Proposed 2015 Panama Pacific Centennial Commemorative Coins

Earlier this month, bills were introduced in both the House and Senate which seek to authorize a commemorative coin program to mark the centennial of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and the Panama Canal. The proposed program drew immediate interest from collectors since it would feature designs from popular early commemorative coins.

If approved, the program would include four different coins:

  • $5 Octagonal Gold Coins with a maximum mintage of 50,000. The coins would have a weight of 8.359 grams, distance between opposing vertices of 0.850 inches, and composition of 90% gold and 10% alloy.
  • $5 Round Gold Coins with a maximum mintage of 50,000. The coins would have a weight of 8.359 grams, diameter of 0.850 inches, and composition of 90% gold and 10% alloy.
  • Silver Dollars with a maximum mintage of 500,000. The coins would have a weight of 26.73 grams, diameter of 1.500 inches, and composition of 90% silver and 10% copper.
  • Half Dollars with a maximum mintage of 500,000. The coins would have a weight of 11.34 grams, diameter of 1.205 inches, and the copper-nickel clad composition used for current half dollar coins.

The designs for the two gold coins would be a close likeness of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition $50 Gold Piece. This is one of the most prized early commemorative coins, which had a mintage of 483 for the round version and 645 for the octagonal version. Designed by Robert Aitken, the obverse features the helmeted head of Minerva with an owl as the symbol of wisdom on the reverse. The octagonal version of the coin has dolphins at the vertices.

The design for the silver dollar would be a close likeness of the Roosevelt Medal, which was awarded to every citizen who worked for a continuous two year period on the construction of the Panama Canal. Designed by F.D. Millet, the obverse features a portrait of Theodore Roosevelt and the reverse features the Culebra Cut, a 9-mile, 272-foot-deep excavation through the Cordillera Mountains. An image of the medal can be found here.

The design for the half dollar would be a close likeness of the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition Half Dollar. This coin is often noted as one of the most beautiful of the early commemoratives. The obverse design by Charles Barber features Columbia with the rays of the sun and the golden gate in the background and a cherub holding a cornucopia. The reverse by Charles Morgan features an eagle perched on the Union Shield with branches of oak and olive to each side.

Although the prospect of seeing some of the most beautiful designs from early commemorative coins on modern coins is exciting, there were a few aspects of the proposed program that tempered my enthusiasm.

Part of the impressive nature of the original Panama-Pacific $50 Gold Piece is the physical size. The original specifications are 83.55 grams (about 2.5 times the weight of the classic double eagle) with a diameter of 50.8 mm or 2 inches. The proposal for the new version shrinks the size down to 8.359 grams (one-tenth of the original weight) and shrinks the diameter to 0.85 inches.

Almost certainly, the reduced size was selected in order to keep the cost of the coin low, but it takes something away from the historical appeal of the design. Alternately, they could have specified for the coins to contain one ounce of gold, used a wider diameter, and kept the original denomination of $50. Even though the coins would be higher priced, I think sales would still do reasonably well. The 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle, which contained one ounce of gold managed to sell more than 100,000 pieces when it was offered.

The second aspect that I found unusual with this program is the requirement for the half dollar to be struck with the copper-nickel clad composition. The original Panama Pacific Half Dollar was struck in 90% silver and I feel that this composition should be retained for the modern version. Although the vast majority of modern commemorative half dollars are struck in clad composition, there have been a few exceptions in the past. The 1982 George Washington Half Dollar, which began the modern era, was struck in 90% silver. More than a decade later and after other half dollars had been issued in clad, the 1993 James Madison Half Dollar was stuck in 90% silver. Last year I noted a change in the general quality and finish used for clad composition commemorative half dollars, which makes the case for using silver even stronger.

Another option would be to use the half dollar design for the modern silver dollar, and feature the design from the Roosevelt Medal on the half dollar and use the clad composition.

At any rate, the bill is a long way from becoming law. The House version of the bill has no cosponsors and the Senate version has only a single cosponsor. As discussed in the previous post, in order to be considered for a vote, two-thirds of each house must co-sponsor a bill. The bill also competes with other proposals for 2015 programs, one of which has already been passed in the House. Tomorrow, I will present a complete summary of introduced legislation and approved programs.

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  1. In the middle says

    I would by a full sized coin. To reduce cost they could make it 14 or 10 K. I think the mint is missing a rare opportunity.

  2. Tom Dvorak says

    Absolutely agree with you, the $5 half eagle size is too small for the PanPac designs . . . and the PanPac half dollar design would look great on a silver half dollar — not clad. I had these same thoughts when I first read about this program. I suppose one option in between the $5 half eagle size and the full one-ounce $50 size (which I prefer and would buy) would be to do these as $10 eagle coins — this would, in my opinion, be the minimum size that would work for those designs and would be more affordable.

  3. Brother DKE says

    I would rather see a full $50 piece made of at least 1 oz gold. The proposed design size is way too small.

