1879 Flowing Hair Stella, PR67 Cameo
1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, R.3, PR67 Cameo
NGC. From a design by Chief Engraver Charles Barber, the 1879
Flowing Hair stella, designated as Judd-1635 in the standard
pattern reference, is one of the most popular pattern issues of all
time. Originally produced to demonstrate a proposed international
coinage, similar in concept to the Euro of today, records indicate
that 15 stellas were originally struck and distributed to the
Congressional Committee on Coinage as part of three-piece sets that
also included two goloid metric dollars, Judd-1617 and Judd-1626.
The sets were supposedly struck in Dr. Wheeler Hubbell's patented
goloid alloy, consisting of gold, silver, and copper in various
Classic Pattern Rarity, Judd-1635
Among the Finest Certified
The "goloid" sets proved extremely popular, and another 400 sets were ordered and offered for sale at $6.10 to congressmen. These sets were produced in standard silver and gold alloy, and many researchers doubt that any sets were actually struck in the goloid mixture. A few examples have been tested in recent times, with nondestructive testing, but all results have been inconclusive, at best. Unsold sets were offered to collectors at a steep markup of $15 per set. The 1879 Flowing Hair stellas were particularly popular, and it seems likely that at least 700 of these coins were eventually struck at different intervals over the next few years. Four dollar gold coins were also produced in a Coiled Hair design by Assistant Engraver George Morgan in 1879, and both Flowing Hair and Coiled Hair stellas were also struck with an 1880 date, but none of these later issues was produced in significant numbers, and all are very rare today.
Unfortunately, there were many practical objections to the proposed international coinage, and no coins were ever produced for circulation. The goloid sets were immediately popular with collectors, many of whom resented the preferential treatment congressmen and other insiders were given in the distribution of the sets. The sets began appearing at auction as early as the Twelfth Sale of Coins and Medals (S.K. Harzfeld, 6/1880), when a set was offered in lots 393-395. After describing the coins in their separate lots, Harzfeld published a long discussion of the issue, including the following:
"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.
"The adoption of the Gold piece instead of improving our coinage would be a decidedly retrograde movement. Not merely that, for the old design of the United States coinage some 75 years ago, was more beautiful, and more practical for the purpose of circulation. The 'Goloid Dollar' being the size of a Half Dollar, would open the door to wholesale counterfeiting, and deceiving the unwary, as its general appearance does not indicate the little gold in it. And as to the Metric Dollar, the 4.2 parts gold in it, may just as well be left out. But the most important objection is, that the acceptance of 'goloid' would force the U.S. Government to pay a royalty to Mr. Hubbell, the 'original inventor' as he styles himself, of this metal for coinage."
The coins sold as a set for $32.50, considerably more than the standard asking price of the year before, but less than the $100 Harzfeld's Washington collector refused for his set. Apparently, Congress agreed with Harzfeld's assessment of the coinage, as none of the issues were ever adopted.
Collectors continued to prize the stellas, and prices realized rose steadily whenever the coins appeared at auction. Writing in The Numismatist in March 1911, Edgar Adams remarked:
"No United States pattern or regular gold piece seems to have acquired anything approaching the interest and popularity of the stella, and that this popularity is not diminishing by the advance of time, is well proved by the steady increase in the premium that is paid for specimens, no matter how often they are put up for auction."
Adams' words hold true today, as public offerings realize higher and higher prices with successive appearances. Recent sales include the magnificent PR67 Cameo example offered in lot 235 of the Superior auction of May 2008, which realized $402,500.
The present coin is one of the finest surviving examples, with incredible eye appeal and unsurpassed technical quality. The design elements are richly frosted, producing a stunning black-on-gold cameo flash when the coin is tilted in the light. Razor-sharp definition is apparent in most areas, but the mysterious striations seen on all known specimens soften the detail in Liberty's hair just a touch. The vibrant mirrored surfaces glow with yellow-orange sunset colors, highlighted by shades of rose and lilac. Traditionally collected with the pattern series, the 1879 Flowing Hair stella has long been adopted by mainstream collectors, as well. The issue has been included in the Guide Book since the 1940s and is included in the 100 Greatest U.S. Coins. Census: 14 in 67 Cameo, 0 finer (12/12).
Ex: Pre-Long Beach Sale (Ira and Larry Goldberg, 9/2008), lot 1245.(Registry values: P1) (NGC ID# 28B2, PCGS# 88057)
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