1879 Flowing Hair Stella, PR65 Deep Cameo
1879 $4 Flowing Hair Stella, Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, R.3, PR65
Deep Cameo PCGS.
America's Most Popular and Collectible Gold Pattern
It is a shame that the stellas failed to gain a commercial foothold as international trade coins, for, however impractical their aims were, the designs are glorious. In our opinion, among successful modern-era international trade coinage, only the British sovereign has a more attractive design than the stellas. The stellas failed, in our opinion, by overstretching, trying to be too many things at once -- a metric coin of an odd composition as well as an out-of-the-gate replacement (or, at a minimum, competitor) for several longstanding and commercially successful European coinage denominations.
The stellas are collected right alongside the regular-issue U.S. gold series, and well-heeled gold specialists vie avidly for examples offered in any grade -- especially at the Gem level of the present coin or higher. This Gem proof 1879 Flowing Hair stella is unusual in that it also has the Deep Cameo contrast designation from PCGS, unlike the vast majority of survivors.
Even though the stellas are strictly patterns, the 1879 Flowing Hair type, at least, was issued in considerable quantities, likely to the extent of several hundred pieces. The coins thus share characteristics with the 1856 Flying Eagle cents, a pattern issue that was also struck in larger numbers than usually produced for test strikes.
And just as cent collectors abhor having Flying Eagle cents from 1857 and 1858 without also having an 1856-dated Flying Eagle, it is that same drive to completeness that makes gold specialists reluctant to have examples of the American three dollar and five dollar issues -- and yet have to deal with that awful gaping hole for the four dollar gold piece. (In a moment of absentmindedness while checking the PCGS Population Report section for "Patterns" rather than "$4 Gold Stella," we were reminded yet again that these pieces are listed between the three and five dollar regular issues, rather than in the pattern listings.) The report shows that in PCGS grade ranges from PR60 through PR67, there have been 238 submissions (including duplicates) of the 1879 Flowing Hair; 66 submissions of the same in Cameo; and only 29 in Deep Cameo (10/13). In the PR65 Cameo grade of the present piece, there are a total of 11 such at PCGS, with three PR66 and one PR67 Deep Cameo finer. NGC shows another couple of hundred submissions, and there are also quite a few lower-grade (below PR60), impaired proof 1879 Flowing Hair stellas, since some of the claimed "restrikes" delivered to Congressmen were apparently carried as pocket pieces.
From the first glance at this Gem Deep Cameo proof, one notices instantly the posh, luxe appearance of this coin amid the deeply contrasted surfaces. The blatant contrast between the mirrored fields and the thickly frosted devices is further enhanced by the range of colors appearing on both sides. The portrait of Liberty shows intricate detail on the hair, but TY in LIBERTY is softly struck. The profile is fully frosted with predominant orange-gold color. The fields on the obverse are deeply reflective, largely yellow-green and providing ample contrast in terms of both color and mirroring. Under a loupe, diagonal planchet striations appear running from north-northwest to south-southeast, the result of the striking of these coins on shaved-down half eagle planchets -- a trait that we believe all surviving examples share, eliminating the possibility of any "15 originals" truly struck on the nominal odd, metric alloy proclaimed around the periphery.
The reverse overall displays deeper color, ranging from amber-gold near the rims to deep sunset-orange in the center. The planchet striations on this side follow the obverse orientation, with some deeper toning streaks lying within the striations. A tiny planchet indent appears near the star point under the M of AMERICA, which is quite minor but provides a pedigree marker, possibly of Mint origin. A couple of other scattered contact marks also require a loupe to observe, and in any case they are unworthy of singly describing.
Despite their status as patterns, the 1879 Flowing Hair stellas (and the other, rarer types) have become mainstays of American numismatics. The recent Bonhams sale of the Tacasyl Collection of proof gold coins, including an example of each of the four stella types in PR67 grade, reinforced once again the popularity of the series among the collecting community.
But while the 1879 and 1880 Coiled Hair and the 1880 Flowing Hair stellas are daydreams for most collectors, the 1879 Flowing Hair, due to the several hundred examples that survive today, is an achievable goal for many (if still a pricey one). This Gem Deep Cameo PCGS-certified example, with an unusual amount of field-device contrast and copious eye appeal, is destined to form the centerpiece of a fine collection -- and would, in fact, form a fine collection all on its own.(Registry values: P1) (NGC ID# 28AZ, PCGS# 98057)
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