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    Exemplary 1915-S Panama-Pacific Round Fifty Dollar

    1915-S $50 Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Round MS66 NGC. Assorted potentates, politicos, dignitaries, and luminaries gathered at the San Francisco Mint on June 15, 1915, to watch Mint Superintendent T.W.H. Shanahan strike the first octagonal fifty-dollar gold coins commemorating the Panama Pacific International Exposition. The exposition observed the opening of the Panama Canal in August 1914 and belatedly celebrated the 400-year anniversary of the 1513 sighting of the Pacific Ocean by the Spanish conquistador Vasco Nunez de Balboa. The exposition, an enormous world's fair that took more than three years to plan and build, was the vehicle chosen to pay tribute to these history-shaping events.
    The construction and opening of the Panama Canal was so momentous in the annals of American history (as well as in Panamanian history, Latin-American relations, geographic exploration, disease treatment and control, commercial transport, travel and tourism, and hydraulic engineering, among many others) that Congress appropriated the then-gargantuan sum of 50 million dollars for an exposition to appropriately commemorate it. The completed canal, one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, had an enormous effect on shipping. It removed the need for ships crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean (or vice versa) to navigate the long, treacherous route via Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America. The canal reduced by more than 7,800 miles, or about 20 days, the distance for a voyage from New York to San Francisco. After intensive lobbying by several cities, President William Howard Taft in 1911 named San Francisco as the exposition site. This recognition gave the city the opportunity to show off to the world its extensive rebuilding since the horrific, massive earthquake and fire of 1906.
    Congress specified numerous coins in varying denominations to be struck, including 3,000 of the fifty-dollar pieces, with half to be round, half octagonal. Congress's gesture was apparently intended to venerate the original octagonal fifty-dollar gold coins struck by Augustus Humbert from 1851-53 and their round fifty-dollar counterparts struck by Wass, Molitor & Co. in 1855. The Wass, Molitor coins were the only round fifty-dollar coins that circulated in Gold Rush California.
    At the coining ceremony for the fifty-dollar octagonal coins, Mint Superintendent Shanahan claimed he was "about to strike the first fifty-dollar coin ever issued under authority of law in the United States." Well, not really. As Breen and Swiatek point out in The Encyclopedia of United States Silver & Gold Coins 1892-1954, Shanahan was unaware that the octagonal fifty-dollar gold coins struck by Humbert were issued under authority of law. The enabling legislation entitled Humbert to obtain working hubs from the Philadelphia Mint and to affix the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA on his coinage. Out of the original mintage of roughly 1,500 coins each in round and octagonal formats, more octagonal coins than round were sold to the public, perhaps because they were a novelty to more-contemporary consumers. The Mint melted the unsold coins, resulting in official issues of 483 round and 645 octagonal coins. The figure of 483 round coins remains today the lowest distribution of any U.S. commemorative.
    These medallion-like coins provided designer R.W. Aitken with a large palette on which he successfully used classical Greek and Roman (and Minoan, in the form of dolphins encircling the rim of the octagonal coins) design motifs, despite some uninformed criticism at the time of issue. This is not only the largest U.S. commemorative coin, it is acknowledged to be among the most beautiful designs ever executed by the U.S. Mint. The present example has shimmering, lustrous antique-gold surfaces that display the boldly struck design to impressive effect. This piece has been lovingly preserved since its striking. Diligent searching with a loupe reveals only a single small nick in the left reverse field below the NA in PANAMA, near the bead and reel rim. A small spot of dark toning atop the I in AMERICA will serve as a future pedigree identifier. This is a premium opportunity to acquire this largest and most impressive U.S. gold commemorative. NGC has graded 19 of the round fifty-dollar coins in MS66, with two coins graded finer (7/06).(Registry values: N14284) (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
    August, 2006
    13th-14th Sunday-Monday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 5
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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