Important 1879 Flowing Hair Four Dollar, PR 63 NGC1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1832, R.6, PR 63 NGC. The story of the four dollar gold piece, or stella, is one of noble intentions, ignored precedents, and ultimately futile attempts. In 1867, the city of Paris served as host to delegates from 20 nations. In a gesture of unanimity that has often alluded international congresses before and after, the representatives decided that the French franc should serve as the basis for a worldwide coinage system. As American citizens had often complained about the inconvenience of changing monetary units during overseas travel, Congress proved receptive to the Paris assembly's proposal. Accordingly, Anthony C. Paquet designed a pattern half eagle in 1868 (Judd-656 through Judd-659, Pollock-729 through Pollock-732) that bore the French denomination 25 francs alongside the standard U.S. denomination. Despite its merits, the federal government dropped the proposal before regular production commenced.
Upon his return from Europe in 1874, Dana Bickford of New York City complained bitterly about the difficulty of international travel in the absence of a unified currency. Laid before Mint Director Henry R. Linderman, Bickford's complaints and proposed solutions resulted in his submission of a design that carried eight different currency inscriptions from as many nations. The daily fluctuation in exchange rates, coupled with the average American citizen's limited knowledge of international monetary units, put the nail in the coffin of Bickford's proposal after a limited number of 1874-dated pattern pieces were struck in gold, copper, aluminum, and nickel (Judd-1373 through Judd-1378, Pollock-1518 through Pollock-1523).
The failure of Congress to follow up on either Paquet's or Bickford's pattern pieces did not, however, lay to rest the idea of an international monetary unit. In 1879, John A. Kasson, the United States' minister to Austria, proposed a four dollar coin whose metallic content would be stated in the metric system--the standard used in Europe. According to Kasson's proposal, this new coin would approximate, among other denominations, the Spanish 20 peseta, Dutch 8 florin, Austrian 8 florin, Italian 20 lire, and France's 20 franc piece. With enthusiasm that seemed out of place in connection with a third proposal for an international monetary unit, Congress ordered the Mint to produce pattern pieces in anticipation of regular issue coinage. Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber prepared an obverse design that depicted a portrait of Liberty facing left with long, flowing hair. The date appeared at the bottom and the inscription 6 G .3 S .7 C 7 G R A M S around the central portrait. With stars in between each character, this inscription advertised the coins' weight as 7 grams and gave the proportionate composition of gold, silver, and copper. The reverse depicted ONE STELLA 400 CENTS superimposed atop a five pointed star with the inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, E PLURIBUS UNUM, DEO EST GLORIA (God is glorious), and FOUR DOL. in the surrounding field. Using these dies, the Philadelphia Mint struck approximately 15 examples in the specified alloy in December 1879. Early the following year, a further 400 or so pieces followed, although careless Mint employees improperly spaced the dies with the result that these later examples display weak definition on the hair over Liberty's ear. While improper handling and/or circulation have taken their toll on as many as half of these pieces, the remaining representatives constitute the majority of unimpaired stellas in today's numismatic marketplace. Limited numbers of 1879-dated Flowing Hair stellas also exist in standard gold (90% gold, 10% copper), copper, aluminum, and white metal.
The present example displays deeply mirrored fields and thinly frosted devices. With weakly defined central hair features and planchet striations that were not obliterated through striking, this specimen is an unmistakable survivor of the 1880 delivery. The metric gold alloy inscribed on the obverse probably describes this coin's composition, although, as stated earlier, the Philadelphia Mint did strike an undetermined number of coins on standard gold planchets. We cannot, therefore, say for certain whether this coin contains a metric or standard gold alloy. There is, however, little doubt surrounding the rarity and desirability of Charles E. Barber's Flowing Hair stella among advanced gold type collectors. Scattered hairlines rule out a near-Gem assessment, although the memorable eye appeal of the honey-gold surfaces is hardly diminished. Accuracy compels us to mention an inconspicuous toning spot along the reverse rim above the T in UNITED.
From the Joseph J. Abbell Collection of U.S. Gold Coins. (NGC ID# 28AZ, PCGS# 8057)
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