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An Improbable Medal Purchase



How did a medal I never knew existed become something I had to have in less than two months? Several improbable events, that’s how.


The improbable events started at the end of November as my wife, and I prepared to go on a cruise. Our 16-day cruise began in Los Angeles and ended almost 4,700 miles away in Miami through the Panama Canal. At the time, I was excited about transiting the Panama Canal. But I was especially thrilled to spend 16 days with my daughter, her husband, and my 17-month-old grandson.


I was all in on the canal when we finally reached Panama City. I gobbled up as much information about the canal as possible. I took dozens of pictures of one of the seven engineering wonders of the world. To this day, I’m soaking up all things Panama Canal. I even have a wallpaper image of the canal on my laptop!


When I got home, the most improbable event of all occurred. A few years ago, I decided to let my membership in the Central States Numismatic Society lapse in favor of PAN. When I went to the post office to pick up the mail, I noticed a large envelope with a return address to CSNS. Inside the envelope was their newly reformatted winter 2023 copy of “The Centinel” and a note asking me to come back. As an aside, I like “The Centinel’s” new format. At any rate, The Centinel had an article entitled “Commemorating the Big Ditch” by Juan L. Riera. The article described the opening of the Panama Canal on August 15, 1914, and the so-called dollar struck to commemorate it.


Do any of you have that “gotta have” coin for your collection on your want list? After reading the article, this so-called dollar (HK-398) immediately went from never heard of to first on my want list of “gotta have” pieces for my collection. I immediately went surfing on the internet to find my new must-have. I finally settled on a nice medal from a dealer I had previously dealt with. Having a medal available in the marketplace for me to purchase is the last improbable event in a long series of incredible events.


Fortunately, this medal was reasonably priced and now stands as the perfect addendum to a most memorable cruise! Add to the fact that this medal (1 of 50,000 serialized medals) was carried aboard the SS Cristobal. The Cristobal was the first ship to transit the Panama Canal on August 3, 1914. At the official opening of the canal on August 15, 1914, this medal was given to 200 dignitaries aboard the SS Ancon. The Ancon is the first official ship to transit the Panama Canal. Though this medal is 1 of 50,000, the dealer who sold me this medal estimates that only a couple hundred examples of it survive today. Perhaps the low survival rate can be attributed to the high international appeal of this medal scattered around the world.


This I do know that my medal graded MS-62 by NGC is among the nicer surviving examples. The design of the Panama Canal completion medal was recommended to the John F. Newman Co. of New York (manufacturer of the Panama Canal Completion medal) by Miss Elizabeth Rodman, cousin of Capt. Hugh Rodman, U.S.N., Supt. of Transportation, Canal Zone. Though the Panama Canal completion medal was copyrighted in 1913, the official issuing date of the medal is recognized as 1914.


This medal measures 38mm in diameter and is struck in bronze. The serial number marked on the reverse is 11138. The obverse of the medal features a woman standing on the prow of a ship transiting the Panama Canal. Her arms are outstretched, holding a ribbon. Under her hands are two globes, the eastern hemisphere on her right and the Western hemisphere on her left. The inscription on the ribbon, translated from Latin, is “Columbia unites the oceans.” The woman has rays of light emanating from her head. There is a banner over her head with the motto boldly proclaiming, “Prosperity to all Nations.” Though I can not find any documentation of the fact, I believe the woman is a personification of Columbia.


The reverse features an inscription under the seal of the Panama Canal Zone. It reads: Commemorating the opening of The Panama Canal to the Commerce of the World Copyrighted and Bearing A Serial number is one of 50000 Carried on the Vessel making the First Passage Through the Panama Canal as Authenticated in Certificate Signed by (signed) Geo. W. Goethals Chief Engineer and Chairman lsthmian Canal Commission.


A significant expansion to the Panama Canal opened on June 26, 2016. This new expansion allows much larger ships like my cruise ship, carrying 5000+ crew and passengers, to transit the canal. I am posting a picture I took of the Agua Clara locks as my ship exited the Panama Canal on the Atlantic side.



Winter 2023 edition of The Centinel, “Commemorating the Big Ditch” by Juan L. Riera






Recommended Comments

Very nice medal, and a great reason to buy it. It was very fortunate that you were able to find one in such good condition.

Interesting fact: Although the Pacific Ocean lies to the west of the Atlantic, the eastern end of the canal ends in the Pacific Ocean. 

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On 1/14/2023 at 1:24 PM, Just Bob said:

Very nice medal, and a great reason to buy it. It was very fortunate that you were able to find one in such good condition.

Interesting fact: Although the Pacific Ocean lies to the west of the Atlantic, the eastern end of the canal ends in the Pacific Ocean. 

The captain of our cruise ship announced the interesting fact you mention in your response to my journal as we sailed NW through the canal from the Pacific side to the Atlantic side. Our entire voyage in the Pacific was SE along the coast from Los Angeles in the Pacific time zone, to the Mountain time zone, to the Central time zone, and finally to the Eastern time zone in Panama. Our last port of call before Miami was east and north to Cartagena, Columbia on the continent of South America!


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Love the medal, the photo and the write up. Nice!  I had a private behind the scenes tour of the inner workings of the canal, underground and above ground, but did not travel through the canal by ship. Your photo is an interesting one as it makes the canal look a bit smaller than it really is, but shows the locks very nicely. Thanks for sharing. 

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Great medal! I have recently seen a documentary on the Panama canal - fascinating, and it would be great to see it in person.

Somewhere (?) I have a banknote from the Aguan Navigation and Improvement Company in Honduras from when they were raising funds to have the canal there. Obviously they lost to Panama xD

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If anyone is interested in the HK-398 So-Called Dollar medals, I own (2) NGC graded MS 65 examples. I would be willing to sell one of them to an interested person. Attached are pictures of one of the medals with a very low serial # of 1334.



Thank You,

Bruce Thomas CollectionHK-398OBVERSE.thumb.jpg.79dbe838aaecf99a547917cb6537773f.jpgHK-398REVERSE.thumb.jpg.65ef83f4b1cb04080711a7163922a886.jpg

Edited by Bruce Thomas Collection
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...now that u r hooked, ur panama canal collection will know no bounds...u can start looking for one of the two struck in gold...im not sure that the lady on the prow is columbia, perhaps it could be kate winslet :)....

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There are also varieties with no serial #'s (HK-398A), and with "Specimen" in place of the serial #'s (HK-398B). The two gold ones are catalogued as HK-1029. There are two of the HK-398A examples graded by NGC, and (3) of the HK-398B examples graded by NGC, but none of the gold variety have been graded or known to exist to my knowledge.

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