  4. Harry Baskins says

    Time for the MInt to be bold and make the 1 oz gold. Those $5 coins are microscopic. Also the gold should be 24K. I would even prefer a 5 oz gold coin.

  5. Two Cents says

    Another viable option would be to mint two-ounce 90% GOLD coins with the Minerva/Owl design and two-ounce 90% SILVER coins with gold plating. They could be minted at West Point with the “W” mintmark and at San Francisco with the “S” mintmark to differentiate between the two metallic compositions. Even edge lettering to denote “.900 gold” or “.900 silver” could be utilized.

    This would bring the diameter of the coins closer to the original coin, and the two metallic compositions would allow collectors with deep pockets and collectors of more modest means to purchase the coins.

    An alternate option would be to mint one-ounce coins in gold and silver w/ gold plating. The impact of the design would be smaller, but still a lot bigger than putting it on a smallish .850 inch coin.

    As for the original half dollar design, I agree with other posters that it would be a lot better for it to be on the proposed silver dollar coin.

    For the proposed half dollar, I would suggest that the original 1915 $1 and $2.50 Panama-Pacific gold commemoratives be used. The obverse of the $1 coin was the head of a Pan-Pac worker wearing a cap, and the $2.50 obverse was Columbia riding a hippocampus (half horse, half fish). The half dollar coin could combine the two designs for the obverse and reverse … OR two half dollars could be minted with each design. The metallic composition would remain copper-nickel clad.

    Visually and historically, these two previous designs would be more pleasing and appropriate than the rather mundane presidential portrait and trench designs of the proposed silver dollar.

    In regards to commemorative programs that come up in Congress, it would be helpful to have input from the collecting fraternity. Not only are we the ones that these coins are marketed to, but we also have historical and practical insight into what works and what doesn’t.

  6. says

    I agree with the author and the other commenters here. The half dollar design should unquestionably be produced as a silver dollar. The TR coin proposal doesn’t excite me as much as the other two and really ought to be switched with the half dollar proposal.

    I likewise agree on the one ounce coin proposal.

    Nonetheless, in spite of the flaws in the legislation, I still really like this idea and hope it passes in Congress. The US Mint would make a lot of money from the sales of these coins. I can see the half dollar being extremely popular due to the design quality, even though I think it should be on the silver coin. I think the octagonal gold coins will do similarly well regardless of size.

    I want to add that I’m not too sure how sales of the round variety of the gold coin are going to go, however. I think people will primarily want to buy the octagon golds.

  7. Richard says

    I don’t believe these will sell to the mature collectors unless they are recreated such as original .The down side to being reproduced as original the $50 piece will be in the sky pricey but may be worth the price if mintage is kept low.The Silver piece should be 100% silver and the numbers are large.The mint still hasn’t figured out what the collector wants.

  8. merryxmasmrscrooge says

    if clad does not sell, it will be a key.
    so it is bound to sell a fair volume.

  9. Shutter says

    It’s too bad that they are ignoring the Pan-Pac quarter eagle. I happen to like that design more than the $50. On a larger coin ($5 or $10) it could have been awesome.

    Oh, and I agree that commemorative halves should be struck in silver.

  10. TNGSHAPN says


  11. Natatack says

    I agree about the larger size for the gold coin at least 1/2oz if not 1 oz and lower the mintage to say 100,000 total between the round and octagonal and have a limited window for ordering like one or two months. Of course knowing the mint one month after the closing date they will introduce a Making Panama Coin and Currency Set and include the octagonal gold. Fool me once…….

  12. Richard says

    After the fret and venom of the limited mintage 25th an set I believe Uncle Sam is a lot gun shy but with a true to life $50 one ounce gold version and a silver one ounce coin !! This could be a real barn burner.Let the games begin.

  13. Auxmike says

    Too bad it would be two years till you could buy one. By then the markets could crash and burn and we’d all be too broke to buy the things!

  14. VA Bob says

    Agree with everyone on the metal compositions and sizes (tho 5oz gold idea would kill it for the majority of collectors). My question is WHY re-create these classic coins? Are we that bankrupt of artistic talent that we cannot do something new? I’m not suggesting that it not have a “classic” appearance, as I would enjoy that, but aren’t we through with the reproduction “era” yet. At this rate there will never be any “classic” coins in the future from this time frame. Our best years seem to be 60+ years back. Come on Mint/Congress… let’s stop micro managing the artists creativity. Rant over.

  15. paladin says

    As long as the Mint refuses to acknowledge input from the collecting community, they will continue to miss the mark with their releases. Consequently, I’ve chosen to treat the Mint in the same way they’ve been treating collectors; by ignoring their PC pablum masquerading as coinage and commems.

  16. Blair J. Tobler says

    VA Bob, I totally agree. These have been done before – why do them again? I don’t mind commemorating the 100th anniversary, but use new designs. Though I would like to see an octagonal coin….

