Q. David Bowers
In 1971 art historian Cornelius Vermeule analyzed the designs: (Numismatic Art in America, p. 137.) "The silver half dollar combines Barber's favorite half-figure of Columbia on the obverse with Morgan's eagle, the characteristic shield, and the usual branches in conservative modernism of traditional elements on the reverse. The obverse is the halfway point between the designs on French silver coins early in the new century and A.A. Weinman's Walking Liberty for the half dollar which appeared in 1916. Liberty or Columbia (both have been specified, and it matters little from an iconographic standpoint) wears her Franco-Phrygian cap and ancient Greek (Doric) chiton and billowy himation in the modem manner. She has a fat posterior, heavy upper arms, and thus an unpleasantly stiff, dumpy manner. The child or put to beside her, holding up the cornucopia filled with flowers, is a feature of Barber's studies after French designs. This same group, almost in mirror reversal, had waved the fleet off in Hampton Roads on the reverse of the medal commemorating the departure of the United States Atlantic fleet on its cruise around the world, December 16, 1907- [as shown on] a plaquette with a deep bust of Theodore Roosevelt on the obverse. There is just such a Greco-Roman group of Aphrodite and Eros in the Musee du Louvre in Paris. Waves, land, and the setting sun connote the Golden Gate. The inspiration again is French, from the background of Roty's famous sowing Marianne on fractional silver of 1897 to 1920."
Collecting Panama-Pacific Half Dollars
Sales of the Panama-Pacific half dollars fell far short of expectations, and of the 60,030 (the odd 30 being reserved for assay) examples coined, fewer than half this number, a quantity amounting to just 27,134 coins, were ever issued. While the numismatic fraternity undoubtedly accounted for the sale of thousands of silver half dollars, the majority were sold to fairgoers and to the general public. As a result, relatively few pieces have been carefully preserved since the time of issue and today high quality Mint State examples are elusive.
The finish of the Panama-Pacific half dollar does not have the typical deep mint frost associated with earlier silver issues but is apt to be satin like in appearance with the high parts in particular having a microscopically grainy finish. On many pieces there is an inner "circle" or "line" near the rim of the obverse due to die characteristics. On the reverse the eagle's breast feathers are indistinct on all specimens, an attribute which sometimes gives Mint State coins the appearance of having light wear.
Most 1915-S Panama-Pacific International Exposition half dollars seen today are in grades from AU-50 to MS-60 or slightly higher. The grainy finish of the pieces makes them difficult to grade. In particular, it is not easy to determine whether a coin has been lightly cleaned or subtly polished, as the surface of a typical piece was never deeply frosty or lustrous to begin with. It is recommended that the grade of any coin offered be checked carefully prior to purchase.
Additional information pertaining to Panama-Pacific International Exposition coins in general will be found in the commemorative gold coins section of this book.
GRADING SUMMARY: Go to the head of the class if you can grade this coin consistently, for most experts can't. Check Columbia's shoulder for friction or contact marks, and on the reverse check the eagle's breast. The only complication is that these areas may also be lightly struck (especially) the eagle's breast, the feathers of which were not sharply delineated on the die to begin with), and it is difficult to differentiate this from actual wear. The absence or presence of deep, frosty lustre, without breaks, is a better guide to grading; but this is not infallible, as most have satiny (rather than lustrous) surfaces. Take your time and buy only a coin that is aesthetically pleasing to you.
1915-S Panama-Pacific International Exposition Half Dollar
Commemorating: Panama-Pacific International Exposition; the opening of the Panama
Canal; and the rebirth of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire Obverse motif: Standing figure of Columbia
Reverse motif: Eagle on shield
Authorization date: January 16, 1915
Date on coins: 1915
Date when coins were actually minted: 1915 Mint used: San Francisco
Maximum quantity authorized: 200,000
Total quantity minted (including assay coins): 60,030 Assay coins (included in above): 30
Quantity melted: 32,896, including 30 assay coins (29,876 were melted on September 7, 1916 and the balance on October 30, 1916)
Net number distributed: 27,134
Issued by: Coin and Medal Department (Farran Zerbe), Panama-Pacific International Ex-position, San Francisco, California
Standard original packaging: Imprinted paper envelope (two versions; one with imprinted text including "PRICE $1.00 EACH" and the other with "PRICE $1 EACH -6 FOR $5 "); also included in three-piece, four piece, and five-piece sets of different coins in velvet-lined leather cases; in five-piece and 10-piece sets mounted in a copper frame.
Official sale price: $1
Designer of obverse: Charles E. Barber
Designer of reverse: George T. Morgan (possibly with Charles E. Barber)
Interesting facts: The first silver commemorative struck at a branch mint; first silver commemorative coin to depict Miss Liberty (Columbia).
1915-S Panama-Pacific International Exposition Half Dollar
(average market prices)
1920 MS-60 to 63 $1.25
1925 MS-60 to 63 $6
1930 MS-60 to 63 $12
1935 MS-60 to 63 $12
1936 (summer) MS-60 to 63 $18
1940 MS-60 to 63 $11
1945 MS-60 to 63 $17
1950 MS-60 to 63 $18
1955 MS-60 to 63 $35
1960 MS-60 to 63 $55
1965 MS-60 to 63 $100
1970 MS-60 to 63 $82
1975 MS-60 to 63 $325
1980 MS-60 to 63 $7,000
1985 MS-60 to 63 $1,250
1986 MS-60 $550, MS-63 $1,000, MS-64 $2,200, MS-65 $4,250
1990 (spring) MS-60 $375, MS-63 $950, MS-64 $1,800, MS-65 $4,500
1990 (December) MS-60 $275, MS-63 $650, MS-64 $1,350, MS-65 $3,250
Note: This issue experienced a tremendous run-up in the market of 1979-1980.