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    Description

    1915-S Five-Piece Panama-Pacific Set
    NGC-Certified MS63 to MS65
    First Public Offering, Original Intact Set

    1915-S Five-Piece Panama-Pacific Set, MS63 to MS65 NGC. The commemorative coins issued for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition represent the most impressive subset of the classic commemorative U.S. coin series, as well as one of the grandest collective artistic achievements of the U.S. Mint. In their designs, the coins reflect the pride and achievement of American ingenuity and art that the Pan-Pac Exposition so lavishly celebrated, as well as embody, in the fifty dollar pieces, the largest gold coins ever struck by the U.S. Mint.

    Farran Zerbe petitioned for the production of the commemoratives in conjunction with the Expo, and their coinage was authorized by the Act of January 16, 1915. Production commenced several months later, and Zerbe was charged with distributing them through his Money of the World exhibit on the Expo grounds. Zerbe issued the coins in various sets, composed of three, four, five, or 10 pieces, as well as individually. Attendees of the Expo in San Francisco were most likely to purchase single coins (distributed in paper envelopes) or the lesser value sets (most housed in velvet-lined leatherette cases). Zerbe recruited the services of local jewelry firm Shreve & Co. to make velvet-lined frames suitable for displaying the larger sets of five and 10 coins. These frames were made of hammered copper with a glass front and purple velvet lining, with gold-lettered identification cards for each of the coins. The five-piece sets included one example of each Pan-Pac commemorative, including both the Octagonal and Round variants of the fifty dollar piece. The 10-piece sets included two of each coin, mounted in the Shreve & Co. frame so that both obverse and reverse of each piece was viewable. In his commemorative coin Encyclopedia, Q. David Bowers writes:

    "Five pieces in a copper frame under glass cost $200, while a double set, mounted to show the obverse and reverse of each, was listed for $400. The number of sets sold was about 300, mostly to banks, of which about 60 were accompanied by 'certification papers' issued by Zerbe. I estimate that perhaps fewer than a half dozen double sets were sold."



    Today, almost all of the framed sets have been broken up, the coins individually distributed among collectors of the various issues. Reassembled "sets" are commonly seen at auction, offered as individual lots, but original, intact sets distributed by the hand of Zerbe in 1915 are some of the rarest artifacts known to the numismatic community. In the few cases that an original set has appeared on the market in modern times, the coins have tended to be fairly low grade, having borne the effects of poor storage and handling for more than a century. However, the present set defies that tradition. Untouched in their original Shreve & Co. frame until being removed for certification just prior to this offering, the coins in this original set remain in impeccable condition. Their original Shreve & Co. copper frame -- also in pristine condition -- is offered in the next lot.

    1915-S Panama-Pacific Half Dollar, MS64 NGC.

    "Fifty-cent piece, weight 192.9 grains, 0.900 fine. -- Obverse: Columbia scattering fruits and flowers, attendant with cornucopia or horn of plenty, to signify the boundless resources of the West. Background, Golden Gate illumined by the rays of the setting sun, with the inscription 'Panama-Pacific Exposition, 1915.' Reverse: Shield of the United States surmounted by American eagle and supported on the one side by a branch of oak, emblem of strength, and on the other side by the olive branch of peace. The inscriptions are 'United States of America,' with value of the coin and the motto 'In God we trust.'" -- Mint Director's Annual Report, June 30, 1915

    Mint records only ever name Charles Barber as the designer of the Pan-Pac half dollar, and it is only Barber's name that appeared on the paper envelopes in which single specimens were sold, as well as on the gold-lettered label beneath the half dollar in Zerbe's framed sets. According to Bowers, the earliest publication of George T. Morgan's name in association with the reverse design was in David W. Bullowa's The Commemorate Coinage of the United States (1938). Later students of numismatic art such as Cornelius Vermeule derive the same conclusion about Morgan's participation in the design. Bowers writes, "A comparison of the reverse to Morgan's work on pattern coins of the 19th century would seem to confirm the relationship."

    The Act of January 16 provided for the coinage of 200,000 Pan-Pac half dollars, at least some of which were initially intended to be struck on the Exposition grounds as part of a working Mint exhibit. However, only 60,030 pieces were ever struck (including assay coins), and 32,896 were eventually melted as unsold, leaving a net distribution of just 27,134 coins. Surviving examples are generally available to collectors, but the population thins in the higher grades. This Choice example displays satiny, ivory-tinted luster and a bold strike. The surfaces are devoid of abrasions visible to the naked eye, while a loupe reveals only minor imperfections.

    1915-S Panama-Pacific Gold Dollar, MS65 NGC.

    "One-dollar piece, weight 25.8 grains, 0.900 fine. -- Obverse: Head, representing labor, through whose efforts the Panama Canal became a reality. Reverse: Two dolphins, indicating the meeting of the two oceans." -- Mint Director's Annual Report, June 30, 1915


    Charles Keck's design for the gold dollar shared a design celebrating with the other Pan-Pac commemoratives, in part, the completion of the Panama Canal, although somewhat more literally than allegorically. The obverse depicts the portrait of a canal worker, with a rugged face and a cap, a motif that was often confused for a baseball player by some contemporary viewers, but which calls attention to the common man of the era on whose labor industry was built. Keck's reverse design harmonized well with the other Pan-Pac issues, portraying a pair of dolphins circling each other in an allegorical representation of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans being joined by the Panama Canal.

