1879 Flowing Hair Stella, An Incredible PR67 Cameo1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, R.3, PR67 Cameo PCGS. The need for an exchangeable or international currency is nearly as old as currency itself. The earliest medium of commerce was likely a true barter system: Items that were abundant, or less needed, were exchanged for items that were scarce, or more needed. In many regions of the world the most primitive currencies derived from the barter of cattle, tools, and similar items. Some of those barter artifacts survived into the age of true coinage. The earliest Chinese currency, dating from the eighth century B.C., comprised small hoes and pruning implements, which were then inscribed to show the issuing authority. Small prehistoric "celts," or chisels, which are still often found today in Western European hoards, likely served as currency.
The use of metal as a medium for commerce was the first step on the long road to true coinage. Metal was popular for commerce, as it is easily carried, it wears well, it can be permanently imprinted with inscriptions, portraits, and valuations, and it is divisible into smaller portions. Ancient Egyptians used gold bars of given weights from the fourth millennium B.C., afterward adopting a currency of gold rings that provided greater portability. There is an Old Testament passage where Abraham--almost 2,000 years before the birth of Christ--purchased a tomb for 400 shekels of silver. At that time, the shekel was not a coin; it was, rather, simply a unit of weight. Gold and silver rings were widespread in the Middle East from prehistoric times. Around the Aegean Sea, heavy talents made of copper--originally a unit of weight, but later one of value--were the metal of choice.
The use of such ponderous measures of wealth or value gave rise to the need to have interchangeable values in terms of other more lightweight metals and stores of value, such as gold and silver. The writings of Homer, which discuss prizes such as metal basins, tripods, and axes as recognized measures of wealth, additionally mention a talent of gold--a base-metal talent expressed in terms of an equivalent measure of gold. The effect of "heavy" currencies such as iron bars or copper utensils gave rise to a need to value those items in terms of silver and gold. This further necessitated quality control, in the form of guaranteed quantities of the precious metals, so that constant weighing could be avoided. The first true coinage was accomplished, as it appeared in Lydia perhaps as early as 640 B.C., when small, pre-weighed lumps of electrum (a gold-silver alloy) were stamped with a mark or guarantee, in this case the royal insignia of the reigning king. Those marks or guarantees may have ensured that the coins were accepted and exchanged not only in Lydia, but also in neighboring states.
Moving forward a few millennia to the 19th century, several developments made the need for easier international exchange more acute. In particular, the extensive deployment of railroad lines and steamship routes enabled travelers to move much more freely and quickly than before, precipitating the desire to facilitate currency exchanges in moving from one country to another. This was the impetus behind international traveler Dana Bickford's proposals for a ten dollar coin, embodied in the 1874 pattern issues (Judd-1373 to -1378). Andrew Pollock's pattern reference quotes a February 1876 article from The Coin & Stamp Journal titled "Dana Bickford's International Coin," from which we excerpt the following:
< Mr. Bickford, while traveling in Europe, experienced the difficulties and inconveniences that European travelers are subjected to, of having to provide money current in each country he visited, and at times ignorant of its value in our money. Having upon one occasion been particularly annoyed, he determined, if possible, to overcome the difficulty, and being a man of great inventive capacity, was not long in arriving at his present plan, and designed a coin that shows on its face its value in our money and that of the principal commercial nations of the world.
The United States and foreign governments have endeavored for years, and spent thousands of dollars, to perfect a system of "international coinage," but have been unable to get a coin that would prove acceptable to the principal nations, as each one has a peculiar design for its coin, which it is unwilling to change entirely. With Mr. Bickford's coin this difficulty is removed, as each government can fully display its design and value on one side, and on the other show the value of the coin in the currencies of the different nations, also the fineness of the metal and number of grammes without altering their values, and but slightly changing designs.
The fatal flaw of the Bickford concept was in displaying the "value of the coin in the currencies of the different nations," for those values fluctuated, just as they do today. In a cruel irony, the Bickford patterns show the Latin word ubique, meaning they were useful "everywhere," when in reality the concrete display of the fluctuating values doomed the coins to be useful nowhere. However, the concept of the modular adoption of a particular country's coinage designs is not far different from today's euro coinage. Although the European Community has progressed much further by adopting a single denomination to replace several individual countries' currencies, the euro coins themselves have a common design on one side, and a unique second side devoted to emblems specific to the various issuing countries.
Today, the need for an international currency is perhaps even more acute. Any traveler to Europe in the days before the successful adoption of the euro was guaranteed to come home with a pocket or purse full of small change denominated in Irish punts, Austrian schillings, Greek drachmas, Italian lire, Belgian or Luxembourgian francs, German or Finnish marks, Dutch guilders, or Spanish pesetas, depending on the countries visited. Today, each of those countries uses a common currency. Although in 2007 the European Union is slated to have 27 member countries, when Bulgaria and Rumania join, many of the member countries continue to use their own national currency rather than the euro. Two potential members, Sweden and Denmark, have so far opted out of using the euro.
While the euro has removed some currency fluctuations, many more remain. A modern popular online currency converter lists 171 currencies besides the euro that fluctuate daily against one another, from the Afghanistan afghan, through the Bhutan ngultrum and the Bolivian boliviano to the Kyrgyzstan som and the Mongolian tugrik, right through to the Vanuatu vatu and the Zambian kwacha to the Zimbabwe dollar!
The proposals of the Honorable John A. Kasson, "envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary" to the Habsburg empire of Austria-Hungary, in one way were more level-headed. The four dollar gold stellas were intended to approximate the value of eight Austrian (and Dutch) florins, 20 French francs, 20 Italian lire, and of 20 Spanish pesetas--but those denominations and values were not imprinted on the coins themselves. Moreover, the stellas were intended to possess an even metric weight, expressed in grams, of gold, silver, and copper. The stellas were much closer to a universal coinage, but even they failed to make inroads overseas. For one thing, they were not exactly equal to any of those European denominations, and as before, the relative values fluctuated over time, just as with the Bickford proposal. In this way, they had no special advantage, save for a metrically even content, over established U.S. gold coins such as the workhorse half eagle.
The most successful modern international coins have been those with a stated fineness and weight of bullion, with an intrinsic value usually far beyond their nominal or face value. Such coins include the South African Krugerrand, the Canadian maple leaf, and the American Eagle gold bullion coins. In 2006 the U.S. Mint introduced the .9999 fine Buffalo gold bullion coins, hoping to compete successfully with the pure-gold Canadian maple leaf coins.
The present specimen, graded PR67 Cameo by PCGS, is one of two coins so graded at PCGS. A single specimen at PCGS is graded PR67 Deep Cameo, with none finer. NGC has certified six PR67 Cameo specimens, with two more given the Star designation, and three pieces graded PR67 , including two Cameo pieces and one Ultra Cameo (10/06).
As one might imagine, the surfaces are essentially perfect on this piece. The fields glow with deep reflectivity and the devices are noticeably frosted, which yields a stark contrast on each side. As with almost all 1879 stellas, close examination shows just the faintest evidence of roller marks or "striations." These striations have been the subject of much controversy in the past. Some believe them to be the hallmark of restrikes from 1880. If so, then almost all 1879-dated stellas were struck in 1880, as they are present on nearly all coins. This is an outstanding stella that, in our opinion, is unimprovable in terms of technical preservation and eye appeal.(Registry values: P1) (NGC ID# 28B2, PCGS# 88057)
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