Description and Analysis

Silver Commemoratives

Description & Analysis

The Panama Canal, which remains one of the engineering marvels of the modern age, was completed in August of 1914. To celebrate this achievement, Congress authorized the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. This Expo, held in San Francisco, was also a celebration of the city’s recovery from the devastating earthquake of 1906. In addition to the expo, Congress authorized a series of commemorative coins honoring the exposition. These were to include a half dollar, gold dollar, $2.5 gold piece, and 2 different $50 gold pieces. The bill authorizing these issues was signed into law on January 16, 1915.

The half dollar’s obverse was designed by U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Charles Barber. Whereas most of his designs were usually old fashioned and static, he actually produced a very aesthetically pleasing and artistic obverse. It depicts the figure of Columbia scattering flowers from a cornucopia held by a cherub. Encircling the periphery is the inscription PANAMA-PACIFIC EXPOSITION. The San Francisco mintmark (S) is located to the left of the date.

Barber’s assistant George T. Morgan was selected to design the reverse. Unfortunately, Morgan did little more than modify the eagle reverse he used on the silver dollar first struck in 1878. The bird is perched on top of the Union shield. To its left is an oak branch, symbolizing stability, and to the right is an olive branch, symbolizing peace. The legends UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and HALF DOLLAR surround the border, while the motto IN GOD WE TRUST appears above the eagle. The olive branch of peace is particularly ironic on a coin struck the year after World War I broke out.

Distribution of the coins was handled by Farran Zerbe, a past American Numismatic Association President and well-known promoter of numismatics. Before the coins were even struck, tens of thousands of the half dollars were already pre-sold at $1 a piece. While the authorized mintage was 200,000, the San Francisco Mint struck a total of 60,000 pieces over the course of the Exposition. Of those, 32,866 remained unsold and were melted. This leaves a net mintage of 27,134 coins for this now scarce and popular commemorative half dollar.