1880 Flowing Hair Stella, PR67 Cameo
1880 $4 Judd-1657, Pollock-1857, PR67 Cameo NGC. The 1880
Flowing Hair stella is widely considered one of the great rarities
in American gold coinage and is ranked at number 18 among the
100 Greatest U.S. Coins. A total of 18 examples have been
traced in our roster below, and PCGS CoinFacts estimates that 20-25
specimens may survive in all grades. The coins seldom appear at
public auction, and every offering is a notable numismatic event.
This magnificent PR67 Cameo example presents an excellent
opportunity to obtain a truly legendary coin, in just its third
public auction appearance.
Ex: Floyd Starr
The obverse features the Flowing Hair portrait by Charles Barber, with LIBERTY on the headband, as seen on the 1879 Flowing Hair stella, (Judd-1635). Around is the inscription *6*G*.3*S*.7*G*R*A*M*S*, date 1880 below.
The reverse exhibits a five-pointed star in the center inscribed ONE STELLA / 400 CENTS. Closely surrounding the star are the mottoes E PLURIBUS UNUM / DEO EST GLORIA. Around the border UNITED STATES OF AMERICA / FOUR DOL.
The Stellas are Produced
The four dollar stella denomination was first produced in 1879, as a pattern for a proposed international coinage. The 1879 Flowing Hair stella had a very large mintage for a pattern issue, as the Committee of Coinage, Weights, and Measures wanted to make sure every member of congress had a chance to evaluate a specimen of the proposed denomination. At least 425 examples of the 1879 Flowing Hair stella (Judd-1635) were struck for inclusion in three-coin sets that also included a Goloid Metric dollar (Judd-1626) and a Goloid dollar (Judd-1617). The sets were offered exclusively to congressmen and government officials at their bullion cost of $6.10 for a long period in 1879 and 1880, and a strong numismatic demand developed for them. Unfortunately, the coins were withheld from collectors at the insistence of Mint Director Horatio Burchard until June of 1881, to give all interested congressmen an opportunity to purchase them. On that date, 30 sets were returned to the Philadelphia Mint, and Superintendent A. Louden Snowden was authorized to offer them to interested collectors and numismatic societies.
In addition to the 1879 Flowing Hair issue, an extremely limited mintage of an alternative stella design was also produced in 1879, the Coiled Hair stella (Judd-1638). No documentary evidence about the production of these 1879 Coiled Hair stellas has ever come to light, but they were probably struck in October or November of 1879, and held in reserve by Chief Engraver Charles Barber, in case the Flowing Hair design was rejected. Both designs were reproduced in 1880, also in extremely limited numbers, with no authorizing documentation. Writing in the Spring 2015 edition of the Journal of Numismatic Research, Roger W. Burdette summarized the probable production sequence and marketing of these later stellas:
"During 1880, Snowden became increasingly frustrated with Burchard's refusal to sell any of the 1879 flowing-hair sets to collectors and others. By late fall, he had the engravers prepare new obverse dies for both series using the 1879 portrait hubs (without dates or lettering). Inscriptions and numerals were added but not in identical positions as on the 1879 specimens. As before, this was largely mechanical work in making reductions and working dies ... Snowden had fifteen sets of each series manufactured. These were intended to supply patterns to collectors and numismatic societies. Later, in 1881, after receiving the return of thirty sets from Burchard, Snowden quietly sold the remaining 1879 and 1880 sets of both design series to collectors and numismatic societies. Exchanges with collectors for items desired for the Mint Collection might also have been accomplished. The probable price was $15.00 per set, regardless of designs or date."
A small number of restrikes of the 1880 Flowing Hair issue may have been manufactured at a later date, as population data and number of auction appearances suggest a surviving population of 20-25 examples today. The coins began appearing at auction at least as early as lot 583 of H.G. Sampson's Auction Sale (12/1885):
"1880 Stella, or four-dollar piece. Proof. Excessively rare. Limited at $19.00."
The following lot was an 1880 Goloid Metric dollar, probably from the same original set as the stella. The following note appeared after lot 584:
"The dies for the last two lots were made by Wm. Barber, and differ from the 1879 pieces, the dies of which were made by C.E. Barber. These are the first ever offered."
Sampson was a keen observer to notice the small differences in design between the 1879 and 1880 issues, but his information about the engravers was slightly off. Charles Barber adapted the 1879 Flowing Hair design from an earlier design for a half eagle by his father, William Barber. The Coiled Hair design on the Goloid dollar was developed by Assistant Engraver George T. Morgan, but Charles Barber actually adapted that design for use on the Coiled Hair stellas. As mentioned above, Barber made new dies for the 1880 issues that differed slightly in the relative placement of the devices. The stellas were apparently struck on shaved half eagle planchets, and all known examples show striated surfaces. The 1880 Flowing Hair stella has been a sought-after rarity since it first appeared on the numismatic scene, and prices have risen accordingly over the years. The current auction price realized for the issue belongs to the PR67+ NGC specimen in the Tacasyl Collection, sold by Bonham's in 2013, which brought $959,400.
