Sensational 1879 Flowing Hair Stella, Judd-1635, PR661879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, R.3 PR66 NGC. The obverse has a profile of Liberty facing left, her hair flowing down behind her head, suggesting the popular name of this variety. The legend, 6 G .3 S .7 C 7 G R A M S consists of 12 individual figures, each separated by 13 five-pointed stars, with the date below. The reverse has a large five-pointed star serving as the central motif. ONE STELLA 400 CENTS are in incuse letters on the star. Small letters in the field carry the mottoes E PLURIBUS UNUM and DEO EST GLORIA. Around, the primary legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA with FOUR DOL below. Struck in gold with a reeded edge.
While it is almost certain that all the stellas were coined as proofs, some are deeply mirrored, and others, like this piece, show satiny surfaces that are less reflective. Some have described such pieces as Mint State in the past. During the late 1870s and early 1880s, quite a few proofs have similar satiny surfaces. The 1878 Shield nickels are a good example. A proof-only issue, many of those pieces look very much like business strikes.
Diagonal planchet striations are observed on this piece, up to the right on the obverse and up to the left on the reverse. They are prominently visible on the devices, weaker in the fields. Similar striations are noted on all four-dollar gold pieces, although some have suggested that the 15 pieces called "originals" lack such characteristics. Similarly, some numismatists have suggested that the "originals" were actually coined in the metric alloy stipulated. Despite the various opinions, it is more likely that existing planchets of similar size were used, i.e. half eagle planchets.
Planchet strip for the half eagles was a standard production item at the Mint. Slightly reducing the thickness of this strip in the rolling mills and draw bench resulted in planchets of the proper weight for four dollar pieces. With appropriate calculations, the thinner planchet stock could be punched with a standard half eagle planchet cutter, yielding a standard 90% gold planchet the same diameter as a half eagle, but with four dollars in gold rather than five dollars.
The alternative to the above procedure was to create new planchet strip of the metric alloy, and at the same time create a new planchet cutter of the necessary diameter. Undoubtedly, these additional steps would have taken place if the denomination was authorized.
The process of carefully reducing the thickness of the planchet strip left long grooves on both sides of the strip, parallel with the edge of the strip. As planchets were cut from the strip, they also had the same grooves on their surface. Once the pieces were struck, the grooves mostly disappeared, yet remained visible on the highpoints of the devices. Observation of a number of pieces reveals striations that are oriented in almost any conceivable direction; however, every individual piece has the obverse striations parallel to the reverse striations, confirming the production method that we have described.
This piece is a gorgeous Premium Gem proof with brilliant yellow surfaces that are entirely free of imperfections. Slight central weakness, especially evident on the obverse, results from the planchet striations. The fields are lightly reflective and the devices are lustrous and satiny, yielding slight cameo contrast.
From The Ultra Collection.(Registry values: P1) (NGC ID# 28AZ, PCGS# 8057)
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