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    Description

    1880 Coiled Hair Stella, PR65
    Judd-1660, Only Nine Examples Known
    The Neil-Trompeter Coin

    1880 $4 Coiled Hair, Judd-1660, Pollock-1860, R.7, PR65 PCGS. CAC. The Flowing Hair and Coiled Hair stellas of 1879 and 1880 have captivated the coin collecting community for more than 120 years. The topic has been addressed by scholars as legendary as the coins themselves, and the issue's mythology is often at the forefront of their articles; Michael Hodder's "The Mystery of the Stella Solved" and R.W. Julian's "The Stella: Its History and Mystery" are but two examples of this phenomenon. Indeed, the stellas are curious anomalies in nearly every respect. Their four dollar denomination is unique in American coinage, and everything from their mintages, compositions, and designers has been contested -- not to mention the robust debate regarding so-called "originals" versus "restrikes" of the 1879 Flowing Hair type.

    Recently, numismatic researcher Roger W. Burdette made another significant contribution to this field of study. His article, "Louis Garnett, Wheeler Hubbell, and the Goloid Fiasco," is part of the Spring 2015 issue of the Journal of Numismatic Research. Burdette's study of contemporary Mint records is comprehensive, shedding new light on this otherwise murky area of inquiry. Many of Burdette's findings are indisputable, backed by solid supporting documentation. But, as is the case with nearly every piece of literature related to the stellas, Burdette's work seems to raise as many questions as it answers.

    Origins of the Denomination
    Who first developed the idea for a four dollar gold coin? Was it John A. Kasson? Was it Dr. William Wheeler Hubbell? Did the two men work together? All of these scenarios have been suggested. In reality, it appears more likely that Kasson unknowingly provided Hubbell with the idea for the stella. Hubbell's inspiration derives from a letter written by Kasson dated January 3, 1879, which passed from the State Department to the Treasury Department to Alexander H. Stephens of the Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures. Kasson's letter proposed a new coin to allow invoices to be expressed in 20 francs, 8 florin, and other equivalent denominations part of the Latin Monetary Union:

    "The United States have no coin closely approximating the value of the 20-franc piece. 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 singe coin, and this to be issue in substitution for the three-dollar 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..."


    Kasson never specifically mentioned a four dollar coin. He would have realized the uselessness of such a coin given his experience in international relations and monetary standardization: The French 20 francs was equivalent to $3.88, not $4. A four dollar coin would hardly have made exchange easier, hence his insistence on a coin of "exact value."

    Alexander H. Stephens seemingly used Kasson's good reputation and twisted his words to push his and Hubbell's agenda (metric coinage in goloid composition). Stephens had been enamored with the inventive Dr. Hubbell since autumn 1877, when Hubbell first proposed his goloid coin idea to the committee Stephens chaired. After receiving Kasson's letter, Stephens immediately turned it over to Hubbell for further investigation. It was Hubbell who ultimately recommended the four dollar denomination, figuring the coins could simultaneously facilitate international trade and make him rich beyond his wildest dreams.

    The Engraver(s)
    In addition to the confusion regarding the originator of the stella, questions abound pertaining to the issue's engraver(s). Did Charles Barber design both the Flowing Hair and Coiled Hair obverse? Did George T. Morgan design the Coiled Hair obverse? Who designed the reverse? Early auction records are silent on the subject. Apparently, the earliest indication is in the pattern-hub destruction list of 1910. The document, prepared by an aging Charles Barber 30 years removed from the incident, credits himself with all three designs. The Adams-Woodin pattern reference (1913) substantiates Barber's claim. Things get cloudier from there. Bowers, Breen, Judd, Julian, Hodder, and Saul Teichman have credited Charles Barber with the Flowing Hair obverse and George T. Morgan with the Coiled Hair obverse. Curiously, Garrett and Guth argued that Barber was the engraver of both obverse designs in their Gold Encyclopedia (2006), while their latest edition of 100 Greatest U.S. Coins (2014) cites Morgan as the Coiled Hair engraver. Opinions regarding the reverse generally acknowledge Barber, but the engraver is occasionally listed as unknown.

