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    1915-S Five-Piece Panama-Pacific Set, Plus Box
    Unc Details Through MS65, All PCGS-Certified
    First Time Offered at Public Auction

    1915-S 50C Five-Piece Panama-Pacific Set and Original Box, Unc Details Through MS65 PCGS. In our FUN Auction, we sold an original Panama-Pacific set (with box) that had been in the Hills Brothers family (of coffee fame) that was purchased at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915. That set did extraordinarily well and brought $180,000. The set was co-consigned, and this five-coin set is from one of the same consignors. These coins came from a much larger East Coast collection that was formed in the 1940s and 1950s. This is the first time this Panama-Pacific set has been offered at public auction, and it is being sold without reserve.

    1915-S Panama-Pacific Half Dollar, MS62 PCGS.
    Greek and Roman imagery dominate the quarter eagle and fifty dollar gold coins issued in 1915 to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal one year earlier. The silver half dollar differs stylistically. Cornelius Vermeule wrote in 1971: "The obverse is the halfway point between the designs on French silver coins early in the new century and A.A. Weinman's Walking Liberty for the half dollar which appeared in 1916." George Morgan's reverse is reminiscent of his earlier pattern designs for the silver dollar. Whether intentional or not, the French-inspired obverse and American reverse symbolize the collaboration between the two countries in building the Canal. Pan-Pac half dollars were sold individually and in sets with the total distribution figure amounting to 27,134 coins. This example displays deeply toned surfaces with the normally seen satiny luster still evident. There are no obvious or detracting marks on either side.

    1915-S Panama-Pacific Gold Dollar, MS65 PCGS.
    New York sculptor Charles Keck's obverse design shows the profile of one of the 80,000 or so workers that toiled over the construction of the Panama Canal. Unlike the quarter eagle and fifty dollar gold pieces issued to commemorate the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, criticized by some for lacking a distinctly American character, the 1915 gold dollar has a decidedly American quality that projects strength and determination. Unfortunately, Keck's intent was unclear to some, who mistook the profile for that of a baseball player. The reverse is unmistakable in its imagery: two dolphins symbolizing the recently completed water route. The issue had a net distribution of 15,000 coins, most of those pieces sold singly. The surfaces on this piece display bright yellow-gold mint luster that is interrupted only by a few shallow abrasions on each side.

    1915-S Panama-Pacific Quarter Eagle, MS65 PCGS.
    Like the large fifty dollar gold coins issued for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the 1915 Pan-Pac quarter eagle obverse is imbued with classical imagery. Barber's design shows Columbia holding a caduceus, a symbol widely associated with medicine. Dave Bowers writes that Columbia's caduceus represents "the medical triumph over yellow fever in Panama during the canal construction." However, additional meaning may be inferred. It is perhaps less well-known that Hermes, messenger to the gods and the Greek god of commerce and communication, is often depicted carrying a winged and serpent-entwined staff. The caduceus has thus been a device linked to trade. Here, it may very well represent the immeasurable impact the Panama Canal would have on international exchange. The bright yellow-gold surfaces on this piece are softly frosted. Only close examination with a loupe reveals a few very shallow field marks. An interesting semicircular strike-through is seen through the S U on the banner on the lower reverse. The strike details are notably strong.

    1915-S Panama-Pacific Fifty Dollar Round -- Cleaning -- Unc Details PCGS Genuine. The Panama-Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915 was grandiose in every sense of the word. It demonstrated not only the city's renewal after the devastating earthquake and fire of 1906 but also the nation's technological progress, most notably the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. The exposition featured monumental public buildings as prescribed by the then-popular City Beautiful urban planning movement, ornate sculptures by famous American artists, and technological innovations like a Ford Motor Company assembly line.

