1879 Coiled Hair Stella, PR66 Cameo
1879 $4 PR66 Cameo NGC, Judd-1638, Pollock-1838. The 1879
Coiled Hair stellas are among the rarest and most valuable issues
in American numismatics. PCGS CoinFacts and USPatterns.com both
estimate the surviving population at no more then 12-15 examples in
all grades. Of these, one example is included in the National
Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, and another
was stolen in 1967 and remains missing. Unfortunately, the
population data from the two leading grading services is inflated
by resubmissions and crossovers. We have traced 13 examples in our
roster of known specimens, below. Traditionally collected with the
pattern series, both Flowing Hair and Coiled Hair stellas are
avidly collected by numismatists from all collecting disciplines
Classic Gold Rarity, Judd-1638
Only 13 Examples Traced
The stella was a proposed four-dollar gold coin intended to serve as an international monetary unit, much like the present day euro. John A. Kasson suggested the idea for a coin that would be equivalent to the French 20 franc piece and the Austrian 8 florin coin in a letter to the State Department on January 3, 1879. The letter was passed to the Treasury Department and then to Alexander Stephens, head of the Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures. Stephens was closely associated with Dr. William Wheeler Hubbell, who had patented his famous "Goloid" composition, an alloy of silver, gold, and copper, and advocated its use for international coinage. Patterns were struck for the proposed coinage in 1879 and 1880, using both the Flowing Hair and Coiled Hair designs. Unfortunately, the four dollar stella was not an exact match in value for its intended European equivalents (the 20 franc piece worth $3.88) and the idea was eventually deemed impractical.
Obverse: Head of Liberty with braided hair, coiled on top, with a headband inscribed LIBERTY. Legend ★ 6★ G★ .3★ S★ .7★ C★ 7★ G★ R★ A★ M★ S★ around, date 1879 below. Reverse: A large five-pointed star with the incuse inscription ONE STELLA/400 CENTS in the center, E PLURIBUS UNUM. DEO EST GLORIA around, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA/FOUR DOL. at the borders.
Many numismatists believe the Coiled Hair obverse design was engraved by then-Assistant Engraver George T. Morgan, because of its similarity to the portraits on his Goloid and Metric silver dollars. Recent research by Roger Burdette suggests Chief Engraver Charles Barber may have adapted Morgan's design for use on the stella (see the Journal of Numismatic Research, Spring 2015 edition). The reverse design is generally attributed to Barber.
The Coiled Hair Stellas
The Coiled Hair design was struck in extremely limited quantities for sale to collectors in 1879 and 1880. The Coiled Hair stellas were offered as part of three-coin Goloid sets, together with a Goloid dollar pattern (Judd-1631) and a Metric dollar pattern (Judd-1622). Old auction citations say only 10 examples were struck, but a few more examples are known today; so, either the initial mintage was larger than reported or a small number of restrikes was produced later. In addition to the gold issues, the design was also struck in copper (Judd-1639), aluminum (Judd-1640), and white metal (Judd-1641). The gold stellas were ostensibly struck on planchets made of the patented Goloid composition, but many numismatists believe they were actually struck on shaved-down half eagle blanks, because all examples seen show parallel die striations. Alternatively, recent research indicates the planchet stock was rolled in such a way that these striations were produced.
The 1879 Coiled Hair stellas began appearing at auction surprisingly early, a testament to their popularity with collectors. One example was offered as part of a Goloid set in lot 631 of the John Colvin Randall Collection (George Cogan, 3/1882). Cogan first described the Goloid and Metric dollars, then the stella was described as follows:
"Gold Stella (No. 4 piece). Hair braided and done up in a coil, head of Liberty surrounded by *6*G*.3.*S*.7*C*&*G*R*A*M*S* Rev. A star inscribed 'One Stella, 400 Cents." Brilliant proof. This set has never been offered before at either public or private sale. Excessively rare.
Note - This set must not be taken for the ordinary 'Goloid Set' as the obverse is nothing like it. In this set hair of Liberty is arranged in coils, while in the other it falls down the neck in curls, and the face is totally different."
