Barber-Designed 1879 Flowing Hair Stella, Judd-1635
1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, R.3, PR67
Cameo NGC. Many
numismatists have commented over the years on how outlandish a
conception were the 1879 stellas, metric dollars, and metric goloid
dollars. Some have attributed it to naïveté on the part of Iowa
Rep. John A. Kasson and/or lack of a working knowledge of
international commerce among members of the Congressional Committee
on Coinage, Weights, and Measures, a committee that Kasson chaired.
Walter Breen in his Complete Encyclopedia cast Kasson as one
of three Congressional villains that included Richard A. "Silver
Dick" Bland and William Darrah Kelley, cronies of Western
silver-mining interests who were ever in search of new foreign and
domestic uses for silver, including the twenty cent piece, the
Trade and Morgan dollars, and the various international coinage
Tied for Finest Certified
But in a perusal of the literature on the subject, what emerges as even more curious than the preposterous intended use of the stellas is the story of the so-called "originals" versus "restrike" stellas--a story that more than a few numismatists have used as the occasion to give their brains a vacation. Typical comments are these, from the 10th edition of the Judd pattern reference:
"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. This was an era of great secrecy at the Mint, and virtually the entire pattern coinage of 1879, including the 'Washlady' and Schoolgirl silver coins, were produced for the private profit of Mint officials. ... The total number made is not known, but has been estimated to be 600 to 700, all but 15 of which are believed to have been struck in calendar year 1880 from the 1879-dated dies."
If this were indeed an "era of great secrecy at the Mint," why believe that only 15 originals were struck? It is perhaps more plausible to believe that all of the 1879 Flowing Hair coins were struck at one time and the mintage was incorrectly given as 15, with mentions of later restrikes intended to divert the curious from the intended motive, profit on the part of Mint officials and the well-connected.
Here is the story from Walter Breen:
"Only a few original proof sets (Stella, goloid, and 'goloid metric' dollars) were made in Dec. 1879 from the Barber [Flowing Hair] designs; those with the Morgan [Coiled Hair] obvs. were clandestine issues. At least 425 additional sets followed in 1880 from the 1879 Barber dies, by order of Congress ...
"As the same dies were used for original Stellas and official restrikes, distinguishing between them has been a difficult problem. Coiled hair or Morgan Stellas of 1879 are not known to have been restruck; they normally lack the central striations (on the strip from which these planchets were cut) found on most 1879 Flowing Hair Stellas and all the 1880 issues. Presumably the very rare 1879 Flowing Hair coins without central striations are the originals. None has been auctioned in many years, though many restrikes have been marketed as originals owing to their having correct weights. ..."
Again, this is remarkably fuzzy thinking for a numismatic scholar who was often piercingly astute. One first of all wonders how many 1879 Coiled Hair stellas Breen had seen, considering that only 12 to 15 are known today. All of the 1879 Coiled Hair stellas that Heritage has handled, at least three different, indeed do show striations in the center, although some catalogers have called them "roller marks." And Breen makes the assumption that the 1879 Flowing Hair "originals" are different from restrikes and were produced in a minuscule amount, despite his own evidence to the contrary. We believe that no 1879 Flowing Hair originals lacking planchet striations exist, rendering the question of whether there were two different striking periods moot.
Concerning the planchet striations, as we wrote in the Lemus Collection catalog:
"As time goes by and no pieces appear to lack the striations, many numismatists have concluded that neither were the pattern gold pieces produced in that odd metric alloy, but rather they were struck on regular 900 fine planchets rolled out to 80% of the thickness of a half eagle, accounting for the roller marks or die striations seen on all known gold pieces."
This particular coin will require powerful magnification and a good light to discern the roller marks. And the interesting part, in addition to their extreme lightness, is that they are absolutely vertical, rather than the usual near-horizontal orientation. This is an extraordinarily attractive stella. The surfaces are bright and uniformly yellow-gold, with none of the reddish patina normally seen. Another extraordinary quality is the unfathomable depth of reflectivity seen in the fields, certainly not a given on a stella. The thick mint frost over the devices sets up a strong cameo effect against the "black" mirrored fields. There are no obvious contact marks on either side, and as for pedigree markers they appear to be limited to two small planchet flakes. Both are on the reverse, one is to the right of the inverted V at the bottom of the star, and the other is to the right of the star.
Neither of the major services has certified a Flowing Hair stella in finer condition. When one sees this coin, it is clear why. This piece is as close to technical perfection as one can ever expect. A true opportunity for the collector who has been holding out for that special coin.(Registry values: P1) (NGC ID# 28B2, PCGS# 88057)
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