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    1915-S Round Panama-Pacific Fifty, MS66
    Only 483 Examples Struck
    Very Rare Any Finer

    1915-S $50 Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Round MS66 NGC. The sixth volume of the California Research Project, published in 1937 and funded by the Works Project Administration, included an extensive biography of Robert Ingersoll Aitken, designer of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition fifty dollar gold coins. The 33-page document covers everything from his genealogy and early training, to his teaching career, first notable works, and, naturally, his involvement in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The chapters on "Aitken, the Man" and "Aitken's Philosophy of Work" are of particular interest.

    Openly one-sided but nevertheless insightful, the biography explains Aitken's process:

    "Aitken is a man who leaves nothing to chance. His research on anatomy and authentic costume is almost beyond criticism. His sense of drapery over the human figure is amazing as he rarely uses a model except for unusual poses. He never loses sight of nature, and takes no account of time when once engaged in his work until he arrives to the point of perfection he desires."

    It was with that sense of perfectionism that Aitken approached the task of designing the Round and Octagonal fifty dollar gold slugs. In Renaissance of American Coinage, 1909-1915, Roger Burdette notes that while other artists replied to commission offers to design various commemorative coins for the PPIE in short acceptance letters, Robert Aitken enclosed detailed sketches and thorough explanations.

    The designs themselves were also in keeping with the artist's philosophy. The magazine Arts and Decoration characterized the overarching themes in Aitken's work in 1920, stating that "he depicts the vital characteristics of America's powerful manhood, and pictures for us new visions of its history and industry." Nothing could be truer of the 1915-S fifty dollar gold commemoratives. Aitken himself described the designs:

    "By way of an explanation of my design, permit me to state that in order to express in my design the fact that this coin is struck to commemorate the Panama-Pacific Exposition, and as the exposition stands for all that wisdom and industry have produced, I have used as the central motive of the obverse, the head of the virgin goddess Minerva."

    The Panama-Pacific Exposition was authorized to sell up to 1,500 examples each of both the Round and Octagonal versions of the Pan-Pac fifties, and the Mint struck 1510 examples of the Round version, including 10 examples for the Assay Commission. Unfortunately, the high cost of the coins ($100 per coin) discouraged all but the most dedicated collectors, and only 483 specimens of the Round design were sold. The remaining 1,017 coins were melted after the close of the exposition. These rare gold commemoratives are avidly sought-after in today's market. Recent sales include the MS66 PCGS specimen that sold for $281,750 in a Stack's Bowers auction in 2010.

    The present coin is a spectacular Premium Gem, with sharply detailed design elements throughout. The virtually pristine orange-gold surfaces show none of the minor nicks and contact marks that plague most large gold coins, and vibrant mint luster adds to the terrific eye appeal of this delightful specimen. NGC has certified 19 coins in MS66 condition (one in MS66 ★ ), with four finer, while PCGS has graded only two coins in MS66, with none finer (10/17).
    From The Burgess Lee Berlin, M.D., J.D. Collection of Important United States Rarities. (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.

    View all of [The Burgess Lee Berlin, M.D., J.D. Collection of Important United States Rarities ]

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    January, 2018
    3rd-8th Wednesday-Monday
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