Investing in Gold: Pan Pacific Exposition of 1915 honors California’s roots |

Investing in Gold: Pan Pacific Exposition of 1915 honors California’s roots

Allen Rowe
For the Nevada Appeal
courtesyThe obverse of the octagonal variety of the PanPacific $50 gold coins is seen.

In 1915, San Francisco celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal. One of the numismatic legacies left behind from the exposition was derived from a California legacy. At the exposition, the mint was commissioned to strike up to 3,000 $50 gold coins. Half were to be a traditional round design and the other half were to be of the octagonal shape. Mintage figures had 1,509 octagonal and 1,509 round coins produced, but sales were only 645 for the octagonal coins and 483 for the round version. The octagonal design sold better since it had a unique shape. The rest were later destroyed.

The $50 gold coin began its roots in California’s gold rush era. With the lack of currency out West, private minters made their own coins to conduct commerce with. One of the most famous was the $50 coin. August Humbert was appointed United States Assayer and was the most prolific in the manufacture of these early pieces. All of his designs, whether under his name or the name United States Assay office, were made in the octagonal form. The only other private $50 gold coin made was by a company called Wass, Molitor & Co. Its design was the more typical round design. Private minters faded away when the San Francisco mint opened in 1854, but their coins and legends have remained in circulation ever since.

The $50 coins of 1915 are the largest denomination coin the U.S. Government had put out until the modern era of bullion. Weighing in at around two and a half ounces, these $50 gold coins were, and still are, an impressive coin. Both coins featured the same central designs on both the obverse and reverse, but with the octagonal the odd shaped spaces left by having corners were filled with dolphins. These coins were honoring California’s golden beginning by repeating a rare size of coinage.

In 1915, $50 was a tremendous sum of money to spend on a collectible just for a keepsake. Unlike the earlier $50 coins made by private minters, these coins were not intended to be spent and thus not all of the coins minted found homes. Sold by themselves or in a set with the other commemorative coins from the exposition, the $50 coins were fondly regarded. Unfortunately most of the fondness was in the form of admiration, and thus a majority went back into the melting pot.

Today these $50 gold coins still are impressive and admirable not only to numismatists, but to anyone who can appreciate history and value. Rarer now than when they were made because of the melting, the Pan Pacific $50 gold coins are the pinnacle of any numismatists collection. Uncirculated coins fetch anywhere from around $40,000 to well over $400,000 for the finest specimen and owning one is the dream of many collectors.

• Allen Rowe is the owner of Northern Nevada Coin in Carson City.