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    Description

    1915-S Pan-Pac Fifty Dollar, AU Details
    Octagonal Variant
    One of the Crowning Achievements of Robert Aitken's Career

    1915-S $50 Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Octagonal -- Reverse Scratched -- NGC Details. AU. Unlike Augustus Saint-Gaudens, James Earle Fraser, or Adolph A. Weinman, sculptor Robert Aitken never saw any of his own designs on circulating, regular-issue coinage. However, he firmly established himself during the late 19th century through the first half of the 20th century as a rising star and preeminent player in the world of American sculpture.

    When he was just 23 years old, San Franciscan Robert Ingersoll Aitken was tapped to replace his former instructor at what is now the San Francisco Institute of Art. He served in that capacity from 1901 to 1904. By the end of the decade, Aitken had become accustomed to important commissions, successful exhibitions, and numerous awards. In a December 1907 article that speaks to Aitken's celebrity status, the San Francisco Chronicle discussed the artist's wedding to Laure de Ligny, "a Parisian beauty." It described Aitken as "famed for his modelling of famous men and women," and proudly claimed him as a fellow Californian.

    One year later, Aitken would again make California proud as the first recipient of the Mary Foster Barnett prize for best sculpture at the winter exhibition of the National Academy of Art and Design. In response, the Chronicle proclaimed: "California has won fresh artistic triumph in the East."

    Aitken's stellar reputation and West Coast connection made him a natural fit when it came time to select artists to prepare works for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Among the innumerable sculptures on display were Aitken's "Four Elements" in the Court of the Universe and "Fountain of Earth" in the Court of Abundance. According to the National Sculpture Society, who wrote of the latter, "Seldom has more exaltation of thought and intensity of feeling, been infused, without mawkishness or exaggeration, into a work of art."

    Among numismatists, the 1915 Pan-Pac fifty dollar gold pieces inspire the same degree of awe and admiration. As mentioned, Robert Aitken's designs never graced circulating coinage, but his acclaimed commemorative and medallic works undoubtedly place him among the likes of Saint-Gaudens, Fraser, and Weinman. His octagonal fifty dollar is an especially noteworthy achievement. These pieces were struck as mementoes of the octagonal "slugs" from the California Gold Rush. Aitken brought the commemoration forward in time and extended the cause for celebration by placing dolphins in the angles of the octagon, a clear reference to the opening of the Panama Canal. The surfaces are bright overall and there are a couple of tiny marks on the face of Minerva. On the reverse, in the left field is a long but very shallow vertical scratch, three or four other, shorter ones are located in the right field above the motto.
    From The Stockbridge Collection.


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