1915-S Panama-Pacific Exposition $50. Octagonal. MS-65 (PCGS).
One of the Finest Known 1915-S Panama-Pacific Exposition $50 Octagonal Pieces
This is a stunning example of the type, both sides fully lustrous with a softly frosted, medium gold finish. Uncommonly free of distracting abrasions, even in and around the central obverse, this captivating piece would accept nothing less than a Gem rating. This is one of the absolute Finest of this issue, surpassed by a single coin certified by PCGS a point higher, at the Gem level there are a mere 21 grading events noted in their Population Report which may represent multiple submissions of a few coins. Regardless, we know there were 1,500 of these Octagonal $50 pieces struck, but only 645 were sold, with the balance melted by officials and never released as unsold. Hence, this is one of the rarest issues -- ever struck -- for a significant Commemorative design. At the Gem level, so few are known that any coin even approaching this grade is a significant opportunity for the collector to secure.
The obverse design includes a classical Greek rendering of Liberty wearing an Athenian helmet, raised upon her head as a symbol of peace, showing her facial features. The date is imparted in Roman numerals on her shoulder in an arc within a raised border. Upon her helmet is the crest of the Greek goddess Minerva or Athena. Surrounding the inset are the legends within two raised borders which spell out UNITED STATES OF AMERICA with stops below and FIFTY DOLLARS beneath. At the eight corners there are small insets of dolphins swimming which call to mind these friendly sea mammals which escort ships through the oceans, part of the sea life present on the way to the new Panama Canal, which is celebrated by this Exposition. The reverse of this coin depicts a boldly rendered owl, long a symbol of wisdom for their regal fixed eyesight which implies knowledge and wisdom. Immense pine cones surround his claws almost certainly of the Coulter Pine variety, but often attributed to the Ponderosa Pines which do not produce pine cones of this size or type. Similar to the obverse legends surround in two inset raised continuous borders, above the coin states PANAMA-PACIFIC EXPOSITION with stops between the base which states SAN FRANCISCO. This is curious, as the "S" mintmark would imply this fact, but as the Exposition was held in San Francisco, and the huge medal presses from the Philadelphia Mint were sent by train to the Exposition in San Francisco to be reconstructed and set up for coinage is certainly important to note where these coins were actually struck. Farran Zerbe was the most famous numismatist of the era, and he was in charge of getting these struck and sold. Coinage began on the 14 ton medal press on June 15 of 1915, the immense size and pressure was required to strike up such a behemoth of a coin that weighed in at nearly 2.5 ounces of gold. However, due to the heavy cost of the coin at $100 to purchase per $50 coin, sales were slow, and only the wealthiest collectors and investors could afford such a magnificent piece. Thus in the end, when the Exposition closed, not many had sold, and the total remains at 645 pieces. Today Gems number far fewer, and this is one of the finest seen and worthy of the most extraordinary collection ever formed.