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    1880 Coiled Hair Stella, PR67 Cameo
    Judd-1660, The Eliasberg Example
    Among the Finest of Nine Known

    1880 $4 Coiled Hair, Judd-1660, Pollock-1860, JD-1, Low R.7, PR67 Cameo NGC. Ex: The Paramount Collection. Ownership of an 1880 Coiled Hair stella is a mark of distinction, not just for those who specialize in the four dollar gold set or in the larger pattern series, but for anyone involved in American or even international numismatics. This is one of the great United States coinage rarities - a globally recognized key that separates the most advanced collectors from the pack.

    Putting aside its ultimate rarity, part of what makes the 1880 Coiled Hair stella so popular is the mystery that surrounds it. Why was it made? When was it struck, and for whom? How many examples were produced? Who designed it? These questions have stumped numismatists for decades, although the lack of definitive answers never seemed to prevent the spread of speculation and misleading assertions.

    Setting the Record Straighter

    Credit goes to Roger Burdette for setting the record straighter on the inspiration for and production of the 1879 and 1880 stellas. The traditional origin story for this denomination casts Iowa Representative John A. Kasson in the leading role. Legend has it that Kasson, then Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Austria-Hungary and former chairman of the House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures, argued that a four dollar gold piece would facilitate international trade with member-countries of the Latin Monetary Union.

    The reality is somewhat different. It is true that on January 3, 1879, Kasson wrote to Secretary of State William M. Evarts, explaining that certain European countries had a distinct advantage over the United States in currency exchange and commercial transactions given the existence of a standard gold piece that circulated at an equivalent rate between them. Kasson sought an equal standard for the United States, hoping to minimize complexities for American importers and exporters and the "embarrassments" associated with fluctuating invoice values. Kasson explained to the secretary:

    "If a new gold coin were authorized by Congress to be of the exact value of the gold piece already better known throughout Europe and the East than any other single coin, and this to be issued in substitution for the three-dollar gold pieces, which should be withdrawn, we should have a standard of money in which not only all custom-house accounts might be accurately kept, but which might gradually become the standard of all international commercial transactions, and even for the settlement of values of our home commerce in articles which are largely exported."

    In the Spring 2015 issue of the Journal of Numismatic Research, Roger Burdette explains how scholars have misconstrued Kasson's letter and used it as the basis for the creation story of the four dollar stella:

    "John A. Kasson's letter of January 3, 1879, to the State Department has long been used as the impetus for the proposed Stella $4 coin. Coinage Committee documents are clear that his concern about a unit of account for payments guided their investigation. However, a careful reading of Kasson's letter reveals no such suggestion for a $4 coin by the ambassador.

    "In his letter, Ambassador Kasson acknowledged that the Austrian eight-florin gold piece had been designated as the standard of value for certifying invoices to the Austrian consulate. He thought this was a good idea, since it stabilized prices for suppliers. He also thought, 'there is the advantage of equality in value between the 8-florin, the 20-franc, and the 20-lira pieces,' Spanish twenty pesetas, and eight Dutch florins.

    Central to Kasson's argument was that all of these coins were of the exact same value. They were interchangeable. He wanted the same for the United States, a coin of "exact value" to its European counterparts. In other words, Kasson wanted a coin worth $3.88, which was what the Austrian eight florin was worth in U.S. dollars. Since $4 does not equal $3.88, a four dollar gold piece would never improve matters.

    Nevertheless, Dr. William Wheeler Hubbell, a man of many talents, including, apparently, the ability to persuade, convinced Representative Alexander H. Stephens, then Chairman of the House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures, that a four dollar gold piece was the perfection solution. Besides being the closest round-number approximation to one of those European gold coins, Hubbell argued that the denomination would fit conveniently within his proposed international system of metric gold coinage. Additionally, Hubbell made it seem like he had the support of Stephen's predecessor, Minister Kasson, by reinterpreting the January 3rd letter. Hubbell's system was a contrived, ridiculous scheme designed to use his patented alloy of gold and silver in the production of five different denominations, including a metric double eagle and a goloid dollar. According to Burdette: "Each was intended to solve some perceived monetary problem and each was expected to return handsome profits to Hubbell, while saving the whole world millions of dollars each year."

