1915-S Round Pan-Pac Fifty, MS64
1915-S $50 Round MS64 NGC. Robert Aitken's designs for the
renowned Pan-Pac fifty dollar gold commemoratives were not his only
contribution to the San Francisco-based Panama-Pacific
International Exposition, but they are the most remembered by
numismatists. Aitken was also one of many notable artists of the
period who were commissioned to design non-numismatic sculptures
for display throughout the exposition grounds. Hermon MacNeil,
Adolph Weinman, and John Flanagan -- all future fellow coin
designers -- were among the participating sculptors.
Time-Tested Key to the Classic Commemoratives
Aitken's sculptural work in particular was highly symbolic and powerful. One of his sculptures, The Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, was on display at the top of the main staircase in the Court of the Universe. Stella G.S. Perry, in The Sculpture and Murals of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition Official Handbook, writes of this work: "These titantic [sic], symbolic figures of the Elements show the sweep, precision and realism that this sculptor can so well combine with poetic imagery."
Aitken's use of "poetic imagery" is also fully displayed on the round and octagonal fifty dollar gold pieces that were issued as souvenirs for the exposition. The obverse features Minerva, mythological goddess of wisdom and commerce, while the reverse shows an owl, Minerva's ever-present companion and symbol of wisdom, upon a branch of Western pine -- all classically rendered with a Roman numeral date. The corners on each side of the octagonal version depict dolphins, symbolic of the international waterway created by completion of the Panama Canal, while the round variant has the central motifs pushing the peripheral legends all the way to the rims.
Each variety of the coin was given a mintage of 1,500 pieces, but most of these were later melted as unsold. The Pan-Pac fifties could be purchased in sets with other denomination commemoratives, but unfortunately for sales, even individual purchase of one of these "slugs" cost $100 -- no small sum in 1915. By the end of the distribution period, only 645 octagonal and 483 round coins were sold. The round variant is understandably the scarcer of the two today. This example is well-preserved and eye-appealing. As with the Pan-Pac quarter eagle, the Pan-Pac fifties were struck with very faint, parallel and swirling die lines in the fields, which give this near-Gem its satiny golden luster. A loupe reveals a few minor lines on Minerva's cheek that define the grade.(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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