1915-S Panama-Pacific $50 Gold Round NGC MS64 CAC. A Very Choice Brilliant Uncirculated and untoned satiny mint gem and a perfect match with the Octagonal example. Only 483 minted – a fraction of this have survived in this state-of-preservation.
In 1915, pilgrims of all nationalities made their way by steamer, train, and automobile to a veritable new city that had sprung up on the San Francisco waterfront. Following upon the great publicity awarded the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, 1892-1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago), the 1900 Paris Exposition, the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, and other events, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition showcased marvels of technology, art, history, and science.
After the event ended, nearly everything was torn down. An exception was the Palace of Fine Arts, which, while never intended to be a permanent structure, survived to be used to store fire engines and other municipal equipment. In recent times it has been restored. This building in 1915 housed the numismatic exhibit of the Exposition. Under its huge dome was Farran Zerbe’s Money of the World display and, after the fair’s closing, his concession to sell the remaining Panama-Pacific coins by mail order.
America’s fairs and expos usually revolve around a theme. For 1915, the fair organizers honored the discovery of the Pacific Ocean (1513) and the aforementioned completion of the Panama Canal (1914) as the dual anchor points for their theme. A series of 5 coins was struck for the occasion, including complete sets mounted in metal frames or leather cases sold for $200. Many sales were made to banks and other novices; for this reason, high grade examples, especially of the two $50 gold denominations, are a challenge to find. The larger the denomination, the harder to locate. Some were also carried as souvenir pieces, in fact. When all was said and done, only 483 Round $50 gold pieces were sold. And it can be assumed (though no separate records were kept in this regard) that numerous specimens in the hands of the public were melted after the federal government seized America’s gold coins in 1933. We estimate there are 200 or so of the round $50 pieces remaining.
Today the five different coins issued in connection with the Panama-Pacific International Exposition stand as the high-water mark of American commemoratives. The $50 round is legendary in U.S. federal coinage, both for its size ($50 or two and one-half ounces of 900 Fine gold) and dimensions. The artistry was by Robert Aitken, noted sculptor and coin designer whose handiwork presents Minerva, goddess of the harvest, wearing a Corinthian plumed helmet. Aitken used a more down-home emblem for his reverse, a “wise” owl perched upon a pine branch. Curiously, the wisdom of owls is much overrated. According to the trainers who worked the various owls in the Harry Potter series of movies, owls are little more than flying sharks — sophisticated eating machines with only enough brains to get along with. They’re downright unfriendly and almost impossible to train to do tricks. Nevertheless, Minerva’s owl is golden and beautiful, and we’ll stick with the proverbial “wise”, on this foremost of all U.S. commemorative gold pieces! What a spectacular way to preserve the occasion than by this well struck, satin near-gem Mint State 64 certified by America’s top-tier grading firm, NGC (Numismatic Guarantee Corporation) and further endorsed by CAC.
Coins issued in connection with the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition stand as the high-water mark of American commemoratives and the $50 Round is legendary in U.S. federal coinage. Noted sculptor Robert Aitken used a ancient Roman design depicting Minerva, goddess of the harvest on the obverse and a perched “all-seeing” owl for the reverse.
We have a solid depiction of the goddess Minerva back as far as first century rome, during the reign of emperor Domitian (81 to 86 AD) as the design, and quite a similar one to the contemporary issue, is used on the reverse of this magnificent gold stater (see image). The goddess Minerva or Athena wears the crested helmet found on numerous depictions of her in ancient Roman coinage; it is pushed back off her face, to signify peaceful intentions. According to the Breen-Swiatek history of these important $50 coins, “We have not found the exact Greek coin used as prototype of this head, though the crested helmet is of the Athenian type, and there are numerous silver coins of Velia and Corinth showing her in this type of helmet, sometimes wreathed as here, often with other devices on it. Most such types have a long tailpiece to the crest, which is omitted here.” On her shield is MCMXV (1915), only the second use of Roman numerals for date in United States coinage history up to that time (the first was the various types of Saint-Gaudens double eagles of 1907). Why Athena or Minerva? She was the goddess of wisdom, skill, agriculture, horticulture, spinning and weaving, crop rotation, among other things, and she taught her followers to grow and use olives, whose oil was long indispensable in cooking and providing light by night. All these were important in early California.