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Coin Profile: The Farouk-Norweb 1915 No S Panama-Pacific Half Dollar in Gold

One of Only Two Known

Heritage will be offering one of only two known 1915 P50C Panama-Pacific Half Dollars struck in Gold (Judd-1960 PR64 NGC) during the Boston ANA Signature Sale in August Lot # 13007.

The design is the same as the regular-issue 1915-S Panama-Pacific commemorative half, but lacking the normal S mintmark. Struck in gold with a reeded edge. Other S-less Panama-Pacific half dollar patterns are also known in silver and copper. These extremely rare patterns were clearly clandestine strikes, produced at the Philadelphia Mint before mintmark punches were applied to the working dies. There are two known examples of the gold half dollar, both struck on cut-down, struck Saint-Gaudens double eagle coins. Similar examples are known of the 1915 Panama-Pacific gold dollar and of the round and octagonal fifty dollar pieces, all lacking the S mintmark. The website comments of the pieces, “These could be die trials but it seems that they were really struck for profit.”

Pollock comments in his United States Patterns and Related Issues:

“Farran Zerbe, who was involved in the coining and distribution of the Panama-Pacific commemoratives in California, has been quoted by Walter Breen as saying that specimens ‘may have been struck as trial pieces at the Philadelphia Mint by the instructions of the Secretary of the Treasury, who was a coin collector.’ The Secretary of the Treasury at the time was W.G. McAdoo of New York, a name familiar to students of U.S. paper money.”

Anthony Swiatek, in his Commemorative Coins of the United States (2001), writes much more unequivocally concerning the 1915 Pan-Pac half dollar, “Extremely rare trial pieces, made at the Philadelphia Mint, were struck without the S Mint mark. Two were created in gold, six in silver and four in copper for Treasury Secretary William Gibbs McAdoo–a coin collector!”

Further along, Pollock records his notes on the present specimen:

“Careful examination of the Farouk-Norweb coin [the present coin, listed as No. 2 in the Census below] reveals planchet file marks and traces of an undertype, indicating that the half dollar dies were impressed on a cut-down $20 gold coin, which had been filed to remove high-relief details. This piece is remarkably thick: 2.4 mm at the edge versus 2.1 mm for a regular-issue Panama-Pacific half dollar.

“The characteristics of the coin suggest that it was made clandestinely. Since the piece is overstruck instead of being made using a new planchet of normal thickness, it can be inferred that there was a desire on the part of the manufacturer that no mention of the piece be made in the bullion account books, and thus it may have been produced secretly at the Mint in the same manner as the 1913 Liberty nickel or the Class III 1804 dollar. The only other known example of the variety [listed as No. 1 below] is reportedly also struck over a cut-down $20 gold piece.” (more…)

Finest PCGS Certified 1915-S Panama-Pacific $50 Round Gold Commemorative to be sold in Baltimore

The highest-denomination Commemorative coins ever struck in the United States Mint, the 1915-S Fifty-Dollar gold pieces were produced for sale at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915. Ostensibly held to celebrate the completion and opening of the Panama Canal, the Exposition also provided the city of San Francisco with an opportunity to showcase its revival after the devastating earthquake of 1906.

The Fifty-Dollar gold pieces were authorized by Congress with a specified mintage of 3,000 coins. This figure is further subdivided into 1,500 examples each for the octagonal and round types. Both exhibit essentially the same design, the obverse with a bust of the goddess Athena (Minerva in Roman mythology) wearing a crested helmet pushed back on top of her head. The goddess holds a shield upon which is inscribed the date 1915 in Roman numerals MCMXV. The field above the central device is inscribed with the motto IN GOD WE TRUST, the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is above and the denomination FIFTY DOLLARS is below. The use of Athena is due to her status as the goddess of wisdom, skill, agriculture, horticulture, spinning and weaving–all of which are critical to the economy of California.

The reverse depicts Athena’s owl–symbol of wisdom–perched atop a branch of ponderosa pine. The Latin motto E PLURIBUS UNUM is present in the field behind the owl, the inscription PANAMA-PACIFIC EXPOSITION is above and the city SAN FRANCISCO is below. The octagonal pieces, but not the round coins, display an extra inner border with a dolphin device that signifies the continuous waterway created through the opening of the Panama Canal. The coin’s designer is Robert Aitken.

The price for Exposition attendees was $100 per Fifty-Dollar gold coin, a sum that also entitled the buyer to an example of the Panama-Pacific Half Dollar, Gold Dollar and Quarter Eagle at no extra charge. A complete five-piece set could be had for $200. These asking prices were apparently too high, however, and many examples of both the octagonal and round Fifties were eventually melted as unsold. The net mintage for the octagonal variant is just 645 coins, while that for the round type is a mere 483 pieces.