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Enchanting 1879 Flowing Hair Gold Stella
1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, R.3, PR65 Cameo
NGC. The 1879 four dollar stella is the most popular gold
pattern of all time. It is properly considered a pattern, but
conventional gold collectors have adopted the issue as well. The
stella is pursued passionately by collectors from many different
disciplines and backgrounds. An example is considered a highlight
of any collection that features one.
Judd-1635, Gem Cameo Proof
The stella was originally intended to function as a medium of international exchange, much as the euro does today. The Honorable John A. Kasson conceived of the coin as a handy denomination, nearly equivalent to the Austrian eight florin, French twenty franc, Italian twenty lire, Spanish twenty peseta, and Dutch eight florin coins. Having traveled extensively in Europe in political assignments as an envoy and minister plenipotentiary, Kasson understood the financial difficulties faced by international travelers in his day. Banks charged a significant premium to exchange one currency for another. Repeatedly changing money as one journeyed from country to country would result in substantial loss through the repeated fees. Money-changers would usually refuse to exchange minor coins, causing further drain on the traveler's funds. Kasson hoped to facilitate travel overseas and foreign trade by developing a coin that could be used in many countries without the expense and inconvenience of monetary exchange. Kasson had impressive credentials as a former chairman of the Committee of Coinage, Weights and Measures in Congress. Using his political connections, the former chairman convinced the sitting Committee of Coinage, Weights and Measures to consider his project. The result was the stella.
Engravers Charles Barber and George Morgan both developed a pattern four dollar gold coin in 1879. Barber produced the Flowing Hair obverse design, which was similar to a half eagle pattern design from 1878, Judd-1574. Morgan created an elegant design known as the Coiled Hair stella, with Liberty's hair gathered up in braids atop her head. The designs used a common reverse, with a five-pointed star as the central element, from which the pattern takes its name. It is believed that 15 Flowing Hair stellas were coined in 1879, but demand from Congressmen and Mint officials caused the issue to be restruck in 1880. The restrikes were from the original dies and may have numbered as many as 600-700 examples. All examples seen in modern times have parallel striations across the obverse design, usually in the hair, and it is impossible to differentiate between restrikes and originals. Morgan's Coiled Hair design was produced in extremely small quantities and was not given out to Congressmen for examination. The design was not restruck and remains very rare today. Experts believe that 400-500 specimens of the Flowing Hair stella have survived. Both Flowing Hair and Coiled Hair varieties were later reproduced in small numbers, with new dies dated 1880, to satisfy numismatic demand from favored collectors.
Kasson's idea was ahead of its time, but it was fatally flawed. The different currencies that he sought to exchange with the stella were not exact equivalents and varied against each other over time. Congress realized that the stella was impractical, and no regular mintage was ever authorized. Many stellas are worn, and popular stories relate that members of Congress used the coins they obtained as exotic gifts for their mistresses.
As a result of their colorful history, many stellas are seen in impaired condition today. Gem Cameo examples are rare and desirable. The present example is a fine representative of this much-loved design. The deeply mirrored fields contrast boldly with the frosty devices to produce a dramatic cameo effect. The strike is strong, and all design elements are brought up in great detail. The lovely green-gold color accents the virtually flawless surfaces. A classic rarity that will appeal to the pattern specialist and the mainstream collector. Census: 14 in 65 Cameo, 29 finer (5/09).(Registry values: P1) (NGC ID# 28B2, PCGS# 88057)
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