Five-Piece 1879-1880 Stella Pattern Set, Gilt Copper
1879-1880 Five-Piece Stella Pattern Set, Gilt Copper, Including
the Quintuple Stella, PR62 to to PR64 NGC.
Including the Famed Quintuple Stella, PR62 to PR64
"Gold is a fine thing
For those who admire it.
Gold is like the sun,
But I am a child
Of the moon, and silver
Is the metal of the moon."
--Douglas Moore and John Latouche
The Ballad of Baby Doe
The issue of bimetallism dominated much of global political and economic discourse during the second half of the 19th century, accompanied by the search for effective forms of coinage to promote international exchange.
Not only the 1879-80 stella/quintuple stella issues, but also the 1874 Bickford eagle (Judd-1373 through 1378) and the 1868 dual-national 5 dollars/25 francs coins, issued by both the United States and France (Judd-656 through 659; VG3703/Maz 1745), were outgrowths of this search.
The period began in 1848, with the revelation of massive quantities of gold in California, and ended only with U.S. presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan's famous "Cross of Gold" speech and his subsequent defeat in the 1896 campaign.
The year 1851 saw further gold flows into international markets, this time from Australian lodes. The result of such sudden oversupply was a reduction in the price of an ounce of gold--in effect, making an ounce of silver more valuable in relation. Silver coins began disappearing in the United States, subject to widespread exportation, hoarding, and melting--or all three. Nor was the silver situation limited to the United States: France had minted millions of gold coins between 1848 and 1860, while its silver coinage continued to disappear via exports to China and India.
The French franc, meanwhile, assumed increasing importance, first in Belgium with its independence in 1830, then Switzerland in 1848, and Italy in 1861. The Latin Monetary Union, founded officially in 1865 with France as principal member, along with Belgium, Italy, Greece, and Switzerland, was official recognition by some of the countries that had unofficially adopted the franc as a uniform currency. A forerunner of today's "Eurozone," the LMU agreed on a bimetallic fixed ratio of 15:1 for silver and gold and to freely convert between gold and silver coins at that ratio. Many other countries followed suit, although not all officially joined the LMU. The countries continued making coins in their local currencies--lire, francs, drachmas, pesetas, leu--but all were based on the French franc and backed by gold and/or silver.
In 1867, delegates from 20 countries debated the feasibility of a global currency at a Paris international monetary conference. The conferees recommend a gold standard, a decimal-based coinage system, and that all member states coordinate their coinage with the French system. As mentioned, the 1868-dated dual-denomination 5 dollars and 25 francs coins issued by the United States and France were one result of the conference. However, France's defeat in the 1871 Franco-Prussian War ended support for a French-based system.
Concurrently, some European nations, notably Germany and Great Britain, were already en route to adopting an all-gold standard. But in the United States, beginning in 1865 and continuing through the 1870s, the inverse of the 1850s gold surplus occurred. This time, the Comstock Lode in Nevada--discovered in 1859 and reaching peak production in 1876-78--was the prime source of a silver oversupply on the domestic and global markets. In 1871 Germany adopted a gold standard, demonetized silver, and dumped 8,000 tons of silver onto the world market. By 1873 the Latin Monetary Union was forced to abandon convertibility between gold and silver, adopting a de facto gold standard.
Similarly, in America the Coinage Act of 1873 (or the "Crime of '73") legislated silver trimes and half dimes out of existence, omitted Liberty Seated silver dollars from the list of authorized coins, introduced the Trade dollar, increased minor coins' silver content, and effectively put the United States on the gold standard.
While much of the rest of the world considered or had adopted a gold standard, increasingly powerful silver mining interests in the American West tried to resurrect bimetallism on an international scale. A further international monetary conference, called in 1878 by the United States, endeavored unsuccessfully to promote a world bimetallic standard, but both France and Great Britain were unwilling to abandon a gold standard.
Contemporaneous with these global economic waves were U.S. patterns produced due to the influence of various American numismatic personalities, chiefly Dana Bickford, John A. Kasson, and Dr. Wheeler Hubbell. Bickford, a New York City businessman, proposed an international coin issue in 1874 that would allow several different countries to keep their own designs on one side, while the other side would advertise values in the local currency and that of several other countries. More than a century later, the introduction of the euro allowed a similar design approach, although a common unit of currency united the coins of different nations.
The story of John A. Kasson, minister plenipotentiary to the Austro-Hungarian empire, and his support for the stella (and quintuple stella) coinage is well-known, but it is intimately tied up with the story of Dr. Hubbell, an eccentric 19th century inventor. Hubbell's basic 1877 patent for "goloid" metal specified an amalgam of 1 part gold (about 3.6%), 24 parts silver ( about 87.3%), and 2.5 parts copper (9.1%, all by weight) but further specified that the proportions could vary slightly. The 1879-1880 stella/quintuple stella patterns and the 1878-1880 goloid/goloid metric dollars (the terminology varies) were attempts to fulfill another aim of Kasson and the Latin Monetary Union: promotion of the metric system for international exchange. The goloid compositions failed because the resulting coins (if, indeed, they were ever produced in those compositions) were indistinguishable from ordinary coinage made out of .900 fine coin silver.