    One of the main themes of the exposition was illumination. Electric lighting, especially on such a mass scale, was then still considered a wondrous scientific achievement. The goal of lighting engineers was, through indirect illumination, to present the exposition in as marvelous a fashion at night as it appeared by day. In his article "The Panama-Pacific International Exposition at Night: How the Illuminating Engineer Uses Light Decoratively," published in Scientific American in April 1915, Hamilton M. Wright explains: "At the exposition the lighting is produced with a dramatic effect suggesting undreamed of power and potentiality."

    Such was also the case with the two fifty dollar gold coins, designed by Robert Aitken, issued to commemorate the event. The obverse design features Minerva, goddess of wisdom, skill, and trade; while the reverse displays an owl, another symbol of wisdom and the sacred bird of Minerva. A spider web, suggestive of industry, appears behind the owl. Clear parallels can be drawn between these motifs, which also appear on the Great Seal of the State of California, and those themes which the exposition and its impressive illumination evoked.

    The Round fifties are scarcer than their Octagonal counterparts, which proved more popular at the time because of its novel shape. The Round fifties were struck to the extent of 1,504 coins. However, the large gold pieces were rather expensive souvenirs and thus out of reach for most exposition-goers. According to Roger Burdette, 1,027 Round "quintuple eagles" were ultimately destroyed, leaving a net mintage of just 477 coins. The devices are sharply struck and there is light evidence of cleaning, more evident on the obverse. Remarkably free from post-striking defects otherwise.

    1915-S Panama-Pacific Fifty Dollar Octagonal, MS63 PCGS.
    The production of fifty dollar gold coins commemorating the Panama-Pacific International Exposition was not entirely without problems. Chief among them was time. Congress passed a bill authorizing the production of gold dollars, quarter eagles, fifty dollar gold coins (equally divided between Round and Octagonal), and silver half dollars on January 13, 1915, just over one month prior to the opening of the fair. In a memorandum dated January 15, 1915, Acting Director of the Mint Frederick P. Dewey wrote to Assistant Secretary of the Treasury William P. Malburn regarding the time constraints: "It will be all but impossible to comply with the terms of the bill requiring the delivery of the coins on the opening day of the Exposition February 20." Dewey was correct. The Octagonal and Round fifties were only delivered in June and July of 1915 respectively.

    Diameter also posed problems for Robert Aitken, the San Francisco sculptor selected to design the fifty dollar gold pieces. After examining several fifty dollar "slugs" from the Gold Rush period and an 1877 half union pattern -- all with varying diameters -- at the American Numismatic Society in New York, Aitken requested clarification regarding the required diameter of Pan-Pac fifties. Dewey responded that the new octagonal coins should be same diameter as the original 1851 slugs produced by the United States Assay Office. However, Chief Engraver Charles Barber wrote to Philadelphia Mint Superintendent Adam M. Joyce on February 4:

    "If the diameter in the extreme of both the octagonal and round does not exceed one and a half inches with the relief kept down to what is known to modern coin relief, I am of the opinion that it could be struck upon a coining press, any larger diameter would have to be made as a medal upon the hydraulic press."

    Congressional legislation mandated that the coins be produced in San Francisco and appear roughly the same size as the 1851 slugs. That is, the coins had to measure 1.73 inches in diameter, necessitating the use of a hydraulic press. However, these requirements were mutually exclusive based on the capabilities of the West Coast facility, which possessed a coining press but not a hydraulic press. In order to satisfy both the stipulations, Treasury Secretary McAdoo shipped the hydraulic press to California on March 22, 1915 at an expense of $385.22. The surfaces of this massive, two and a half ounce coin show only slight abrasions. The mint luster is softly frosted and there is just a tinge of reddish patina to the otherwise yellow-gold color.

    Five-Piece Black Box
    The box is scuffed on the top and bottom, and the top side is bowed, as often seen. The interior is bright and fresh with the distinctive purple silk and felt. The designer's explanatory card is also included.(Registry values: N7079)

    Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    Apr-May, 2016
    27th-1st Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 23
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,526

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