    All 25,000 Pan-Pac gold dollars authorized by Congress were struck at the San Francisco Mint, plus 34 coins reserved for assay purposes. However, only 15,000 pieces were distributed, most purchased individually or in three-coin sets with a half dollar and quarter eagle. The remainder of the mintage was melted. This Gem example displays a sharp strike and luminous, frosty mint luster. Warm peach-gold and pale lilac hues adorn each side.

    1915-S Panama-Pacific Quarter Eagle, MS65 NGC.

    "Two-and-a-half-dollar piece, weight 64.50 grains, 0.900 fine. -- Obverse: Columbia, representing the United States, seated on the mythical sea horse, riding through the waters of the canal, with caduceus in grasp, the emblem of trade and commerce, inviting the nations of the world to use the new way from ocean to ocean. Reverse: American eagle, resting on a standard bearing the motto 'E Pluribus Unum.'" -- Mint Director's Annual Report, June 30, 1915


    The obverse design of the Pan-Pac quarter eagle is attributed to Charles Barber, and carries with it strong artistic ties in symbolism and style to classical Greek inspirations. In Numismatic Art in America, Vermeule writes, "In this instance the source was the Nereid, perhaps Thetis, who bears the shield of Achilles astride a hippocamp on the reverse of a silver didrachm of Pyrrhus, king of Epirus in the third century B.C. Barber has reinterpreted this motif, so popular also on Greek mirror cases, in mosaics, and in jewelry, using some of the crisp prettiness of French medallic art in the 1890s or early 1900s." Columbia is shown riding the mythical creature through the waters of the Panama Canal, symbolizing the new path of trade and commerce.

    Congress authorized 10,000 quarter eagles to be struck, but only 6,749 were distributed, the remainder being melted. This Gem example displays satiny orange-gold luster and a bold strike. No distracting abrasions are seen.

    1915-S Panama-Pacific Fifty Dollar Round, MS64+ NGC.

    "Fifty-dollar piece, weight 1,290 grains,0.900 fine. -- Obverse: Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, skill, contemplation, spinning, weaving, and of agriculture and horticulture. Reverse: Owl, sacred to Minerva, the accepted symbol of wisdom, perched upon a branch of western pine." -- Mint Director's Annual Report, June 30, 1915


    Congress authorized the coinage of only 1,500 Round Pan-Pac fifty dollar gold pieces, but in the end, only 483 were distributed. In the August 1915 issue of The Numismatist, Edgar H. Adams wrote:

    "Another of the disappointments is the very high premium which has been placed upon the fifty-dollar pieces. Fifty dollars premium on each of those coins is, in our opinion, exorbitant, and surely will have the effect of limiting their sale. Of course there are a number of persons who will pay almost any premium, but the great majority of collectors will be compelled to forego the purchase of the fifty-dollar pieces and will confine themselves to the minor denominations, the prices of which are more within reason. The price of $75 would have been ample for either of the fifty-dollar coins, and undoubtedly a good many more would have been sold at that figure."



    Most of the round Pan-Pac fifties that were distributed were sold in framed five-coin sets, which Zerbe marketed directly to wealthy bankers in an attempt to move them. Although sales were stunted by the high premium attached to the coins, the limited distribution created the single most sought-after U.S. commemorative among modern collectors. For students of the classic commemorative series, a high-grade Round Pan-Pac fifty is the crowning achievement of a landmark collection, and for many, a lifetime acquisition.

    This high-end near-Gem presents beautiful eye appeal, embodied in the luminous satin luster and rich honey-gold color. Even a loupe fails to reveal noteworthy abrasions or hairlines, giving this piece eye appeal beyond its technical grade. Without doubt the hallmark of this original set.

    1915-S Panama-Pacific Fifty Dollar Octagonal, MS63 NGC.

    "Dolphins, suggesting, as they encircle the central field, the uninterrupted water route made possible by the Panama Canal, occupy the angles of the octagonal coin." -- Mint Director's Annual Report, June 30, 1915


    Robert Aitken's Octagonal Pan-Pac fifty dollar design was similar to that of the Round variant with one exception: dolphins in the peripheral angles created by the reduction of the Round design into the octagonal shape. The Act of January 16 stipulated that half of the fifty dollar pieces struck (1,500 out of 3,000 coins) be octagonal in shape, reflecting the history of California's Gold Rush in 1851, when the U.S. Assay Office of San Francisco issued octagonal ingots worth fifty dollars in gold. When the first Pan-Pac fifties were struck, it the was the Octagonal variant that was produced, in a special coining ceremony, at the San Francisco Mint on June 15, 1915. The coins were produced on a large medal press that had been shipped to San Francisco for this very purpose. Upon being presented with the first piece struck, Panama-Pacific International Exposition President Charles C. Moore declared, "Numismatists will seek these coins with zeal." Perhaps no contemporary numismatic declaration has been more proven by generations of modern collectors.

    The Octagonal variant of the fifty dollar piece proved more popular than its Round counterpart with fairgoers who purchased only a single coin. A majority of the four-coin sets that came with only one fifty dollar coin were sold with an Octagonal specimen. As a result, distribution of the Octagonal coin reached 645 pieces. This example is beautifully satiny with rich honey-gold luster. A few faint hairlines are all that deny a finer grade, but to the unaided eye this coin far exceeds expectations for the grade.
    From The Oswald Maxwell Collection.


    View all of [The Oswald Maxwell Collection ]

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