The Present Coin
The present coin traces its history back to the sale of the Samuel H. McVitty Collection (B. Max Mehl, 3/1938). McVitty was a numismatist from Salem, Virginia who compiled a memorable collection of U.S. coins in all series. Mehl's description of this piece, in lot 325 of the catalog, reads:
"1880 $4.00. Flowing hair variety. Same type as the 1879. Excessively rare. According to records only from sixteen to twenty specimens minted. Seldom offered. Record at private sale over $500.00. Since 1879, of which over 600 were coined, brings about $200.00, this coin is certainly worth well into the four-figure mark. Perfect brilliant proof."
The lot was purchased by super-collector Floyd T. Starr, of Philadelphia. Starr assembled one of the greatest coin collections of all time, with a legendary eye for quality and numismatic rarity. His collection of United States proof coins was one of Walter Breen's main inspirations for his 1977 proof Encyclopedia, and Breen's frequent mentions of coins from a "Philadelphia Estate" were coded references to Starr's collection. Starr almost never parted with any of his coins during his lifetime, and his estate kept his collection intact for many years after his death in 1971. The collection was finally dispersed in a series of major auctions by Stack's over a period of 16 years, beginning in 1984. This 1880 Flowing Hair stella was offered in lot 1716 of Stack's 65th Anniversary Sale (10/2000), where it realized $132,250. The coin has not been publicly offered since.
The coin offered here is a magnificent Superb Gem, with richly frosted design elements that create a delightful cameo contrast with the deeply mirrored fields. The design elements are sharply detailed in most areas, but some of the usual softness shows on Liberty's hair, where the striations seen on all known specimens were not completely struck out. The pale yellow-gold surfaces are impeccably preserved, but this coin shows a distinctive, mint-made surface defect below the first 7 in the obverse legend. This defect shows on at least two other specimens of this issue, but it is not visible on most of the coins in our roster. We assume this feature is the result of some die damage or obstruction that occurred during the striking of these coins. This coin offers a unique combination of the best available technical quality, terrific eye appeal, and absolute rarity. It has been off the market for nearly a generation and a comparable specimen may not become available for many more years. The discerning collector will bid accordingly. Census: 3 in 67 (2 in 67 Cameo, 1 in 67*), none finer (10/17).
Roster of 1880 Flowing Hair Stellas
Plate matching auction appearances of the 1880 Flowing Hair stella is a difficult undertaking, due to poor photographic quality and terse physical descriptions in early catalogs and a general lack of pedigree markers on the coins themselves. We believe the coins in the main listing below are all different, but it is possible some duplication has occurred. Grades are per the last auction appearance, unless a subsequent certification event is known.
1. PR67 Cameo NGC. Samuel McVitty Collection (B. Max Mehl, 3/1938), lot 325; Floyd T. Starr; 65th Anniversary Sale (Stack's, 10/2000), lot 1716, realized $132,250. The present coin.
2. PR67 NGC. Dr. John E. Wilkison; Jeff Browning; Dallas Bank Collection (Stack's/Sotheby's, 10/2001), lot 362; Tacasyl Collection (Bonham's, 9/2013), lot 1010, realized $959,400.
3. PR66 Cameo NGC. Jerome Kern; Golden Jubilee Sale (B. Max Mehl, 5/1950), lot 244; Amon Carter, Sr.; Amon Carter, Jr. (Stack's, 1/1984), lot 633, realized $68,750; Ed Trompeter Collection (Superior, 2/1992), lot 135, realized $77,000; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 9/1998), lot 7106, realized $103,500; 65th Anniversary Sale (Stack's, 10/2000), lot 1624; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2001), lot 8171, realized $94,875: Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2002), lot 6944, realized $166,750; Phoenix ANA Signature (Heritage, 3/2008), lot 1451, realized $488,750.
4. PR66 PCGS. Sherwood Boyd; Greater New York Convention Sale (Stack's, 5/1985), lot 1343, realized $63,250; Dr. Jack Adams Collection (Superior, 5/1992), lot 2673, realized $91,850; Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2015), lot 5300, realized $517,000.
5. PR66 NGC. Will Neil Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1947), lot 2604, 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 1138, realized $41,000; Summer FUN Signature (Heritage, 6/2008), lot 1960, realized $431,250; FUN Signature (Heritage 1/2013), lot 5856, realized $440,625.
6. PR65 NGC. CAC. Auction '84 (RARCOA, 7/1984), lot 1913, realized $61,600; Chicago Sale (RARCOA, 8/1991), lot 967, realized $96,250; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 6/2015), lot 4229, realized $417,125.
7. PR65 NGC. 1974 ANA (Paramount, 8/1974), lot 873, realized $40,000; Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 3/1994), lot 1489; Gold Rush Collection (Heritage, 1/2005), lot 30043, realized $264,500.
8. PR65 NGC. Rio Rancho Collection (Superior, 10/1974), lot 134, realized $35,000; Auction '79 (Stack's, 7/1979), lot 801, realized $50,000; Auction '80 (Superior, 8/1980), lot 386, realized $105,000; Blevins/Bodway Collections (Superior, 6/1988), lot 6731, realized $84,700; Chris Schenkel Collection (Bowers and Merena, 11/1990), lot 508, realized $231,000; Long Beach Signature (Heritage 2/1995), lot 5837, realized $77,000.
