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    Description

    1879 Flowing Hair Stella, PR65 Cameo
    Judd-1635, Among the
    100 Greatest U.S. Coins

    1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, JD-1, R.3, PR65 Cameo NGC. CAC. The United States repeatedly took steps throughout the 19th century to introduce new denominations into circulation when it was economically (or politically) advantageous. On March 4, 1849, Congress authorized the gold dollar and double eagle as a response to the massive quantities of gold being unearthed in California. The dollar was created to fill the role of the Seated dollar in circulation, while the double eagle would serve as a trade coin and a means of efficiently converting California gold into storable legal tender. Another Coinage Act was passed just a few years later, on February 21, 1853. It approved a new three dollar gold denomination with the goal of creating another outlet for California gold, one that would take the place of three dollar banknotes.

    Between 1860 and 1879, when the four dollar stella was first proposed, the United States experienced a number of dramatic shifts in the circulation of various metals and denominations. Specie payments were halted in 1862, driving gold and silver out of the channels of commerce. They would only reappear after the mid-1870s. The silver dollar was abolished in 1873, putting the United States on a de facto gold standard to the dismay of mine owners and farmers. And gold, which had traded at a premium for more than 16 years, finally reached parity again with paper currency in late 1878, by which point the public had largely grown accustomed to handling paper over "hard money."

    This confused, chaotic, and often contentious economic climate was, in part, the backdrop against which the fight for a four dollar denomination played out. However, unlike 1849 or 1853, when new denominations were welcome additions to the American series as solutions to real problems, there was absolutely no need for the stella proposed in 1879.

    William Wheeler Hubbell, a Philadelphia lawyer-turned-inventor devised and patented a goloid alloy, composed of gold, silver, and copper, in 1877. His stated objective was "an improvement in metal alloys for commercial coin." According to Hubbell, goloid was "a denser, more valuable, or heavier alloy for a given size, adapted to coin dollars and more difficult to counterfeit." In effect, goloid closely resembled the ancient mixture of gold and silver known as electrum and was nothing new at all. Regardless, the entrepreneurial W. W. Hubbell set about marketing his patented alloy to Congress and eventually garnered traction with Representative Alexander H. Stephens (D-Georgia), the House Committee Chairman on Coinage, Weights, and Measures. Stephens actively lobbied Mint Director Henry Linderman to have dollars struck in goloid to Hubbell's specifications and distributed to members of Congress for their examination. Soon, there were further calls by Hubbell for a four dollar coin to facilitate international trade with member countries of the Latin Monetary Union (in reality, that argument was completely baseless). Again, Hubbell was given license to dictate specifications as he saw fit, and was even parlay responsible for the design of the coin, including the mottos and reverse star motif -- the basis for the denomination's name (stella is Latin for star).

    After some political wrangling between Treasury Secretary John Sherman and Chairman Stephens, Hubbell was eventually able to claim a moderate success with the production of 425 Flowing Hair stellas between late-1879 and early-1880. Those coins were primarily made for congressmen, but examples were also sold to collectors. Ultimately, Hubbell's large-scale plans for a four dollar gold piece manufactured in his patented goloid alloy failed. This curious denomination maintains its status as a pattern only, not a regular issue, though it is frequently collected alongside circulating denominations by those who can afford them. Indeed, the 1879 Flowing Hair stella is one of the prime rarities in American coinage, taking 18th place in Garrett and Guth's 100 Greatest U.S. Coins.

    This Gem Cameo proof enjoys striking field-device contrast. Yellow-gold surfaces display profound reflectivity, and the motifs are thickly frosted. Parallel striations appear across the centers, as usual, but the rest of the design is strong. A phenomenal opportunity to add this storied high-grade rarity to an advanced collection.
    From The Joan Zieg Steinbrenner Collection. (Registry values: P1) (NGC ID# 28B2, PCGS# 88057)

    Weight: 7.00 grams

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


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

    View all of [The Joan Zieg Steinbrenner Collection ]

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    August, 2019
    14th-18th Wednesday-Sunday
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