1879 Flowing Hair Stella, PR65+ Cameo
1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, R.3, PR65+ Cameo
PCGS. CAC. An auction catalog in the possession of one of the
antiquarian-minded members of our cataloging staff contains a
particularly tantalizing description of an 1879 Flowing Hair
stella and the metric dollar and metric goloid dollar that were
also included in the three-piece sets offered to Congress. The
catalog in question is from a Bangs & Company sale dated June
30, 1880, cataloged by Philadelphia numismatist S.K. Harzfeld.
Extraordinary Preservation and Thick Mint Frost
Actually, the tantalizing portion is not in the actual descriptions for lots 393-395 -- which, in keeping with the time are a bit on the utilitarian side, mostly an objective representation of the coins -- but rather in the lengthy footnote just below, much more subjective, from which we quote the first part:
"This is one of the original 15 sets, submitted to Congress. As to the value, I need only say that a gentleman at Washington refused, some time ago, $100 for one of these original sets. The pieces will be sold separately, without reserve, to the highest bidder; but should there be a fair bid for the lot, when the first piece is put up, the right is reserved to sell the three pieces as a set. The pieces are the more desirable, as there is not the least doubt that they will not be accepted for our coinage."
Oh, where is the time machine when it is needed? One would so love to go back in time and ask Mr. Harzfeld how he knows it is one of the "original 15 sets, submitted to Congress."
The four dollar gold stellas were what today we would call a metallurgical trial or experiment, in the unusual denomination of four dollars that derives its Latinate name from the prominent five-pointed star on the reverse. The 1879 Flowing Hair stellas were reportedly made to the extent of 15 or 25 "originals" (Pollock-1832) in 1879 -- supposedly with a later production in 1880 of restrikes (Pollock-1833), numbering perhaps from 400 to 700; estimates vary on both quantities. The stellas were delivered to Congress, as stated above, in three-piece sets that included the two silver pattern dollars, Judd-1617/1618 and Judd-1626/1627, at the Mint's production cost of $6.10.
Andrew Pollock describes the Pollock-1832 gold "originals" as being composed of the nominal metric alloy that the stellas proclaim around their obverse rim, six-sevenths gold with the seventh part an alloy of 30% silver and 70% copper: 85.71% gold, 10.00% copper, 4.29% silver. Pollock writes of the originals:
"As related above, the Mint produced three-piece pattern sets for distribution to Congress. These sets included the 1879 Flowing Hair stella, [Pollock-1832]. Only twenty five sets were originally produced, but because of strong demand in Congress, an additional four hundred were struck in early 1880. Don Taxay reports in his Comprehensive Catalogue that the original pieces were coined in metric alloy, whereas the remaining four hundred were produced in standard gold alloy, [Pollock-1833]."
The "originals" were reputedly distinguishable by the lack of planchet striations seen on the surfaces, while all of the later restrikes could be distinguished by the presence of such striations. The only problem with this theory is that every stella seen (including the 1879 Coiled Hair and both 1880 types) displays the striations, although they are sometimes quite faint and require a loupe to discern. Numismatists have been forced to conclude the even the "originals" -- if indeed there were two striking periods -- were struck on regular .900 fine gold half eagle planchets that were drawn down to 80% of their normal thickness to produce a four dollar gold piece. The alternative would have required the Mint to produce an awkward six-sevenths metric alloy for a pattern coin that had no chance of becoming regular coinage, as Harzfeld points out. Apparently, either the "originals" were indistinguishable from the later restrikes, or they were all melted for some unknown reason.
One would so love to ask Harzfeld how he knew that lot was among the original 15 sets. One would equally like to examine the stella for die striations, and even to submit it for metallurgical testing. The three-coin lot brought $42.50.
This piece displays extremely faint but still discernable die striations on each side. The fields are moderately reflective, but the devices contrast sharply with their thick mint frost. There are no obvious or noticeable contact marks on either side of this lovely, upper-end Gem stella. Population: 1 in 65+ Cameo, 12 finer (6/11).(Registry values: P1) (NGC ID# 28B2, PCGS# 88057)
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