Cogan had offered an 1878 Goloid dollar in the previous lot, explaining his identification of the stella as the "No. 4 piece." The set sold for $50, a strong price at the time. Opportunities to acquire an 1879 Coiled Hair stella in Premium Gem condition are almost as rare as the coins themselves. A search of auction records reveals it has been 5 years since a comparable example of this issue has been publicly offered, the PR66 Cameo PCGS Secure specimen in lot 5405 of the FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2014), that realized $851,875.
History of This Coin
The coin offered here first surfaced in the Memorable Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 3/1948), lot 280. The Memorable Collection was actually the second major collection put together by prominent collector Jacob Shapiro, who was better known by his pseudonym of J.F. Bell in numismatic circles. Shapiro's collection was a truly remarkable gathering of U.S. and territorial gold coins that included a full set of stellas, offered individually in lots 279 through 282 of the catalog. Lot 283 of the sale was a composite lot offering all four stellas to any bidder whose bid exceeded the total of the four individual lots by 5%. Abe Kosoff and Abner Kreisberg were the principals of the Numismatic Gallery, the firm that conducted the sale. The cataloger gave background information on the stellas in a separate paragraph at the top of the page, and limited the description of each stella lot to the basic date, type, and grade. Lot 280 read, "1879. Coiled Hair. Brilliant proof." The coin sold individually and brought a good price of $825.
This coin was off the market for an extended period after its appearance in the Memorable Collection. Its next public offering was in lot 359 of the Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 7/1997), almost 50 years later. The coin was graded PR65 in that appearance and realized a strong price of $231,000. It has not been offered publicly since.
The present coin is a stunning Premium Gem proof, with richly frosted devices and deeply reflective fields that create an intense cameo effect when the coin is tilted in the light. Both sides show the light, mint-made die striations seen on all examples of this issue. The central design elements are well-detailed, with just a trace of softness on Liberty's hair, due to the striations, which were not completely struck out. A delicate wire rim is evident from 3 to 6 o'clock on the obverse. A microscopic amber alloy spot below the first star in the legend can act as a pedigree marker. The lemon-yellow and rose-gold surfaces are impeccably preserved, with a hint of crimson at IT in UNITED. Overall visual appeal is terrific. This classic 19th century gold pattern is an attractive combination of high technical quality, outstanding eye appeal, and absolute rarity. Coiled Hair stellas are rarely offered and this piece has been off the market for 20 years, making this lot an important opportunity for advanced pattern and U.S. gold collectors alike.
Roster of 1879 Coiled Hair Stellas
Thanks to Karl Moulton, P. Scott Rubin, and Saul Teichman for their help preparing this roster. Grades are per the last auction appearance unless a later citation is known. It is likely that some coins have been submitted, or resubmitted, for certification since their last auction appearance.
1. PR67 Cameo NGC. Western Collection (Stack's, 12/1981), lot 1137; Gold Rush Collection (Heritage, 1/2005), lot 30041, realized $655,500; Tacasyl Collection (Bonhams, 9/2013), lot 1009, realized $1,041,300.
2. PR66+ Cameo PCGS. Will Neil Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1947), lot 2603 (part of a complete set of stellas; Grant Pierce; ANA Convention Sale (Stack's, 8/1976), lot 2920 (as part of a complete set); May Auction (Superior, 5/1991), lot 1374. Pictured on PCGS CoinFacts.
3. PR66+ Cameo PCGS. Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; United States Gold Coin Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1882), lot 317; Dr. Jerry Buss Collection (Superior, 1/1985), lot 1766; G. Lee Kuntz Collection (Superior, 10/1991), lot 3389. Pictured on PCGS CoinFacts.
4. PR66 Cameo NGC. Memorable Sale (Numismatic Gallery, 3/1948), lot 280; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 7/1997), lot 359; Spectrum Numismatics; private collection. The present coin.
5. PR66 Cameo PCGS Secure. Sale of Coins (Harlan Page Smith, 1/1882), lot 655; T. Harrison Garrett; Robert Garrett; John Work Garrett; Johns Hopkins University; Garrett Collection, Part I (Bowers and Ruddy, 11/1979), lot 431; Auction '80 (Superior, 8/1980), lot 385; Buddy Ebsen Collection (Superior, 5/1987), lot 2444; Holecek Family Trust; 65th Anniversary Sale (Stack's, 10/2000), lot 1623; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2014), lot 5404. Pictured on PCGS CoinFacts.
