Spectacular 1915-S Panama-Pacific Fifty Dollar Round, MS651915-S $50 Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Round MS65 NGC. CAC. Though legislation to authorize the Panama-Pacific International Exposition commemoratives was well-known to Treasury officials in the months leading up to January 1915, the Mint did not formally commission artists until after the passage of legislation, which occurred on the 13th of that month. The next day, as reported in Roger Burdette's Renaissance of American Coinage 1909-1915, Acting Director Dr. Frederick P. Dewey called for a meeting in New York with four selected artists in the area: Robert Aitken, Charles Keck, Evelyn Longman, and Paul Manship. Aitken had been aware of the Treasury's search for commemorative designs for some time, while the other three artists received there first official notifications at the New York conference. The timetable laid out by Dewey was highly inflexible, and as events would later prove, it could not accommodate artistic revision well.
Despite the rapid pace demanded of the artists, all seemed up to the task, and within the month, Dewey had designs from all of them, which he sent on to the Commission of Fine Arts. Early in February, as related by Burdette, Daniel French spoke for the CFA in recommending all designs. Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo and Assistant Secretary William Malburn, however, had differing opinions; Malburn, as quoted by Burdette, disliked all but the gold dollar designs, and McAdoo added a statement of his own: "They are all poor, I think. Ask Philadelphia about them and let our own people submit some designs."
Of the outside artists approached to create motifs for the Panama-Pacific commemoratives, Aitken, who was responsible for the round and octagonal fifty dollar pieces, tackled the commission with the most gusto. His earlier communication with Treasury officials had given him ample time to plan his designs, and he was the sculptor with the most time invested in the project. After receiving McAdoo's letter of rejection, Aitken responded differently from the other artists; rather than reacting with bewilderment in the manner of Longman and Manship, Aitken took his concerns to the Commission of Fine Arts, and once he received more concrete information on McAdoo's dislikes, the artist replied with a well-reasoned, extensive letter that outlined his thoughts and effectively dared McAdoo to come up with something better. After certain compromises, including the elimination of the spider web behind the owl and changes to the dolphins and the shield, Aitken won over McAdoo at last, and the design received approval.
While Charles Keck also succeeded in modifying his design to the Treasury Secretary's taste, Longman and Manship were not so fortunate. Both were stymied by McAdoo's vague criticism; Longman dropped out of the process, possibly spurred by an unidentified illness she contracted in the District of Columbia, while Manship eventually received a flat rejection from McAdoo; to add insult to injury, Manship never received the compensation he requested for his sketches and time. A letter quoted by Burdette, written by Acting Director Dewey, calls into question his taste and that of Malburn and McAdoo; Dewey describes himself and Malburn as " ... enthusiastic over Mr. Barber's design" for the quarter eagle, and he further asserts that " ... we believe that Secretary McAdoo will think as we do." As it turns out, Dewey was correct.
Today, however, collectors appreciate the artistry of the Keck and Aitken designs, particularly on high-grade examples such as this magnificent fifty dollar round Gem. The smooth surfaces, butter-yellow with a touch of orange, offer strong luster for the issue, and both sides show a pleasing strike overall, though a touch of softness is noted at the eagle's upper legs. This is merely a quibble, however, when compared with the impressive general visual appeal. With just 483 pieces struck, the 1915-S Panama-Pacific fifty dollar round is the lowest-mintage American commemorative, and the representative offered here would be a standout in any collection.
From The Southwest Collection.(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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