The fight for a bimetallic standard in the United States raged on, bolstered first by the 1878 passage of the Bland-Allison Act providing for large amounts of silver dollars to be coined, again in 1890 via the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, further increasing the amount of domestic silver the government was obligated to buy every month.
The 1893 repeal of the Sherman Act devastated the silver market, but silver-tongued orator William Jennings Bryan nonetheless stumped the country during his campaign for president from 1894-96, campaigning for "Free Silver" until his resounding loss to William McKinley. American voters had effectively decided upon a monometallic gold standard to be the "finer thing"--despite the sentiments of "Baby Doe" Tabor. In 1900 a law was passed firmly committing the United States to the gold standard--a standard that would persist unchanged until the Gold Recall of 1933.
The present offering of a five-piece set (as individual lots) containing the 1879- and 1880-dated Flowing Hair and Coiled Hair stellas struck in copper and gilt (or gold-plated), along with the legendary 1879 quintuple stella, crystallizes in coinage form the experiments with the metric system and toward an internationally accepted coinage. Even though the offering comprises a mere five coins, this forms one of the most prestigious pattern collections Heritage has ever had the privilege to handle. The set comprises:
Judd-1636 1879 Flowing Hair Stella Pattern
Struck in Copper, Gilt, PR64, Low R.7
Far Rarer Than the Gold Specimens
1879 Flowing Hair Four Dollar Stella, Judd-1636, Pollock-1834, Low R.7, PR64 Gilt NGC.
Design. The Charles Barber 1879 Flowing Hair stella design, Large Head (neck tip extends well past the 1 in the date). A profile of Liberty with flowing hair faces left, LIBERTY on her coronet. The rim inscription is punctuated by stars--6G.3S.7C7GRAMS--and the date 1879 in large numerals is below. The reverse displays a prominent five-pointed star with the inscription ONE STELLA / 400 CENTS incused inside. The large letters for the outer inscription read UNITED STATES OF AMERICA / FOUR DOL., while smaller secondary letters encircling read E PLURIBUS UNUM / DEO EST GLORIA ("To God be the glory"). Struck in copper, gilt, with a reeded edge.
Commentary. The Charles Barber 1879 Flowing Hair stella design is the most widely available by far of the stellas--in gold (Judd-1635). Several hundred are known in the precious metal. Copper strikings of the 1879 Flowing Hair are far more elusive, likely surviving to the extent of only a dozen or more. Some of them have been gilt, almost certainly at the Mint before release, to simulate the gold pieces.
The Judd-1635 was distributed in three-piece sets along with the two one dollar patterns, the Judd-1617 and Judd-1626 goloid metric dollars. (Similar sets were sold in 1880.) The 1879 "original" gold stellas were believed struck to the extent of 15 pieces in the goloid alloy displayed on these coins, namely 85.71% gold, 4.29% silver, and 10% copper. The 15 "originals" were quite popular and accompanied by a later mintage from 400-700 pieces, all showing planchet striations in the centers (usually on both sides) indicative of striking on standard 90% gold planchets 80% of the thickness of a half eagle--yielding the desired content for a four dollar gold piece. (As time passes and no 1879 Flowing Hair gold stellas appear sans planchet striations, most numismatists have concluded that no "originals" were ever struck in the metric alloy--or else they were melted later.)
The three-piece sets with the gold stella and the two goloid metric dollars were sold, first to Congressmen for $6.10, later to the collecting public for $15. An early appearance of one of these sets was in the William Jenks Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 6/1883), lot 848: "1879 The Goloid stella metric set, gold stella or $4 piece; Goloid dollar and silver metric dollar; proofs, rare. 3 pieces." The set realized $11.50. If the consignor was a Congressman, he made a profit; if he was a collector, he lost money--a typical scenario for the time.
While we lack hard evidence, from the similar numbers of apparent survivors in copper, a strong case could be made that the Mint issued perhaps 15 or so three-piece copper sets in 1879, with a few sets being gilt or gold-plated just after their manufacture. Although advanced collectors can obtain a top-notch gold 1879 Flowing Hair stella with sufficient funds and patience, opportunities for a copper example, gilt or not, are far more fleeting.
Physical Description. The fully struck surfaces on this near-Gem proof offer even, consistent yellow-gold color, with no distracting signs of contact or surface impairment. Close to a Gem grade, with superlative eye appeal and immense historic importance to advanced pattern collectors. Interestingly, the horizontal high-point striations appear under magnification on this copper piece, just as they do on the gold examples.
NGC Census: 1 PR63 Brown, 1 PR64 Brown, 1 PR66 Red and Brown, 2 PR64 Gilt.
PCGS Population: 1 PR66 Brown, 1 PR66 Red and Brown (11/10). (PCGS# 82015)
Service and Handling Description: Coins & Currency (view shipping information)
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