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1879 Flowing Hair Stella, Gem Cameo Proof
1879 $4 PR65 Cameo PCGS Secure. CAC. In 1879, production of
the new silver dollar coin hit the eight-figure mark while lesser
denominations -- with the exception of the cent -- saw precipitous
reductions in the mintage of coins. With the business of regular
coinage somewhat stabilized, three native Englishmen worked
side-by-side at the Mint to create over a dozen pattern designs.
Chief Engraver William Barber and his son, Assistant Engraver
Charles E. Barber, were likely still adjusting to the addition of
George T. Morgan to the design department. Morgan had been referred
to Mint Director H.R. Linderman by London Mint Director Charles
Fremantle, after Linderman sought his advice regarding the
availability of talented die sinkers in England. Linderman had
lukewarm confidence in the father-son Barber team. Ted Schwarz, in
a November 1975 article in The Numismatist, quotes a letter
from the mint director to Fremantle: "The engraving of coinage and
medal dies has not been brought to much perfection in this country.
In England it appears to have reached a standard equal if not
superior to that of any other country." Morgan began working at the
Mint in October 1876 and within a year had developed a series of
half dollar patterns that would soon transform into the famous
Morgan dollar that was minted in vast quantities from 1878 through
1904, and again in 1921.
Rich Color and Stark Contrast
William Barber died unexpectedly on August 31, 1879, but not before he had managed to produce four patterns for the year -- his final creation was likely the Judd-1626 Goloid Metric dollar. The death of his father and other factors likely impacted Charles Barber's performance, as he only engraved five 1879-dated designs, compared to the eight patterns produced by Morgan. The final months of 1879 found a Mint without a chief engraver at the helm, as a successor had not yet been selected. Both Morgan and Barber sought the position, but in typical Mint -- or government in general -- fashion, the torch was passed to Charles Barber in early 1880.
The proposed coinage designs for 1879 included an unusual denomination -- a four dollar gold piece that was denominated as a "stella" by the Committee of Coinage, Weights, and Measures in 1879 (United States Pattern Coins by J.H. Judd, ninth edition). Fittingly, a large star was selected by the same committee as a symbol of the denomination -- stella is the Latin word for star -- and as a national emblem. Andrew Pollock, in his United States Patterns and Related Issues (1994), reproduces a February 1879 letter from Alexander Stephens, chairman of the aforementioned committee, to Secretary of the Treasury John Sherman. In that letter, Stephens offers a suggestion for the reverse design: "The reverse -- 'United States of America. Four Dollars. E Pluribus Unum. Deo est gloria,' and a large star emblazoned, in the words, 'One stella, 400 cents.'"
Which engraver actually designed and cut the reverse die for the stella patterns is not known. Based on the date of Stephen's letter, the elder Barber cannot be ruled out, although the style and mediocre workmanship is more reminiscent of Charles Barber's hand than the other two engravers. With more certainty, most numismatic researchers and pattern specialists associate the Flowing Hair stella obverse to Charles Barber and the Coiled Hair design to George Morgan. Barber's Flowing Hair design is unnatural, particularly in the area of Liberty's forehead and chin. Morgan's Coiled hair design, by comparison, is more balanced and realistic. We know that Morgan studied head modeling in-depth while at the Birmingham School of Art in England, whereas Barber developed his craft only through his apprenticeship to his father. Further evidence that the Flowing Hair design is the work of Barber can be observed by examining Liberty's headband; the letters of LIBERTY were applied by hand, but with poor spacing and positional relationship to each other, whereas Morgan's LIBERTY motto was artistically implemented.
The example offered here exudes abundant eye appeal. Deeply mirrored, orange-gold fields contrast beautifully with lighter honey-gold, frosty design elements, justly earning a Cameo designation from PCGS. Without the aid of magnification, we observe only splendidly preserved surfaces with no flaws worthy of mention. Intense examination reveals light planchet striations that are well concealed within Liberty's hair, but they are less pronounced on this piece than most other stellas that we have observed. PCGS has certified nine 1879 Flowing Hair stellas at the PR65 Cameo level, with 15 finer if including three specimens designated as Deep Cameo (6/12).(Registry values: P1) (NGC ID# 28B2, PCGS# 88057)
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