  17. Richard W says

    Collectors are hungry for new original art work classic American.The only real success have been reproductions of what I would refer to as classic previously used works.Lady Liberty,The American Buffalo,The Eagle,The Indian Chieftain.I Personally want to see more original works of our American History.There is much that has not been touched.Sports hall of farmers NO No.Open our history bookslease restimulate us.We ‘re beging.

  18. Shutter says

    I generally agree with preference for new designs rather than recycling old ones all the time. I also wholeheartedly agree with VA Bob: let’s stop micro managing the artists creativity

    However, it’s unfair to suggest that the Mint doesn’t produce many new designs. This year alone the mint is producing the following coins with at least one side completely new:
    3 Commemoratives
    4 Presidents
    4 First spouses
    5 ATB quarters
    1 Platinum proof
    That’s 17 coins, not counting medals. Some designs are good, some not so much.

  19. george glazener says

    Has anyone bought any of those 1 oz. copper rounds with the classic engravings? Are they as nice looking in hand as you thought?

  20. Richard W says

    No one is breaking down the doors to buy this stuff.The collectors love this classic including the reproductions.

  21. Richard W says

    No one is breaking down the doors to buy this stuff.The collectors love thie classic work including the reproductions.

  22. Shutter says

    The Platinum is an exception ,have the rest wowed you?
    Actually, I didn’t much care for this year’s platinum. The 2012 ATB coins are pretty awesome (and the best of the series so far), and I really like both SSB designs. One coin I forgot about that was pretty good is the 2012 Sacagawea. The Infantry design looked so-so on paper, but grew on me once I got a close look at it, especially in proof. The less is said about presidential coins and FS, the better.

  23. TomP says

    Seriously, they should have recreated the original $50 gold piece. 99% wouldn’t be able to afford it, but that’s not the point. 99% couldn’t afford the original $50 piece…. at $50. They could sell about 10,000 @ $5000.

    Canada sells 1 kilo gold coins and obviously isn’t worried about the price… and they sell out.

  24. VA Bob says

    Too much government influence on what the mint specifically puts on coins IMO. Give them a theme and a number and let them run with it. That’s all I’ll say about it.

    The ATB reverses are nice (much better than the State Quarters IMO). But 2 things would have made it better: Obverse change (TR) for the series and Denomination change for the 5oz coins. I also believe the two, LONG programs are bad… people seem to get bored too quickly and perhaps some collectors can’t embark on two programs lasting 20+ years (like it or not the majority of our hobby is older folks, I’m old and would probably be referred to as sonny at most shows). I do realize some commenters here like new designs every three or four months in a European like fashion. I get that. My preference is a change ever 10 years or so, maybe alternate obv. and rev. change so you get a completely new coin every 20 years. Much less clad junk to collect. Is anyone really happy they now have 3 next to worthless lens in there proof sets each year instead of one? They add up over the years.

    A better use for reoccurring reverse changes would be to use the half dollar. Bigger canvas. The mint makes <2 million now the way it is for collectors, demand might even increase. Most of the kids today and foreign visitors to the US might not get as confused with a pocketful of change. Two different designs a year should be enough, as we will probably be on the presidents pet dogs or state birds by then.

  25. VA Bob says

    TomP – Those gold 1 kilo coins are for the 1%ers! LOL. Seriously, $5k would probably kill my collecting for any other products in a given year… so I’d be out. Plus, I believe there would be a bit of backlash from many collectors. Real or presumed anti-corporate greed seems to be in vogue these last few years in the US.

    I would be curious to know the actual overhead for the various world mints to produce such a coin. If I were a betting man, I’d say the US is probably the highest. That in of itself would make it difficult to make such a coin here IMO.

  26. ms says

    The half dollar should be a circulating commemorative with a mintage of at least a hundred million pieces. Life would be nicer if one could get coins like that from every cash register.

  27. VA Bob says

    ms – The issue is getting people to use them. Until the paper dollar goes away I can’t see it happening. Personally, I’d like to see the “Ike” sized, large dollar come back if that happens. When you give a dollar when it such have been a quarter or vis versa then we’ll see why people didn’t like using SBA or Sac’s for that matter. The size excuse IMO is lame… how many people carry $5 in change in their pockets? Not many. The large coins would encourage you to spend them so you don’t walk around with $20 in change in ones pocket.

  28. hi ho silver says

    I think the IKE Dollar was dis continued because of germ probloems…… I may be wrong……. but the dollar note is alive and kicking !

  29. Richard W says

    All the Golden Presidential Dollars are good for is wearing holes in your pockets,and weighting your womans purse.

  30. Rick says

    I am for reissuing 100th anniversary Pan Pac $50 gold pieces with the original specifications. Yeah, that 2-1/2 ounces a gold. It ain’t gonna be cheap but considering most of us were not around the first time these historic beauties were issued, and the price they are at today, this would be a once in a life time opportunity. I would pony up the coin for one. Just look at what happened the the price of the Ultra High Relief. Who would have thought where the price would be today.

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