    The stellas of 1879 and 1880 are patterns -- one might call them salesman's samples -- used to appease Hubbell and show to members of Congress for their approval. At least, that was true for the 1879 Flowing Hair variant.

    The Four Stellas

    Four distinct stella varieties exist: the 1879 Flowing Hair and Coiled Hair coins and the 1880 issues of the same type. It has long been believed that Charles Barber designed the Flowing Hair portrait based on a design by his father, William Barber (Judd-1574), while George Morgan fashioned the Coiled Hair portrait. Both types share a common reverse, engraved by Barber but effectively designed by Dr. Hubbell. Again, bucking established thought, Roger Burdette puts forth a strong argument that Charles Barber was likely responsible for the Coiled Hair design, too, showing that Barber's design was based on an early pattern by George Morgan (Judd-1631).

    Unfortunately, while documentation regarding the purpose and production of 1879 Flowing Hair stellas is relatively comprehensive, little is known about their Coiled Hair counterparts, or even the Flowing Hair coins dated 1880. Mint records show that 425 1879 Flowing Hair stellas were struck between December 1879 and May 1880. There is no documentation that we know of that sheds any light on how many Coiled Hair stellas or 1880 Flowing Hair stellas were produced, who authorized their production, or why there were produced. The best estimates range from 15 to 25 examples of each type, with far fewer survivors known.

    The Eliasberg 1880 Coiled Hair Stella

    We cannot say it enough: any stella is a prize. However, the Flowing Hair coins of 1879 are almost exclusively used to represent the type, while the Coiled Hair variants stand out as the greatest rarities in this short set, with the 1880 leading the pack. Only 13 1879 Coiled Hair stellas and nine 1880 Coiled Hair stellas are confirmed. These trade hands infrequently, and any public appearance is sure to garner considerable collector and media attention.

    This happens to be one of the finest of the nine 1880 Coiled Hair stellas known, with a pedigree to match. It is the Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. example, which formed part of the most storied set of United States coinage ever assembled. It was offered as part of the Eliasberg gold coin collection in 1982 and reappeared in 2000. It has remained in private hands since then, making only its second appearance in nearly 40 years.

    This Superb Gem proof features a distinctive halo of reddish patina around the portrait of Liberty. A similar effect occurs around the reverse legend. Both sides are otherwise rich yellow-gold with tremendous Cameo contrast between the clean fields and frosted devices. Parallel striae are present on both the obverse and reverse, as always. Although these have been called adjustment marks in the past and some scholars have tried to associate them with restrikes, they are simply a result of inadequate striking pressure failing to obliterate planchet imperfections caused by the draw bench. That same lack of pressure explains softness over the central portion of the design.

    We last handled an 1880 Coiled Hair stella of similar quality nearly six years ago, not an especially long interval given the rarity of the issue, but one never knows when a coin as fine might reappear.

