The gold $50 commemorative coins of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition complete the Exposition's five-coin "Everybody Wears a Hat" program via the depiction of Minerva
wearing a crested helmet on the obverse of both the round and octagonal varieties of the coin.
The two varieties of the coin share common obverse and reverse designs. The only difference between them, aside from their shape, is that the octagonal variety adds small dolphins in each of the coin's eight corners (obverse and reverse).
On the obverse of each coin is seen a left-facing portrait of Minerva
- the Roman goddess of "wisdom and statecraft" (1) She is depicted wearing a hat - a crested Roman helmet. The helmet is called a galea
, and was the helmet of Roman legionaries and centurions. Its most distinguishing feature is its crest or plume made of either horse hair or feathers. It is believed by many current historians that the crests on the helmets were more ceremonial vs. adornments seen on the battlefield. This is not known definitively, however, and some researchers believe the crests helped identify groups of soldiers and ranks of soldiers on the battlefield; the higher-ranking legionaries wore longitudinal crests (i.e., running from front to back) while the lower-ranked centurions wore transverse-mounted (i.e., side-to-side) crests.
Depictions of Minerva
generally show her wearing a helmet with a longitudinal crest - like on the coin - indicating she is a leader vs. a rank-and-file soldier - a fitting role for a goddess!
While a soldier's helmet might seem like an odd item for a goddess of "wisdom and statecraft" to wear, it's important to realize that Minerva
had other "responsibilities" assigned to her in the Roman religion. She was also the goddess of the Liberal Arts, Polity (i.e., Civil Government), Trade and War (among other things).
With War among her incumbencies, Minerva
in a Roman soldier's helmet seems perfectly natural. It seems safe to say, however, that within the context of a commemorative for the completion and opening of the Panama Canal - the purpose of the Exposition's coin program - Minerva
, depicted as the goddess of Wisdom is more fitting vs. as the goddess of War. After all, the Canal was not constructed to be an instrument of war, but, rather, an instrument in support of international trade and exchange. Its completion reflected the wisdom of many individuals; General Walter Reed, a US Army physician, for example. Without Reed's medical knowledge and research acumen (i.e., "wisdom"), along with the intelligence and creative ingenuity (i.e., "wisdom") of the engineers who developed the Canal's construction plan, its completion may either not have happened at all or it might have been delayed for many years! For me, helmet or no, Minerva
was included in the coin's design to symbolize wisdom and knowledge!
The coin was designed by Robert Aitken who would go on to create the designs for the 1921 Missouri Statehood Centennial half dollar and the 1935-36 California-Pacific International Exposition half dollar (aka "San Diego") - two other coins that features hats!1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition Gold $50 - Round Variety 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition Gold $50 - Octagonal Variety Image Credit: Images of both varieties courtesy of Heritage Auctions, http://www.ha.com
For more on the Pan-Pac Quintuple Eagles, see:
- 1915 Pan-Pac Gold $50 Coins - Mythology on Coins Thread
- 1915 Pan-Pac Gold $50 Coins - Coins Depicting the Animal Kingdom Thread
For other of my discussions of commemorative coins and medals, including Aitken's other coin designs, check out: Read More: Commems CollectionWorks Cited
1. Kelsey, Francis. An Outline of Greek and Roman Mythology
. Boston : Allyn and Bacon, 1889. p 33.