Delightful 1915-S Panama-Pacific Fifty Round, MS641915-S $50 Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Round MS64 NGC. CAC. As described elsewhere herein, although outside sculptor-designers were engaged to model concepts for the various medals and coins proposed for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, Charles Barber ended up, rightly or wrongly, with some of the final designs. They include both sides of the half dollar and the obverse of the gold quarter eagle, with a figure of Columbia riding a seahorse through the waves and holding a caduceus. According to Taxay, "Assistant engraver George Morgan prepared the reverse, modeling one of his usual unsightly eagles. Regarding [Treasury Secretary William G.] McAdoo's objection to Minerva and Poseidon [originally proposed by Charles Keck for the gold dollar], it is noteworthy that Barber's own allegorical design was heartily approved."
Expediency was definitely a factor in the decisions--both those rejected and those approved--as the actual Panama-Pacific Exposition opened on Feb. 20, 1915, in San Francisco, and closed on Dec. 20 of that same year. President Woodrow Wilson, pressing a gold key in Arlington, Virginia, caused doors and mechanical exhibits at the San Francisco exposition to operate.
Only on March 22 were the final designs for the Panama-Pacific coinage approved--more than a month after the exposition had already opened. While numismatists of the present day can overlook the Pan-Pac half dollar design of Charles Barber in the company of so many other silver commemorative halves that came before and after, we can only thank our lucky stars that designer Robert Aitken's fifty dollar commemorative designs remained largely intact. Taxay says of the Barber commemorative, "Barber's half dollar depicts a figure of Columbia scattering flowers. Behind her is a child holding an overflowing cornucopia, in front the Golden Gate bridge surmounted by a setting sun. Though not unattractive, the design is indefinitely modeled and has an unfinished appearance. The reverse features an heraldic eagle and at best is commonplace."
Imagine if Barber had attempted to "dash off" a fifty dollar design in both round and octagonal versions. American numismatics would have lost one of the most unusual coinage designs ever executed. It is certainly appropriate to question whether the design is derivative rather than original, but there is little question about its superlative execution.
It is worth noting that designer Aitken also won the commission for the official medals of the Pan-Pac Exposition, now collected as so-called dollars, listed in Hibler-Kappen as HK-399 through HK-401, produced in silver, bronze, and gilt. On those medals a full-length, nude Mercury, sporting a winged hat (a la "Mercury" dime), opens the locks of the Panama Canal, with the ship Argo, the symbol of navigation, passing through and reflecting the setting sun off of her sails. On the reverse two female figures entwine about a globe, representing the joining of Earth's two hemispheres.
Finally, it must be noted that Aitken's wonderful designs not only continued, with their classical allusions, a renaissance that began with Augustus Saint-Gaudens' gold coinage designs in 1907, but, being struck in San Francisco, they also celebrated the renaissance of the "City by the Bay" itself and its recovery from the devastating Great Earthquake and Fire of less than a decade earlier.
The present specimen of the Round variety is actually somewhat rarer than the Octagonal pieces, due to greater meltings of the former after they remained unsold at the exposition. This piece offers bold cartwheel luster that is unusually rich for the issue, along with delightful yellow-gold coloration and a relative absence of distracting marks. A high-end and thoroughly delightful example.(Registry values: N10218) (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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