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    1879 Flowing Hair Stella, PR66 Ultra Cameo
    Judd-1635, Spectacular Field-Device Contrast
    Popular International Coinage Proposal

    1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, JD-1, R.3, PR66 Ultra Cameo NGC. Tradition can be powerful. In numismatics, we often collect today that which has been collected in the past. That practice accounts for the widespread popularity of the 1879 Flowing Hair stella. These four dollar gold patterns have long been included in sets alongside regular-issue coinage, and the tradition continues. Indeed, the stella is the only pattern issue with its own section in the annual Guide Book, nestled in between the three dollar gold piece and half eagle, each of which, unlike the stella, actually circulated.

    William Wheeler Hubbell, a smooth-talking patent lawyer, serial inventor, and shameless self-promoter from Philadelphia incorporated the idea for a four dollar gold coin into his plans for an entire metric (read: international) system of coinage to be struck in his own patented goloid alloy. Remarkably, Hubbell maintained considerable influence over Congress despite the myriad flaws in his scheme. He had particular sway over Representative Alexander H. Stephens. Writing in the Spring 2015 issue of the Journal of Numismatic Research, Roger Burdette described Stephens, chairman of the House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures, as having developed "a worshipful attitude toward the inventor." Stephens regarded Hubbell as "the profoundest expert on such subjects I have ever met with ... ." Believing Hubbell had solved "a problem of as much difficulty almost as that of squaring the circle," Chairman Stephens advocated passionately for Hubbell's ideas and quarterbacked his requests through the American bureaucracy. Stephens made numerous requests for the Mint to produce a variety of patterns according to Hubbell's specifications. One of those requests came on October 4, 1879. According to Burdette, "Mint Director Horatio Burchard wrote to Philadelphia Mint Superintendent A. Loudon Snowden with instructions for making the Stellas and other coins that the House Committee Chairman Alexander H. Stephens wanted." Burdette cites the following letter from Burchard to Snowden:

    "Mr. Stephen requests that specimens of coins be prepared in accordance with the provisions of the bills and I am desirous of accommodating the Committee.

    "I therefore have to request that you will case dies to be prepared for striking the '14 gram goloid dollar, the stella and the 25 gram dollar.'

    "In order that this work may interfere as little as possible with the regular operations of your mint, I think it will be better, instead of preparing new designs for the obverse dies, to take the obverse of each of the proposed coins some experimental dies which you have on hand, and I desire that you should cause impressions to be made in wax or plaster of all that you have which may be suitable for the proposed coins, and transmit the same to this office so that I can select and designate the dies to be used.

    "For each reverse you will cause new deigns to be prepared in accordance with the bills, and in this you may be guided by the enclosed suggestions of Mr. Hubbell, so far as practicable.

    "You will also cause an amount of alloy to be prepared of the fineness designated by the respective bills, sufficient to strike twenty pieces of each denomination. If possible these coins should be ready to lay before the Committee at the commencement of the ensuing session of Congress in December."

    With respect to stellas, Burchard's letter suggests that 20 coins be struck in the proper alloys from obverse designs that were already on hand. We know that 25, not 20 were minted in December 1879, possibly in the correct alloy, from obverse dies by Charles Barber based on an early pattern half eagle design by his father William (Judd-1574) and reverse dies based on Hubbell's design suggestions. The stellas were sold as part of three-coin sets along with Goloid dollar and Metric silver dollars, the first of which were available in December 1879 and January 1880. An additional 100 sets were delivered in March 1880, followed by 300 more sets in May for a total of 425 sets. It is believed that the 400 stellas struck after December 1879 were produced on .900 fine half eagle planchets. Future metallurgical analysis would be helpful in clarifying whether those 25 so-called Originals were actually struck in the correct alloy and all 400 1879-dated stellas struck in 1880 were minted in .900 fine gold.

    Regardless of their fineness, mintage, or even status as patterns rather than coins, all 1879 Flowing Hair stellas are highly sought-after. They have been for well over a century and should continue to delight collectors for decades, even centuries to come.

    This extraordinary Premium Gem is certainly a delight. Profound depth of mirroring is evident in the fields on each side, which sets up the "black" background for the frosted "white" devices. The central devices display the usual diagonal striations on each side, but are significantly more pronounced on the central star on the reverse. Essentially perfect surfaces on each side with no apparent or mentionable contact marks. The Ultra Cameo contrast is among the best we have ever seen for the issue.(Registry values: P1)

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 28AZ, PCGS# 98057)

    Weight: 7.00 grams

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

    View Certification Details from NGC

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    December, 2021
    16th-19th Thursday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 46
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 2,049

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    20% of the successful bid (minimum $29) per lot.

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