additional cost), a complete five-piece set sold for $200, and a mounted double set (to display obverse and reverse) was priced at $400.
In the May 1916 issue of The Numismatist, Zerbe reported that sales would conclude on May 15, at which point the remaining stock of Panama-Pacific commemoratives would be destroyed. However, he appears to have overestimated the distribution of these pieces, and a significant number were left unsold. Ultimately, 855 Octagonal and 1,017 Round fifties were melted.
Nonetheless, Zerbe reports that "the sale of this series, as a revenue producer for the Exposition, has been very successful. The purpose of souvenir coins is not to sell the most coins, but to produce the greatest net revenue, and while the number of these coins distributed may to some be less than anticipated, profits show that the prices established and maintained produced a greater revenue than would have come from a much larger sale at any less price that would have shown a profit ..."
All of the unsold coins were melted on or before October 30, 1916, according to a final report from Zerbe that appeared in the January 1918 issue of The Numismatist. He was unduly critical of the $50 gold pieces and offers the peculiar assessment that "originality was lacking" because "coin emblems of ancient days and the graver's work of the medieval period were depicted."
Many of the fifties were sold as part of complete sets, of which about 300 were distributed, "including 60 of the specially certified sets." This accounts for more than about two-thirds of the Round pieces and about one-half of the Octagonals. Garrett and Guth (2003) note that "at one time, a complete set of Panama Pacific coins in their original frame or box was one of the most desirable items in United States numismatics." The vast majority of these sets have since been broken up. The fifties, however, remain highly popular among collectors, and were ranked 26 in the 100 Greatest U.S. Coins.
This is one of the scarcer Round examples and it is well-matched in appearance with the MS62 Octagonal (below), which come from the same collection. The surfaces display rich, even orange-gold color and only minor (shallow) marks. Excellent mint luster makes this piece appear finer than the stated grade.(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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