Slightly Contrasted 1879 Flowing Hair Stella, PR63
1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1832, 1833, R.3, 6,
PR63 PCGS. An item in the Mason's Coin Collectors'
Herald from September 1880, page 15, reads as follows:
Judd-1635, A Splendid Coin for the Grade
"STELLA AND GOLOID-METRIC PIECES.
"Notwithstanding extensive advertising and offering to pay $30.00 per set for these peculiar 'Patterns,' we have to date secured but five sets. On account of the various rumors about the number of sets struck, some placing the number at 200, others at 300, we have reduced our offers to $15.00, and our sale price to $20.00.
What is not mentioned is exactly what is included in the set. While it would be nice to think that for $20 one could also obtain an 1880 Coiled Hair stella, those pieces were apparently unknown at the time. According to USPatterns.com, the 1879 Flowing Hair stellas were offered in sets that also contained the Judd-1617 and Judd-1626 patterns, both known as "goloid metric dollars" with obverse design by William Barber. (George T. Morgan also designed 1879 goloid metric dollars, which are much rarer.) The sets were offered first to Congressmen for $6.10, then to the public for $15 per set, according to that site, which adds that "the earliest resale at auction for one of these sets that I am aware of was lots 1258-1260 of Scott Stamp and Coin's July 1880 sale." We lack that catalog, but we came across another early appearance, in the Thomas Cleneay Collection (S.H. and H. Chapman, 12/1890), lot 2059: "1879 Stella ($4 gold). Metric and Goloid metric dollars. Proofs. 3 pieces." The lot brought $8.50, a price that likely indicated considerable contemporary doubt over the number of sets actually produced.
Sets containing the 1879 Flowing Hair stella and the two Barber 1879 goloid metric dollars were also produced in copper, aluminum, and white metal. There is so little documentation concerning the 1879 stellas that, as is usual in such cases, the numismatic community has substituted misinformation, disinformation, and "truthiness" instead. For example, the Judd pattern reference, 10th edition, says that the three-piece sets were sold for $6.50 each, not $6.10 as on USPatterns.com. A greater concern is this:
"It was announced by someone, perhaps a Mint official, that 15 of the 1879 Flowing Hair $4 Stellas were struck, these as patterns, but there was a sufficient demand for them that a few hundred more were struck for congressmen, who are allowed to acquire them for $6.50 each."
It is seldom that an "announcement by someone" would still be quoted in a reputable numismatic reference as hard evidence 130 years later; but such is the absence of real documentation. The original "announcement" could just as credibly (or more so) be attributed to a well-connected 19th century coin dealer as its source, one who was trying to reduce his stock of a pricey set that he knew was produced to a larger extent than publicly known.
This is a splendid Flowing Hair example, especially for the grade. The fields show exceptionally deep reflectivity, and the devices are notably frosted, although a Cameo designation is conspicuously absent from the PCGS insert. The usual light striations are seen in the centers of each side. Close examination also reveals a few tiny planchet voids in the fields. The surfaces are bright yellow-gold with the barest overlay of reddish patina. An exceptional stella.(Registry values: P1) (NGC ID# 28AZ, PCGS# 8057)
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