Panama–Pacific commemorative coins
The five commemorative coins were produced in connection with the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Struck at that city’s mint, the issue included round and octagonal USD 50 pieces. Excepting modern bullion coins, these two gold pieces are the highest denomination ever issued and the largest coins ever struck by the United States Mint. They did not sell well, and many of each denomination were returned for melting.
About Panama–Pacific commemorative coins in brief
The five commemorative coins were produced in connection with the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Struck at that city’s mint, the issue included round and octagonal USD 50 pieces. Excepting modern bullion coins, these two gold pieces are the highest denomination ever issued and the largest coins ever struck by the United States Mint. The coins were vended at the Exposition by prominent numismatist Farran Zerbe. They did not sell well, and many of each denomination were returned for melting. Only a few hundred of each of theUSD 50 pieces were distributed, making them the lowest-mintage commemorative coin. They catalog for up to USD 200,000, depending on condition. One of Humbert’s octagonal pieces, dated 1851 and with a lettered edge, sold at auction in 2010 for USD 546,250. The only USD 50 piece produced by the U.S. Bureau of the Mint prior to 1915 was the 1877 pattern half union, produced experimentally at the Philadelphia Mint, though it was not approved as a circulating coin. In 1904, San Francisco merchant Rueben Hale proposed an exposition in his home city for 1915, both to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal and to mark the 400th anniversary of Vasco Núñez de Balboa becoming the first European known to view the Pacific Ocean from the Americas. The Panama-Pacific Exposition, constructed by the Golden Gate at a cost of USD 50 million, was open from February 20, 1915, to December 4, 1915.
It was a great success, generating enough profit to build the San Francisco Civic Auditorium with about USD 1 million remaining. The Palace of Fine Arts is the only building from the fair on the site which remains today, which remains the only San Francisco Commemorative Coin Museum. It is also the only U. S. Mint coin to be issued that is not round. The half dollar and quarter eagle were designed by Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber, possibly with the participation of his longtime assistant, George T. Morgan. They were not then available to the public by the Mint, as they would have been designated as a commemorative’s group. Instead, a group or organization would designate a group to purchase the coins from the Mint at face value and sell them as a fundraiser. Among those who had been involved in the sale of the resulting coins was numismatic promoter and collector, Farran Zerebe, a controversial figure who had sold coins at inflated prices, and had helped sell them at some point in the past to a group of people who felt he had sold them at a price that had been inflated to them. The coin group would subsequently designate the coins as a fund-raiser for the fair, and the coins would be sold at the public at a lower price. In January 1915, Congress passed legislation for a silver half dollar, as well as a gold dollar, quarter eagle, and two USD50 pieces: one round and one octagonal.