Five Piece Panama-Pacific Commemorative Gold Set with Copper Frame of Issue
Included are: 1915-S $50 Round MS64 PCGS. Commemorative coins are one of the most popular specialties in American numismatics. In this field there are several hundred different varieties with silver and gold coins from the Classic Era 1892 to 1954, plus a marvelous parade of modern issues since then. Among the classics, there are two pieces first and foremost in the limelight: the large, impressive, and rare $50 "slugs" produced to the extent of just 1,500 pieces each, with a net distribution of far less (see descriptions below). The obverse of each issue features the helmeted head of Minerva, a classic touch, and an owl, representative of ancient Athens and knowledge, is on the reverse. While both are essentially the same motif, the octagonal differs inasmuch as dolphins are found within each angle. At the Exposition it seems that the octagonal format was the more interesting to buyers, evoking images of the famous Augustus Humbert $50 pieces of the same shape issued during the Gold Rush in 1851 and 1852.
Regarding the event itself, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, laid out on the shore of San Francisco Bay, was a veritable city of elegance. Buildings resembling temples were interspersed with sculpture and other art, truly a wonderland. Construction was mainly of a composition known as staff, resembling stone on the outside, but not durable. After the Exposition closed, the buildings were demolished, except for the Palace of Fine Arts, which remained and was used as a municipal store facility for fire engines and other equipment. Eventually, the heritage of the building was re-recognized, and today it stands in fine form and is an attraction for visitors. The fair opened with much publicity, and crowds rushed to see exhibits ranging from historical to scientific to the trappings of current life. A day could be spent at the Exposition without seeing even a fraction of what the exhibits offered. The concession for numismatic items was held by Farran Zerbe, a man of questionable ethics and reputation who earlier served as president of the American Numismatic Association. Zerbe was not held in high esteem by many if not most members of the ANA due to prior questionable dealings. The Association determined to hold its annual convention in San Francisco that year, with the Exposition as the prime drawing card, not to overlook Zerbe's impressive display there. On view for sale were all of the new commemoratives, including the silver half dollar, the gold dollar and quarter eagle, and both versions of the $50. These were available in several forms including in envelopes and in leatherette cases. (After the Exposition closed, some sets were subsequently sold in copper frames -- as is this set.) The ANA convention was a flop, with fewer than two dozen people attending, the poorest turnout before or since. With regard to the commemoratives, the half dollar, gold dollar, and quarter eagle were sold in fair numbers to the public and others, but many thousands were melted. The story of the melting of the $50 pieces is given below.
After the event closed, Zerbe mounted a campaign, including a mailing to banks, to sell more coins. Then he called it quits, and the unsold remaining coins were shipped to the Mint and melted. It did not take long before the coins achieved a premium value, and by the early 1920s the $50 pieces were in strong demand. Ever since then, the value has gone up year by year, punctuated by the Depression, but still upward by the end of the 1930s. Today in 2013, all of the Panama-Pacific coins are strongly desired, with the $50 pieces especially so. The beautiful quality of the coin offered here makes it especially appealing. Shimmering velvet mint bloom bathes both the obverse and reverse of this remarkably preserved example. Close examination of the surfaces yields the presence of only a very limited number of tiny defects (a rather amazing observation considering the open nature and fragility of this design). The rarity and importance of this issue is foremost among all of the commemoratives (whether they be gold, silver, platinum, or copper-nickel) in the U.S. coinage series. It is highly probable that no more than a handful of known survivors are within a condition range that clearly surpasses the outstanding quality of the present specimen. Of the 1,500 pieces initially struck, 1,017 remained unsold and were subsequently melted, leaving a net mintage of just 483 coins. (PCGS 7451)
1915-S $50 Octagonal MS63 NGC. During planning for the Panama-Pacific Exposition's coin striking ceremony, the Philadelphia Mint shipped a 14-ton hydraulic press to the fairgrounds for the specific purpose of minting these large $50 gold pieces. (Research has not been able to ascertain how they managed it: probably the press went disassembled by ship). On June 15, the first octagonal pieces were struck at a ceremony which attracted VIPs from over the world. The ceremony had been arranged by Farran Zerbe, then possibly the best known numismatist of his day. Zerbe had the political influence to have himself put in charge of the Exposition's Coin and Medal Department, which was named in the authorizing act as responsible for distributing the commemorative coins. Zerbe set up his own collection (over 20,000 specimens) in a trellised display area of the Palace of Liberal Arts on the Exposition grounds labeling it Zerbe's Unique Money of the World. It became one of the more popular displays, and the Panama-Pacific Commemorative coins, each with its own story appended, were probably seen by several million visitors between the Exposition's opening February 20 and its close on December 4, 1915.
Each side of this coin presents a bright golden appearance. Elusive and quite costly as so few were distributed at the time of issue due to initial cost, this example is free of any mentionable abrasions. The strike, while almost always sharp, shows clear detail in the stylized leafy branch on the helmet as well as Minerva's cascading hair, and both sides reveal splendid surface preservation. On the $50 octagonal only, there are eight dolphins on each side inserted between the outer edge and inner circular border. (PCGS 7452)
1915-S $2.5 MS65 PCGS. A frosty Gem example. Mostly brilliant surfaces with a sharp strike for the type. From a scant mintage of just 6,749 pieces, only a small proportion of the survivors could match the quality offered here. An interesting fact: the single coin price for the quarter eagle at the time of issue was $4.00. Charles E. Barber and George T. Morgan created the designs. (PCGS 7450)
1915-S G$1 MS63 PCGS. A well struck example of this issue features the left-facing bust of a Panama Canal workman; the simple reverse has two dolphins above and below the denomination. A brightly lustrous, light golden example of which just 15,000 pieces were minted. (PCGS 7449)
1915-S 50C MS63 PCGS. A Select quality specimen commemorating the Panama Canal and the Exposition at San Francisco. Rich, satiny luster and virtually mark-free fields contribute to this coin's overall appeal and an abundant amount of rich, natural toning is icing on the cake. Though the second commemorative half dollar issued, it was the first to have the motto IN GOD WE TRUST included in the design. Single examples of the half dollar were offered as souvenirs to visitors at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. The single coin price at the time of issue was $1.00. (PCGS 9357)
Copper Frame of Issue. When Farran Zerbe promoted the Panama-Pacific commemorative coinage, he developed several purchase options ranging from a single half dollar in an imprinted paper envelope to a massive 10-piece double coin set in an ornate copper frame. The ten-piece set was designed to show both the obverse and reverse of each of the five different coins, including four of the large $50 pieces. As is the case with this lot, this is a five piece set that was housed in a copper frame. Three, four, and five piece sets were also available in smaller velvet-lined leather cases, or individual $50 pieces in leather and velvet cases.
This is an original hammered copper frame made by Shreve & Co. of San Francisco, designed to hold an original five-coin set of Panama-Pacific commemorative coins. The frame is near-mint with a tiny scratch on the left side, the purple velvet interior is pristine. The original glass was broken at one time and has since been replaced with high-quality UV Plexiglas. This is one of the finer quality copper frames we have handled. The frame was designed with a back that allowed for a table top presentation with an easel or for a wall mounting.