Coin Specifications

Category: Gold Commemoratives (1903-1926)
Mint: San Francisco
Mintage: 15,000
Catalog: KM-136
Obverse Designer: Charles Keck
Composition: Gold
Fineness: 0.9000
Weight: 1.6720g
AGW: 0.0484oz
Melt Value: $63.13 (4/16/2014)
Diameter: 15mm
Numismatic specification data provided by Krause Publications NumisMaster.
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1915 S PAN PACIFIC G$1 MS obverse 1915 S PAN PACIFIC G$1 MS reverse


  
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Description & Analysis

The Panama Canal ranks among the greatest man-made marvels in the world—a 51-mile-long system of natural lakes, excavated channels and locks that slashes up to 8,000 nautical miles from voyages between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It was viewed as such an accomplishment that Uncle Sam marked its opening with a gala world’s fair in San Francisco: the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. And as part of that celebration, the United States Mint issued five different commemorative coins in four different denominations—the most diverse tribute for any single event in the first hundred years of U.S. commemorative coinage and the first in which coins were struck in both silver and gold.

The notion of building such a waterway dates back as far as the 16th century, when Spanish conquistadors conceived it as a shortcut to the treasure-laden lands along the Pacific coast of the Americas. The first serious effort to transform that dream into a reality took place under the auspices of a French consortium, the French Panama Canal Company, which set out to build a canal in 1880. The French, however, hadn’t sufficiently grasped the formidable difficulties they would face. As a result, 10 years later they were forced to abandon the project after losing the staggering sum of $287 million—a king’s ransom and then some, in an age when laborers routinely earned well under $5 a day.

Like the Europeans, the United States came to be keenly aware of the benefits it might reap from a Panama Canal—particularly after the mid-19th century, when the California Gold Rush opened America’s West to ever more intensive development and greatly expanded shipping between U.S. ports on the East and West coasts. New impetus for a canal came with the Spanish-American War of 1898, as the U.S. took on a greater role in the global arena. Congress responded in 1902 by passing the Spooner Act, which authorized President Theodore Roosevelt to acquire the rights to build a canal and proceed with its construction. Roosevelt did so with characteristic relish and relentlessness. When Colombia—which then had sovereignty over Panama—balked at the proposal, he engineered and guaranteed a declaration of independence by the Panamanians and then arranged a treaty with them for the canal.

Like the French before them, American engineers were confronted by enormous obstacles. Unlike the French, however, they didn’t have to face the worst ravages of yellow fever: Research a few years earlier by Dr. Walter Reed linking this deadly disease to the bite of a mosquito had enabled sanitarians to keep it under control during construction.

Completion of the canal coincided almost exactly with the outbreak of World War I in Europe. The war began officially on July 28, and the new canal opened to traffic just 18 days later, on August 15. Americans, however, were still three years away from direct involvement in the conflict, and the Panama Canal was not only closer to home but also a source of more immediate interest to many in this still rather insular country.

The San Francisco fair reflected the nation’s exuberance over its remarkable accomplishment (as well as civic pride over San Francisco’s renaissance following the earthquake and fire in 1906, which served as a second theme for the celebration). The fair featured exhibits by 36 countries, 44 states of the Union and several U.S.
territories, as well as such attractions as a racetrack, a livestock building and an amusement midway. The exposition cost about $50 million and drew an estimated 19 million visitors during its more than nine-month run, which lasted from February 20 to December 4, 1915.

The man in charge of “Pan-Pac” coinage was Farran Zerbe, a former president of the American Numismatic Association and a savvy showman who promoted numismatics non-stop. Issuance of the coins to help finance the fair—and, in the process, to showcase the hobby—was Zerbe’s idea, and this as much as anything accounts for the scope of the program. He also was deeply involved in their preparation and sale.

It wasn’t until January 16, 1915, the very eve of the fair, that Congress finally authorized the coins. The enabling legislation called for a silver half dollar plus gold coins in three denominations: $1, $2.50 and $50. Mintage limits were set at 200,000 for the half dollar, 25,000 for the gold dollar, 10,000 for the quarter eagle and 3,000 for the $50 piece, with these 3,000 subsequently being divided equally between round and octagonal versions.

Upon the recommendation of the federal Commission of Fine Arts, the Treasury Department turned to outside artists for help in designing the coins. It commissioned Charles Keck, a well-known New York sculptor, to design the gold dollar. Keck’s initial design carried a depiction of Poseidon, the god of the sea in Greek mythology. This was rejected, however, by Treasury Secretary William Gibbs McAdoo, who deemed it too detailed for such a diminutive coin. Keck then fashioned a new design featuring a portrait of a typical Panama Canal laborer. The workman faces left on the obverse of the coin, into the two-line inscription UNITED STATES OF / AMERICA, with the date tucked below his chin. The statement of value ONE DOLLAR is the central device on the reverse, with dolphins above and below, symbolizing the joining of two oceans by the canal. This is encircled around the rim by the words PANAMA PACIFIC EXPOSITION–SAN FRANCISCO. Although the workman is sometimes mistaken for a baseball player because of his cap, on the whole this coin’s design is generally viewed with favor by coinage critics.