    Burdette argues that Barber engraved all three dies. His claim is based on the 1910 hub inventory and the artistic quality of the stella designs. The Flowing Hair pieces were based on the original work of William Barber, who died on August 31, 1879. Charles Barber slightly modified his father's design for the Flowing Hair stellas. Burdette proposes that Barber probably adapted George Morgan's Coiled Hair design, used on the goloid and metric silver dollars (Judd-1654 and Judd-1660), for the Coiled Hair stellas: "The [Coiled Hair] Stella portrait was prepared by Charles Barber as a companion to Morgan's coiled-hair designs." Burdette explains earlier in the same article:

    "The so-called coiled-hair designs for goloid and metric silver dollars are consistent with George Morgan's workmanship. It is likely that early collectors were confused about 'coiled-hair' descriptions and assumed that the Stella of this design was Morgan's and not Barber's work."


    Burdette's argument is interesting. The difference between the Coiled Hair dollar designs and the Coiled Hair stella design seems to support Burdette's thesis. Otherwise, Morgan's design would have been used on the stella exactly as it appeared on the goloid and metric silver dollars. However, this scenario raises some important questions. Morgan's Coiled Hair design for the goloid and metric silver dollars differed slightly, so is it surprising that the stella design was also slightly different? Why would Barber create a "companion" design for inclusion in the Morgan goloid set? Why not simply scale down one of Morgan's arguably "superior" Coiled Hair portraits? Burdette posits that Charles Barber probably "assumed control of the department" after the death of his father and decided he would adapt Morgan's design rather than use it as originally conceived. Burdette's theory is plausible, but the dearth of contemporary Mint records prevents any definitive conclusion from being reached.

    Mintages and Survival Rates
    The production of 1879 Flowing Hair stellas left a relatively detailed paper trail. On October 4, 1879, Mint Director Burchard wrote to Philadelphia Mint Superintendent Archibald L. Snowden, telling him to strike "twenty pieces of each denomination" (the goloid dollar, the stella, and the metric silver dollar). On January 12, 1880, Burchard wrote Snowden again, informing him that Treasury Secretary Sherman desired five additional sets, bringing the total to 25 sets. The sets were distributed to congressmen for $6.10 each. Burchard requested another 100 sets on March 1, followed by 300 more sets on May 10 for a total of 425 sets. Other mintage estimates range from 500 pieces (R. E. Preston of the Mint Bureau) to 600 coins (W. Elliot Woodward) to 725 examples (Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth).

    Details regarding the production of 1879 Coiled Hair stellas and both 1880 variants are scant. In fact, there are no Mint records documenting any aspect of their creation. Based on survival rates, it is fair to assume that 15 to 25 of each type were struck. Burdette speculates that the 1879 Coiled Hair stellas were struck in late October or early November 1879. Snowden likely kept the coins "in reserve, in case Stephens did not like the flowing hair [design]. They might also have been reserved for special purposes, such as exchange for coins needed for the Mint Collection or political rewards." As for the 1880-dated stellas, Burdette proposes that Snowden ordered new dies for both designs in 1880 after Burchard refused to sell unsold 1879 Flowing Hair sets to collectors, insisting they were strictly reserved for members of congress.

    One thing is certain beyond any reasonable doubt: The 1880 Coiled Hair stella is the rarest of the four issues in the series. Perhaps 10 examples survive, nine of which have been individually identified (see roster below).

    Physical Description
    A small vertical toning streak extending downward from the star to the D in DOL. most easily identifies this piece as the Neil-Trompeter specimen. Orange-gold coloration paints each side, while the border areas show blushes sunburst-orange patina. A similarly colored alloy spot appears beside the top point of the star. As expected, light striations occur in a vertical fashion over the centers. Proof reflectivity in the fields is substantial, while limited frost over the sharply detailed design elements is insufficient for a Cameo designation. Regardless, the aesthetic appeal of this blatantly original four dollar gold coin is outstanding.

    Roster of 1880 Coiled Hair Stellas
    1. 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.
    2. DuPont Specimen. PR67 NGC. 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.
    3. Trompeter Specimen. PR65 PCGS. 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. The Present Example.
    4. Eliasberg Specimen. PR65. 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.
    5. Memorable Specimen. PR64 NGC. 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.
    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.
    8. Dallas Bank. Impaired Proof. Dallas Bank Collection (Sotheby's and Stack's, 10/2000), lot 363.
    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 New Orleans Collection, Part Two.(Registry values: P4) (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.

    View all of [The New Orleans Collection, Part Two ]

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