The Panama Pacific Exposition Commemorative half dollars was one of a group of 5 coins minted to mark the celebration of the opening of the Panama Canal in 1915. In addition to the silver half dollar there were Gold, $1, $2.50 pieces of standard size for the denomination and a couple of massive $50 gold pieces in both round and hexigonical format (these coins are discussed elsewhere).
The half dollar was designed and engraved by the same duo that created the Columbia exposition half, with Chief engraver Charles Barber creating the obverse and assistant engraver George Morgan engraving the reverse. The obverse image is dominated by Ms. Liberty slightly off center to the right. She faces left and is scattering flowers with outstretched arms from a cornucopia across a scene of the sun raising though the golden gate (devoid of buildings of the now famous bridge). Ms Liberty wears a Phrygian cap and is accompanied by a naked Cherub holding the cornucopia. Below the sunrise is a stripe of stylized waves, and below that the date and “S” mint mark.
All of the Pan-Pacific exposition coins were struck in San Francisco though many were actually struck at the fair itself rather than at the mint, where they were on sale singly for $1 or as part of a set. The inscription “Panama Pacific Exposition” circles the edge of the coin from about 8 o’clock to about 4 o’clock with Ms. Liberty’s head intruding between the last two words
The Reverse design shows a reprise of the Eagle from the back of the Morgan Dollar. Instead of holding the arrows and olive branch, the eagle stands on a shield flanked by an oak bough on the left and an olive branch on the right. The inscription “In God We Trust” is above the eagles head. This is the first use of the motto on a commemorative coin and perhaps points to the then ongoing political pressure being put on the mint to return the motto to the Saint-Gaudens $20 gold piece. Additional inscriptions include “United States of America” and “Half Dollar” in much larger block font along the edge of the coin. The eagles wings interrupting the first legend between “United” & “States” and again between “of” and “America”. The two inscriptions are divided by dots, and the shield extends to the rim of the coin and divides the words “Half” and “Dollar”.
Of the 200,000 authorized only 60,030 were eventually struck including 30 coins for assay. However sales were disappointing and eventually 32,866 were returned to the mint to be melted leaving a net mintage of only 27,134.
General Market Notes
With a fairly low mintage these coins are difficult to find in any grade and especially so in true Gem Uncirculated.