Goldberg Coins and Collectibles

Sale 54

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Lot 3582

1915-S Panama-Pacific Gold $50 Round. NGC graded MS-65. A brilliant untoned satiny mint gem and a perfect match with the Octagonal example. Only 483 minted.

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-gem Mint State 65 certified by America's top-tier grading firm, NGC (Numismatic Guarantee Corporation). Pop 44; 23 finer with 1 in 65*, 19 in 66, 3 in 67.
Estimated Value $90,000 - 100,000.

Realized $97,750

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