The 1915-S Panama-Pacific quarter eagle was certainly a historic coin, but as sometimes happens it was also an overlooked coin. It has an interesting story and deserves to be considered as a lesser-known but important coin of the United States commemorative series from before 1982.
It?s safe to say that those who proposed the Panama-Pacific commemorative program were not the least bit timid. When it was finally approved, the program included a half dollar, gold dollar, gold quarter eagle, and a round and octagonal gold $50. It was enormous by today?s standards. By the standards of commemoratives in 1915, it was in a class by itself.
The idea was to raise money for the 1915 Exposition that was to mark the opening of the Panama Canal. They could have built another canal if all the authorized coins had sold, but there were very few collectors at the time who were likely to buy even one gold $50, much less two.
Except for the half dollar, the other coins probably received little attention. After all, the $50 would dominate promotion and if a buyer could not afford a $50, a gold dollar or quarter eagle would seem insignificant in comparison.
The lower denominations do have some interesting designs. Chief Engraver Charles Barber and his assistant George T. Morgan of Morgan dollar fame teamed up to design the half dollar and quarter eagle. The quarter eagle?s obverse shows Columbia seated on a hippocampus with a caduceus in her left hand, all of which was supposed to signify the use of the Panama Canal. The reverse has an eagle with raised wings. It is quite a busy design for such a small coin.
The person responsible for the challenging task of selling the 1915-S Panama-Pacific Exposition quarter eagle was Farran Zerbe. In June of 1915 the San Francisco Mint produced 10,017 quarter eagles. Basically all of them were delivered to Zerbe.
In November of the next year a total of 3,251 were returned to be melted, leaving a low total mintage of 6,749 pieces. How many of that mintage had been sold at the Exposition? The general belief is that Zerbe kept a significant number to try to sell over the years that followed. It could not have been easy around 1920 to sell quarter eagle commemoratives because it was too much money for most collectors. Those who did buy one should have been fairly happy with their purchase.
The Panama-Pacific quarter eagle?s very low mintage explains why it has always done fairly well in terms of price. Today it is at $2,100 in MS-60, and that price goes up to $8,000 in MS-65.
Limited demand is about the only thing holding back this issue in terms of price. Until demand increases for historic gold commemoratives, the Panama-Pacific quarter eagle will remain fairly stable in price.