2015 Panama Pacific Centennial Commemorative Coins Proposed


Earlier this month, new legislation has been proposed in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate calling for commemorative coins to be issued in 2015 that recognize the centennial of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and the Panama Canal.

1915 Panama-Pacific Five-Coin Set
Examples of Panama-Pacific coins that went up for auction by Bonhams in its September Rare Coins and Medals Auction in 2011. This set included a 1915-S $50 Round, 1915-S 50C, 1915-S $50 Octagonal, 1915-S G$1 and a 1915-S $2.5. (Click to enlarge image.)

In 1915, San Francisco, California hosted the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a world’s fair that celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal, which opened on August 15, 1914, and observed the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Pacific Ocean by the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa. It was also an opportunity to revive the city following the devastating earthquake and fire of 1906.

Five different coins, as well as several medals, were produced by the U.S. Mint in San Francisco in connection with that world’s fair. Several thousand sold, but the unsold issues were eventually melted. Of the survivors, the highly graded gold 1915-S $50 Octagonal and the $50 Round Panama-Pacific Exposition coins, and others, have been prized pieces among numismatists.

The bills that were introduced, H.R. 6331 and S. 3517 titled the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and Panama Canal Commemorative Coins Act, require four kinds of coins somewhat similar to the originals, in both uncirculated and proof qualities.

  • up to 50,000 of the $5 octagonal gold coins
  • up to 50,000 of the $5 round gold coins
  • up to 500,000 silver dollars
  • up to 500,000 clad half dollars

Designs on the gold coins would be a close likeness of the 1915 octagonal and round $50 gold coins, depicting the goddess Minerva wearing a Corinthian-style helmet on the obverse and an owl on the reverse. The silver dollars will bear a likeness of the former Roosevelt Medal that was awarded to every U.S. worker of the Panama Canal. A portrait of President Theodore Roosevelt will be on the obverse and an image of Culebra Cut, the deep excavation through the Cordillera Mountains that is part of the Panama Canal, on the reverse with the inscription, "THE LAND DIVIDED, THE WORLD UNITED."

New clad half dollars will sport a similar design of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Expo half dollar coin, which portrays Columbia scattering flowers from a cornucopia held by a small child on the obverse. In the background is a sunset on the horizon. It was originally drawn by Charles Barber, former U.S. Mint Chief Engraver. The reverse, designed by George T. Morgan, would depict an eagle atop the union shield.

Surcharges on the proposed Panama-Pacific International Exposition and Panama Canal Commemorative Coins minted in San Francisco would raise funds to benefit two separate institutes. Three-fourths of the surcharges would be paid to the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society and the other one-fourth would go towards the National Park Foundation for President Theodore Roosevelt’s home in Oyster Bay, New York.

Like many modern commemoratives, the sale of each $5 gold coin would carry a $35 surcharge, the $1 silver coin would have a $10 surcharge, and the surcharge for the clad half dollar would be $5.

In order for coin legislation to become law, one version of the bills must pass in both the House and the Senate. Then it must be signed by the President.

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Once again no trust or respect (but rightly so) for the current crop of US Mint coin designers and sculptors and falling back to designs from 100 yrs ago. Though designed by Robert Aitken these aren’t nearly as great as those by Saint-Gaudens or Weinman but the choice does show a lack of confidence in today’s artisans.

BTW, eBay has the original set MS64 for only $265,000.