    Roster of 1880 Coiled Hair Stellas
    1. Eliasberg Specimen. PR67 Cameo NGC.
    Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; Louis E. Eliasberg, Jr.; United States Gold Coin Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 319, realized $99,000; Holecek Family Trust (Stack's, 10/2000), lot 1625; The Paramount Collection. The present coin.
    2. Delp Specimen. PR67 Cameo NGC.
    Winner Delp Collection (Stack's, 11/1972), lot 792, realized $35,000; Summer FPL (Stack's, 1997) offered as part of a four-piece set for $875,000; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2005), lot 30044, realized $977,500; Tacasyl Collection (Bonhams, 9/2013), lot 1011, realized $2,574,000.
    3. DuPont Specimen. PR67 Cameo NGC.
    CAC. S. Hallock du Pont Collection (Sotheby's, 9/1982), lot 252, part of a four-piece set of stellas with the coins offered in individual lots, realized $102,300; Chicago Sale (Superior, 8/1991), lot 707, realized $440,000; Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2015), lot 5301, realized $1,821,250.
    4. Trompeter Specimen. PR65 Cameo PCGS. CAC.
    Will Neil Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1947), lot 2605, sold as part of a set for $3,850; Grant Pierce; 1976 ANA (Stack's, 8/1976), lot 2920, sold as part of a set for $225,000; Western Collection (Stack's, 12/1981), lot 1139, realized $135,000; Ed Trompeter Collection (Superior, 2/1992), lot 136, realized $264,000; Orlando Sale (Superior, 8/1992), lot 599; 60th Anniversary Sale (Stack's, 10/1995), lot 1548, realized $308,000; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 6/2015), lot 4230, realized $1,116,250.
    5. Memorable Specimen. PR65 Cameo PCGS.
    Memorable Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 3/1948), lot 282; Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 3/1999), lot 136; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 1/2000), lot 352; Legend Numismatics; Bob Simpson.
    6. Kern Specimen. PR62 NGC.
    Golden Jubilee Sale (B. Max Mehl, 5/1950), lot 245, sold as part of a set for $4,100; Amon Carter, Sr.; Amon Carter, Jr.; Carter Family Collection (Stack's, 1/1984), lot 634, realized $72,250; Richmond Collection (David Lawrence, 7/2004), lot 1306; Santa Clara Sale (Superior, 7/2005), lot 425, realized $618,125; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2009), lot 4035, realized $575,000; Los Angeles Signature (Heritage, 7/2009), lot 1246, realized $546,250.
    7. Davies Specimen. PR61 NGC.
    Davies-Niewoehner Collections (Paramount, 2/1975), lot 547, realized $67,500; Bowers and Ruddy Rare Coin Review #26, p. 64; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2000), lot 7519; Robert Swan & Rod Sweet Collections (Bowers and Merena, 3/2004), lot 2620; Heritage Inventory (12/2020).
    8. Dallas Bank Specimen PCGS Proof Genuine, Unc Details.
    Dr. John Wilkison; Tennessee Coin Exchange; Julian Leidman and Mike Brownlee; Paramount International Coin; H. Jeff Browning; Dallas Bank Collection (Sotheby's and Stack's, 10/2000), lot 363; Rarities Auction (Stack's Bowers, 10/2015), lot 110, realized $258,500; ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/2019), lot 3862.
    9. Lilly Specimen. PR64.
    Josiah K. Lilly; National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, grade per Garrett and Guth.

    Additional Appearances
    A. Proof.
    H.P. Smith Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 5/1906), lot 1456, part of a three-piece Goloid set, with the coins offered in individual lots.
    B. Proof.
    Dewitt Smith; sold to Virgil Brand in 1908, Brand Journal number 46965.
    C. Proof.
    Edgar Adams; sold to Virgil Brand in 1911, Brand Journal number 57094.
    D. Proof.
    F.C.C Boyd; sold to Virgil Brand in 1921, Brand Journal number 105730.
    E. Proof.
    Albert A. Grinnell Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1943), lot 187; Fred E. Olsen Collection (B. Max Mehl, 11/1944), lot 621, part of a four-piece set of stellas with the coins offered in individual lots.
    F. Proof.
    King Farouk; Palace Collections of Egypt (Sotheby's, 2/1954), lot 323, purchased by Baldwin.
    G. Proof.
    Public Auction Sale (Kreisberg-Schulman, 2/1961), lot 1150, part of a four-piece set of stellas.
    H. Proof.
    Golden Sale of the Century, Part II (Kreisberg-Schulman, 1/1963), lot 1940, part of a four-piece set of stellas, with the coins offered individually.
    From The Paramount Collection. (Registry values: P4)

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 28B4, PCGS# 88060)

    Weight: 7.00 grams

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

    View all of [The Paramount Collection ]

    View Certification Details from NGC

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    February, 2021
    23rd-25th Tuesday-Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 27
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 7,305

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    20% of the successful bid (minimum $19) per lot.

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