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    Description

    1915-S Panama-Pacific Round Fifty Dollar Gold Piece
    Rare CAC-Approved MS66
    One of the Finest That We Have Seen

    1915-S $50 Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Round MS66 PCGS Secure. CAC. There was much fanfare associated with the Panama-Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915, and no small portion of it was geared toward the commemorative coins issued in conjunction with the event. Famous sculptor Robert Aitken was charged with preparing designs for a large fifty dollar gold coin that would contain nearly two and a half troy ounces of gold and be issued in two different varieties -- one round, and the other octagonal, both modeled after the U.S. Assay Office ingots struck in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush. For numismatists, this was the first time that the United States Mint struck gold pieces of this size and denomination for regular distribution, and for art admirers, these coins represented a unique, glittering souvenir designed by the same sculptor whose non-numismatic works could be seen elsewhere on the fair grounds.

    In mid-1915, the San Francisco Mint struck 1,500 Octagonal and 1,500 Round fifty dollar gold pieces, which were transferred to famed numismatist Farran Zerbe for distribution. However, only 645 Octagonal and 483 Round coins were sold. The remainders were melted at the Mint on October 30, 1916. Most numismatists today attribute the low sales figures to the high purchase price of the coins. The cheapest way to purchase them was individually, for $100 apiece, but sets containing all of the Pan-Pac commemoratives could be purchased for $100 to $400, depending on how many coins the buyer wanted. In 1915, this was more money than most people could afford to spend on souvenirs.

    Zerbe, however, attributed the low sales in part to a delay in the coins' production as well as what he considered an uninspiring design. In a letter published in the January 1918 issue of The Numismatist, Zerbe expressed disappointment in Aitken's artwork:

    "Had Mr. Aitken essayed to place the class of art and relief on the fifty-dollar gold pieces that he gave the souvenir medal, and had given the medal some of the simplicity of the coin designs, it would have been more fitting. There would have been a medal for the prude as well as all others; and in the coins, the art world delighted and far greater profit to the Exposition. The same designs appeared on both shapes, round and octagonal. The Exposition and the numismatic world had every reason to expect the greatest example of art ever given to a coin in modern days and that each shape would be of different design. Originality was lacking; coin emblems of ancient days and the graver's work of the medieval period were depicted."



    The Exposition -- and presumably Zerbe -- had not seen the final designs until they were ready for production, as the Mint and the designers had to work in haste to get the coins struck as soon as possible after the opening of the Exposition in February 1915, when they were supposed to already be available. The fault was that of Congress, which took until mid-January to approve the coinage of the Pan-Pac commemoratives.

    Although Zerbe was not alone in his criticism of the fifty dollar gold design, Aitken's classical artwork had its admirers, and today the Pan-Pac fifties are viewed as beautiful, elegant numismatic relics. Cornelius Vermeule, in Numismatic Art in America, second edition, writes:

    "Robert Aitken tried to create modern, pseudo-Athenian coins, in an idiom of archaeological classicism popular among many American sculptors trained partly at the American Academy in Rome before and after the First World War. His ideas were laudable. There were a minimum of inscriptions, a classic Greco-Egyptian profile of Athena in full panoply, the date in roman numerals, and a naturalistic owl in a mass of Western pine cones. ... In an overall view, the arresting feature of the giant gold coins is their archaistic treatment of details in relief. Athena's crest, wreath, curls, and aegis imitate the work of an ancient bronze. The bead and reel between the outside rims comes from Greek architecture, and the form of the lettering around the rim recalls Roman sestertii of the Empire or Papal medallions of the Cinquecento. These coins were a tour de force, dated to be sure, but unusual enough in all respects to be worthy of what American numismatic art could achieve when creativity and mint technique worked in unison."



    Despite the low sales figures for the coins on hand, the Panama-Pacific commemorative series was viewed as a success. According to Zerbe, the net profits of the venture were "greater than comparative operations of the past." The low distribution of the fifty dollar gold pieces also served to ensure that these coins became the most sought-after classic commemoratives issued by the United States Mint, even more than a century after their coinage.

    As is expected given its smaller distribution total, the Round Pan-Pac fifty is scarcer than the Octagonal variant. Most pieces grade MS62 to MS64, with Gems rarely seen. This is the first PCGS-graded Premium Gem to appear in our auctions. There are only three coins listed in this grade at PCGS and none finer (3/18). It is also the first CAC-approved coin that we have handled in this grade. Sharp devices complement luminous satin luster that yields original honey-gold color. A loupe fails to reveal even insignificant surface flaws, and both sides produce a soft cartwheel effect. For numismatists, the Pan-Pac fifty dollar gold pieces continue to inspire as much awe as they did when they were first issued, and possibly more. Population: 3 in 66, 0 finer. CAC: 5 in 66, 2 finer (3/18).(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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