1880 Coiled Hair Stella Rarity, One of Only Nine Known Examples

    1880 $4 Coiled Hair, Judd-1660, Pollock-1860, R.7, PR 61 NGC. It seems fitting that the United States Mint prepared two separate designs for a proposal that, after its third time before Congress, had even less chance of reaching fruition. This is not to diminish the artistic ability of the engravers who provided designs for the United States' speculative four dollar coinage of the late 1870s. Born in Birmingham, England in 1845, George T. Morgan attended both the Birmingham Art School and South Kensington Art School. After a stint at the Royal Mint in London, Morgan accepted Mint Director Henry R. Linderman's offer to join the staff of the Philadelphia Mint in 1876. The availability and popularity of his Liberty Head silver dollar has forever etched Morgan's name in the minds of even the most casual collectors. Among advanced numismatists, however, Morgan is best remembered for his only contribution to the United States' gold coinage family--the Coiled Hair stella of 1879-1880.
    While Morgan's stella design is nearly identical to that of Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber, the former artist altered the obverse portrait by coiling Liberty's hair into a neat bun atop her head. The majority of 1879-dated specimens bore Barber's Flowing Hair design, but the Philadelphia Mint did strike between 10 and 15 gold examples using Morgan's motif. By mid-1880, regardless of its supposed benefit to the international monetary system, Congress had finally realized that a four dollar gold coin was superfluous in a coinage family that already included two and a half, three, and five dollar denominations. Nevertheless, a paltry sum of 10 1880-dated stellas emerged from the Mint's presses; undoubtedly to the satisfaction of Superintendent A. Loudon Snowden's closest associates. With an extant population of only 9 pieces, Morgan's 1880 Coiled Hair stella is the rarest in the series and, indeed, one of the most desirable gold coins in United States numismatic history.
    Considerable mystery surrounds the 1880 Coiled Hair stella. Of the 9 reported survivors, 5 display mirrored fields and frosted devices while the other 4 exhibit brilliant proof qualities throughout. This variance seems to suggest that the Mint struck the 10 coins on two distinct occasions. In his book United States Gold Coins: An Analysis of Auction Records, however, David Akers speculates that the 5 cameo proofs may be survivors of the original delivery of 10 coins. In keeping with this theory, therefore, the 4 brilliant proofs represent restrikes that the Mint produced at a later date. Regardless of which theory, if either, is correct, there is little doubt that this effulgent example is one of the 4 brilliant proof representatives available to advanced collectors today. The obverse displays the closely spaced striations and weak definition over the central hair features that typifies the issue. The balance of the surfaces are, however, smartly impressed and indicative of proof execution. Despite numerous grade-defining hairlines, the deeply reflective qualities of both the fields and devices radiate forcefully through the holder. An abrasion in the reverse field below the first U in UNUM is important for pedigree purposes. In his book United States Gold Coins: An Illustrated History, Q. David Bowers asserts: "While type set collectors desiring examples of the Flowing Hair stella design can be satisfied with an 1879…the Coiled Hair stella is a different story entirely. Only at widely spaced intervals does the opportunity to acquire an 1879 Coiled Hair stella present itself, and appearances of the exceedingly rare 1880 Coiled Hair are even more infrequent." To this statement from one of numismatics most gifted and respected scholars, we can add little to accentuate the fleeting opportunity that this lot represents for gold specialists.
    From the Joseph J. Abbell Collection of U.S. Gold Coins. (NGC ID# 28B4, PCGS# 8060)

    Weight: 7.00 grams

    Metal: 86% Gold, 4% Silver, 10% Copper

    Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.

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    Auction Dates
    January, 2000
    7th-10th Friday-Monday
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