6. PR66 Cameo PCGS. Rio Rancho Estate (Superior, 10/1974), lot 133; Lighthouse Collection (Stack's, 6/1978), lot 828; Ed Trompeter; Trompeter Collection (Superior, 2/1992), lot 134; Orlando Sale (Superior, 8/1992), lot 598; 60th Anniversary Sale (Stack's, 10/1995), lot 1547. Pictured on PCGS CoinFacts.
7. PR65 PCGS, CAC. Golden Jubilee Sale (B. Max Mehl, 5/1950), lot 243, part of a set; Amon Carter, Sr.; Amon Carter, Jr.; Carter Collection (Stack's, 1/1984), lot 632, part of a four-piece set of stellas; Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2015), lot 5299, realized $881,250.
8. Gem Brilliant Proof. Dr. John E. Wilkison, part of a set; Jeff Browning; Dallas Bank Collection (Sotheby's-Stack's, 10/2001), lot 361, part of a set.
9. PR64 Cameo PCGS Secure. ANA National Money Show (Stack's Bowers, 5/2013), lot 1294, realized $646,250. Pictured on PCGS CoinFacts.
10. PR63 NGC. Stack's Fixed Price List, Summer 1997, page 57 as part of a complete set; Americana Sale (Stack's, 1/1998), lot 1498, part of a set; Richmond Collection (David Lawrence, 7/2004), lot 1304, part of a set; Denver Signature (Heritage, 8/2006), lot 5468.
11. PR63 NGC. Armand Champa Sale (Bowers and Ruddy, 5/1972), lot 521; S. Hallock du Pont Collection (Sotheby's, 9/1982), lot 250; Coles Collection (Stack's, 10/1983), lot 57; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 8/1995), lot 307; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 9/1998), lot 7105; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2005), lot 30040; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2007), lot 3488; Pre-Long Beach Sale (Ira and Larry Goldberg, 5/2007), lot 1551; Pre-Long Beach Sale (Ira and Larry Goldberg, 2/2009), lot 1433.
12. PR63 NGC. King Farouk; Palace Collections of Egypt (Sotheby's, 2/1954), lot 322; Gaston DiBello Collection (Stack's, 5/1970), lot 796; Globus-Corson Collections (Stack's, 3/1999), lot 134; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 1/2000), lot 350; Atlanta Signature (Heritage, 8/2001), lot 7750.
13. PR66. Josiah K. Lilly; Smithsonian Institution, grade per Garrett and Guth.
A. Brilliant Proof. John Colvin Randall Collection (George Cogan, 3/1882), lot 631, part of a Goloid set.
B. Proof. George Woodside Collection (New York Coin & Stamp, 4/1892), lot 346.
C. Proof. Harlan Page Smith Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 5/1906), lot 1445.
D. Proof. A coin sold to DeWitt Smith by H.P. Smith, mentioned by Henry Chapman in his Smith Collection catalog in C above. Sold to Virgil Brand in 1908, Brand Journal number 46963.
E. Proof. Edgar Adams in 1911; sold to Virgil Brand, Brand Journal number 57093.
F. Proof. F.C.C. Boyd in 1921; sold to Virgil Brand, Brand Journal number 105729.
G. Proof. John Story Jenks Collection (Henry Chapman, 12/1921), lot 5682.
H. Brilliant Proof. William Forrester Dunham Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1941), lot 2063.
I. Brilliant Proof. Albert H. Grinnell Collection (Mehl, 6/1943), lot 185; Fred E. Olsen Collection (Mehl, 11/1944), lot 614. Part of a four-piece set of stellas.
J. Brilliant Proof. Pennsylvania Sale (Hollinbeck, 2/1947), lot 2533.
K. Brilliant Gem Proof. J.W. Schmandt Collection (Stack's, 2/1957), lot 219.
L. Proof. Public Auction Sale (Kreisberg-Schulman, 2/1961), lot 1150, part of a set of stellas.
M. Brilliant Gem Proof. Golden Sale, Part II (Kreisberg-Schulman, 1/1963), lot 1938, part of a set of stellas.
N. Gem Proof. Public Coin Auction (Quality Sales, 9/1973), lot 1154.
O. Proof. DuPont specimen, stolen in 1967.
From The HBC Collection. (Registry values: P3) (PCGS# 88058)
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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