The dollars were struck (as were all the Pan-Pac coins) at the San Francisco Mint. The S mintmark appears below the D and O of DOLLAR. The maximum authorized mintage of 25,000 was struck (along with 34 pieces for assay), but evidently, many fairgoers balked at the official price of $2 each, as 10,000 pieces were subsequently melted, leaving a net mintage of 15,000 coins. The dollars were sold individually in envelopes imprinted with a description of the coin, the designer’s name and the price — “$2.00—6 for $10.00.” The coins were also included in three-, four- and five-piece sets in velvet-lined leather cases and five- and 10-piece sets in copper frames. After the exposition closed, the price was raised to $2.25 each. The dollars remained available for years afterward, with a large quantity in the possession of celebrated dealer B. Max Mehl. As late as the 1950s, Mehl still had quite a few Pan-Pac dollars on hand, many of which were sold to dealers Abe Kosoff and Sol Kaplan.

Pan-Pac gold dollars are not difficult to locate in grades up thru MS-65, but since many of these coins were mishandled by the public, relatively few survive in the higher mint-state grades. Points to check for wear are the peak of the laborer’s cap and the heads of the dolphins. Officially, no proofs were struck, but the late Walter Breen stated in his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins that there were unconfirmed reports of one brilliant proof. Several varieties of counterfeits are known to exist: authentication of any questionable specimen is strongly recommended.

GRADE SUMMARY

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Price Guide

Last Updated: 9/10/2013

Click on a price to see historical prices, comparison charts and trends.

1915 S PAN PACIFIC G$1 MS
  GVGFVF4045505355586061626364656667686970
Base $ - - - 410 485 485 505 515 540 570 610 630 665 720 935 1475 2350 8100 - - -
$ 515 540 550 570 620 670 690 735 790 1075 1775 3000 9000 -
NGC Price and Value Guides Disclaimer

Census

 
NGC GRADE SUMMARY

Total Graded: 3671
Low Grade: VF
Average Grade: 63
High Grade: 67


Upcoming Auctions

A random selection of NGC coins is shown below.

Images
Date
Grade
Auction House
Sale / Lot
4/27/2014 MS 66   Heritage Auctions 2014 April 23 - 27 CSNS US Coin Signature Auction - Chicago Session(6), 1204/Lot# 6033
4/27/2014 MS 64   Heritage Auctions 2014 April 23 - 27 CSNS US Coin Signature Auction - Chicago Session(9), 1204/Lot# 11774
4/27/2014 MS 63   Heritage Auctions 2014 April 23 - 27 CSNS US Coin Signature Auction - Chicago Session(9), 1204/Lot# 11773
4/27/2014 AU 58   Heritage Auctions 2014 April 23 - 27 CSNS US Coin Signature Auction - Chicago Session(9), 1204/Lot# 11771
4/27/2014 AU 58   Heritage Auctions 2014 April 23 - 27 CSNS US Coin Signature Auction - Chicago Session(5), 1204/Lot# 5864
4/27/2014 AU 50   Heritage Auctions 2014 April 23 - 27 CSNS US Coin Signature Auction - Chicago Session(9), 1204/Lot# 11776


Auction Prices Realized

A random selection of coins is shown below.

Images
Date
Service
Grade
Auction House
Sale / Lot
Price
6/20/1999 NGC MS 62   Teletrade Auction 1176, 1176/Lot# 1700 $379.80
9/10/2006 PCGS MS 64   Goldberg September 10-13, 2006 Pre-Long Beach Coin and Currency Auction, 37/Lot# 2544 $1,035.00
7/8/2007 PCGS MS 66   Heritage Auctions Sunday Internet Coin Auction #67073, 67073/Lot# 23387 $2,645.00
8/7/2010 NGC MS 65   Stack's Bowers The August 2010 Boston Rarities Sale, 34/Lot# 683 $586.50
2/28/2012 PCGS MS 63   Stack's Bowers The March 2012 Baltimore Auction, 135/Lot# 7052 $690.00
7/15/2012 NGC MS 66   GreatCollections GreatCollections Coin Auctions 07/15/2012, 31/Lot# 63256 $6,215.00
4/24/2013 PCGS MS 67   Heritage Auctions 2013 April 24 - 28 CSNS US Coin Signature Auction - Chicago Session(3), 1184/Lot# 3018 $5,875.00
3/16/2014 NGC MS 65   David Lawrence Rare Coins Internet Auction # 795, 804/Lot# 263 $6,700.00


NGC Registry

NGC Registry Score 1915 S PAN PACIFIC G$1 MS
 PrAgGVGFVF4045505355586061626364656667686970
Base333333423115211681193124012711309136914501649203326314834530858177627
33333143666115711761208125012831329139615161777223233654992547764200
000000666115711761208125012831329139615161777223233654992547700
000000909116211841224126012961349142315821905243140995150564700
Competitive Registry Sets
CategoriesSets
Gold Commemoratives 1903-1926 83
Registry Image Gallery
Grade: MS 66
Points: 2631
Owner: *00001AAA Coins
 
Grade: MS 66
Points: 2631
Owner: davidmckay
 
View the Registry Image Gallery

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