Commemorative coins replicating designs of coins issued to mark the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco are the focus of identical bills now pending in both houses of Congress.
The bills, both named the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and Panama Canal Commemorative Coins Act, seek the issuance in 2015 of round and octagonal gold $5 coins and a copper-nickel clad half dollar with designs closely replicating those used on the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition commemorative coins, and a silver dollar with designs based on a medal awarded to workers on the Panama Canal.
The 1915 commemorative coin program offered round and octagonal gold $50 coins, a gold $2.50 quarter eagle, a gold dollar and a silver half dollar.
H.R. 6331 was introduced Aug. 2 by Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., and S. 3517 was introduced the same day by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
The bills were referred to the House Committee on Financial Services and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.
The bills seek authorization for the U.S. Mint to strike not more than:
➤ 50,000 gold $5 coins, octagonal in shape, weighing 8.359 grams and bearing a distance “between two opposing vertices of 0.850 inches.”
➤ 50,000 round gold $5 coins.
➤ 500,000 silver dollars.
➤ 500,000 clad half dollars.
Both bills state that the design of the coins “shall be a close likeness of the two gold and one half dollar coins issued by the San Francisco Mint at the opening of the Pan-Pacific Exposition and the medal awarded to every United States citizen who worked for a continuous two-year period on the construction of the Panama Canal.”
Gold coin designs specified
The designs of the gold $5 coins would be based on the designs used for the 1915 gold $50 coins. Robert Aitken designed the 1915 gold coins.
The obverse of the 2015 $5 coin would depict the head of the goddess Minerva “with a Corinthian-style helmet, enclosed in a ring of beads. The reverse design would depict an owl perched on a pine bough complete with four pine cones and multiple sprigs of pine needles surrounded by the same ring of beads on the obverse.”
The legislation would require use of the 1915 inscriptions, with PANAMA-PACIFIC EXPOSITION and SAN FRANCISCO to appear in a single line of text circling the entire rim on the reverse, the words separated by dots, all positioned outside the ring of beads.
In addition, the obverse and reverse of the octagonal gold $5 coins would have to feature a design that depicts “in the eight angles of the vertices, eight stylized dolphins that form an outer circle.” That same dolphins feature was used on the octagonal 1915 coin.
Silver dollar design
The design for the silver dollar would bear “a close likeness of the Roosevelt Medal that was awarded to every United States citizen who worked for a continuous two-year period on the construction of the Panama Canal.”
The medal was designed by Francis Davis Millet in 1908. Millet died in the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912.
The obverse would bear the image of Theodore Roosevelt as used on the medal. Roosevelt inaugurated the American effort to build the canal.
The reverse would depict the Culebra Cut, also depicted on the medal. The cut is a nine-mile long, 272-foot deep excavation through the Cordillera Mountains. The Culebra Cut, now known as the Gaillard Cut, is an artificial valley that forms part of the Panama Canal.
The reverse design would also have the medal text THE LAND DIVIDED, THE WORLD UNITED inscribed on the horizon, above the image of the artificial valley. It would also display the legend PRESENTED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES around the border, although a provision in the legislation would allow the Treasury secretary to omit this latter legend after consultation with the Commission of Fine Arts and review by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee.
Clad-half dollar design
The copper-nickel clad half dollar coins would be “a close likeness” of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition half dollar featuring an “obverse depicting Columbia scattering flowers from a cornucopia held by a small child towards a sunset on the Golden Gate (prior to the construction of the now famous bridge).” The original 1915 coin design was credited to the United States Mint Chief Engraver Charles Barber.
The reverse would depict an “eagle resting on the Union shield with an oak branch to its left, for stability and strength, and an olive branch to its right, for peace.” The original 1915 coin design was credited to Barber’s assistant, George T. Morgan.
The inscription of the year on the gold $5 coins and the copper-nickel clad half dollar would be in Roman numerals MMXV; 2015 would be used on the silver dollar.
The final form of the designs would be selected by the Treasury secretary after consultation with the Commission of Fine Arts and review by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee.
The coins would be struck at one Mint facility, not named, for a period of one year beginning Jan. 1, 2015.
The surcharges attached to the price of each coin would be $35 for the gold $5 coins, $10 for the silver dollar and $5 for the copper-nickel clad half dollars.
Both bills specify that 75 percent of the surcharges collection should go to the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society for the design and construction of appropriate exhibitions in the San Francisco Museum, including the necessary adaptive reuse of the Old San Francisco Mint to commemorate the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, as well as the development of appropriate exhibitions at the Palace of Fine Arts on the ground of the former Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
The remaining 25 percent of any surcharges would go to the National Parks Foundation to be used for programs, construction, or preservation work at President Theodore Roosevelt’s home in Oyster Bay, N.Y.
The 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition marked the completion of the Panama Canal and the 400th anniversary of the sighting of the Pacific Ocean by Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa.
In honor of the exposition, Congress authorized the U.S. Mint to issue five different coins dated 1915 to be issued in connection with the expo. The coins were struck at the San Francisco Mint and were the first commemorative coins to bear the motto IN GOD WE TRUST.
The coins were the Panama-Pacific silver half dollar and four gold coins in denominations of $1, $2.50 and $50, the latter in round and octagonal versions. ■