Gem Proof 1880 Flowing Hair Stella, PR65 NGC1880 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1657, Pollock-1857, R.6, PR65 NGC. The four dollar gold piece, also known as the stella, was an international coinage experiment that took place in 1879 and 1880. Like other similar attempts, the concept was a single coinage that would be recognized by several European countries as well as the United States. Until recently, none of those experiments were successful, and even the modern-day euro, widely accepted throughout Europe, has not met the needs of U.S. citizens.
The earliest attempt at a joint coinage acceptable to multiple nationalities followed a June 1867 international monetary convention held in Paris. Representatives of the participating nations agreed that the French franc would be the logical choice for an international coinage. Following that meeting, a coinage proposal was introduced in this country for a dual-denomination gold piece valued at five dollars and 25 francs. Although patterns were produced, Congress defeated the coinage proposal.
Dana Bickford, a New York businessman, proposed the next attempt at an international coinage and even designed his own pattern issue to illustrate the concept. The Bickford patterns were produced by the Philadelphia Mint in 1874. Those pieces carried a denomination of 10 dollars, and also expressed the equivalent value in the coinage of various European nations, calculated at the prevailing exchange rate for each different coinage. One problem with the coinage was the ever-changing exchange rate for currency, meaning the international coinage issue would become obsolete with the first adjustment. Bickford's coinage proposal suggested that each of the six representative nations would produce coins of their own design on one side, and a variation of the standard design on the other side. An article in the February 1876 issue of The Coin & Stamp Journal, quoted by Andrew Pollock, explained in part: "each government can fully display its design and value on one side, and on the other show the value of the coins 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 the designs."
After those attempts met with failure, the Honorable John Kasson was the next to propose an international coinage. Kasson was the U.S. Minister to Austria, and he was also a former member of the Committee of Coinage, Weights, and Measures. Those connections put him in a unique position to propose an international coinage. His goal was a coin that was close in value to eight florins in the Austrian coinage system, thus he chose the four dollar gold piece, to be called the stella. Today, that coinage is the most famous and widely recognized international coinage pattern, due mostly to its inclusion in the Guide Book.
An extensive issue took place in 1879, with a total mintage of several hundred coins for the Flowing Hair design prepared by Charles Barber. Historically, the mintage was reported as 415 coins, with some scholars suggesting that there were 15 "originals" followed by 400 "restrikes." More recently, others have suggested the total mintage was in the range of 700 to 800 coins. A second design with Liberty's hair coiled in braids was prepared by George Morgan and also issued in 1879, but in a much smaller quantity, perhaps two or three dozen at the most. A few additional pieces of each design were coined in 1880, strictly for numismatic purposes. For many years, the reported mintages were 415 examples of the 1879 Flowing Hair, 10 of the 1879 Coiled Hair, 15 of the 1880 Flowing Hair, and 10 of the 1880 Coiled Hair. Those recorded mintages were for examples actually struck in gold, and an additional unknown quantity of off-metal pieces were struck in copper, aluminum, and white metal. While there is no doubt that the 1879 Flowing Hair pieces are far more plentiful than any of the other varieties, there is also no doubt that the number known for each variety exceeds the recorded "mintage" figures. At least two hundred 1879 Flowing Hair pieces survive, along with more than a dozen each of the others.
The 1880 Flowing Hair issue is slightly more plentiful than either of the Coiled Hair varieties. This magnificent Gem proof is struck in light yellow-gold with excellent proof qualities including deeply mirrored fields and lustrous devices. Each side exhibits a few extremely faint hairlines that have prevented a higher grade. Diagonal striae can be seen on each side, down to the right on the obverse and down to the left on the reverse, or in the same relative direction on each side of this coin-turn piece. The diagonal marks on the surface are a result of the planchet preparation process, as the strip was reduced minutely in thickness by a rolling operation. The four dollar gold pieces were coined from half eagle planchet stock that was made slightly thinner by the operation, then the planchets were cut with the half eagle planchet punch, with the result that the coins were the same diameter as the half eagles. This avoided the necessity of preparing new planchet cutters for an almost imperceptible difference in diameter that would have otherwise been required for the denomination. Undoubtedly, such equipment would have been made if the coinage proposal was passed by Congress, but the coins were strictly produced as patterns or Congressional samples, and the actual legislation was not approved.(Registry values: P2) (NGC ID# 2AJG, PCGS# 8059)
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