9. PR65 NGC. John Work Garrett; Johns Hopkins University; Garrett Collection, Part I (Bowers and Ruddy, 11/1979), lot 432, realized $65,000; Jascha Heifetz Collection (Superior, 10/1989), lot 4297, realized $297,000; Swan/Sweet Collections (Bowers and Merena, 3/2004), lot 2621, realized $310,000; Dallas Signature (Heritage, 11/2006), lot 2153, realized $287,500; Dallas Signature (Heritage, 4/2007), lot 1694, realized $316,250; Husky Collection (Stack's, 6/2008), lot 2051; ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/2016), lot 4276; realized $352,500.
10. PR64 NGC. Abner Kreisberg; purchased by Vaughan Papke on 11/9/1960; Denver ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/1996), lot 8278.
11. PR63 Cameo NGC. Somerset Collection (Bowers and Merena, 5/1992), lot 1470, realized $39,050; Richmond Collection (David Lawrence, 7/2004), lot 1305.
12. PR63 PCGS. October Sale (Superior 10/1990), lot 2074, realized $71,500; Gainsborough II Sale (Superior, 2/1997), lot 2907; Pre-Long Beach Sale (Goldberg, 6/2002), lot 3608.
13. PR63 NGC. J.F. Bell (Jacob Shapiro); Memorable Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 3/1948), lot 281; United States Gold, Silver & Copper Coins (Stack's, 3/1999), lot 135; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 1/2000), lot 351, realized $86,250.
14. PR67. Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; United States Gold Coin Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 318, realized $55,000.
15. PR65+. S. Hallock DuPont Collection (Sotheby's, 9/1982), lot 251; Charles Kramer Collection (Stack's/Superior, 11/1988), lot 285, realized $72,600.
16. PR65. Josiah K. Lilly; Smithsonian Institution, grade per Garrett and Guth.
17. Gem Brilliant Proof. Massachusetts Historical Society (Stack's, 10/1970), lot 807, realized $13,000; Stack's FPL Summer 1997 offered as part of a four-piece set for $875,000; Americana Sale (Stack's, 1/1998), lot 1498, still part of the set, unsold.
18. Brilliant Proof. Auction '89 (Stack's, 7/1989), lot 1930, realized $72,600.
A. Proof. Public Auction Sale (H.G. Sampson, 12/1885), lot 583.
B. Proof. Harlan Page Smith Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 5/1906), lot 1459.
C. Proof. Virgil Brand in 1906, Brand Journal Number 34048.
D. Proof. Virgil Brand in 1907, Brand Journal number 38944.
E. Proof. Dewitt Smith; sold to Virgil Brand in 1908, Brand Journal number 46964.
F. Proof. Edgar Adams; sold to Virgil Brand in 1911, Brand Journal number 57092.
G. Proof. William H. Woodin; Public Auction Sale (Edgar Adams, 2/1911), lot 181; unknown intermediaries; Robert L. Marks Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 11/1972), lot 1038.
H. Proof. F.C.C. Boyd; sold to Virgil Brand in 1921, Brand Journal number 105731.
I. Proof. John Story Jenks Collection (Henry Chapman, 12/1921), lot 5689; Virgil Brand, Brand Journal number 117649.
J. Proof. Dr. G.F.E. Wilharm Collection (B. Max Mehl, 2/1921), lot 255; Charles Wellinger Collection (Mehl, 10/1923), lot 188.
K. Proof. William Forrester Dunham Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1941), lot 2064; Albert A. Grinnell Collection (Mehl, 6/1943), lot 186; Fred E. Olsen Collection (Mehl, 11/1944), lot 618.
L. Proof. Julius Guttag Collection (Abe Kosoff, 3/1942), lot 404.
M. Proof. Col. James W. Flanagan Collection (Stack's, 3/1944), lot 1537, sold to Mr. W. (possibly Charles Williams).
N. Proof. J.F. Bell Collection (Stack's, 12/1944), lot 308.
O. Proof. Pennsylvania Sale (Hollinbeck, 2/1947), lot 2534.
P. Proof. Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; H.R. Lee Collection (Stack's, 10/1947), lot 1208.
Q. Proof. King Farouk; Palace Collections of Egypt (Sotheby's, 2/1954), lot 323.
R. Proof. ANA Convention Auction (Federal Coin Exchange, 8/1954), lot 1676A.
S. Proof. ANA Convention Auction (Kosoff, 8/1958), lot 1945.
T. Proof. ANA Convention Auction (Leo Young, 8/1959), lot 1780.
U. Proof. Public Auction Sale (Kreisberg-Schulman, 2/1961), lot 1150.
V. Proof. Golden Sale of the Century, Part II (Kreisberg-Schulman, 1/1963), lot 1939.
W. Proof. ANA Convention Auction (Kosoff, 8/1968), lot 2190.
X. Proof. Dr. Conway Bolt; private collection; Public Auction Sale (Lester Merkin, 9/1968), lot 543.
Y. Proof. Sigmund L. Miller Collection (Harmer-Rooke, 12/1970), lot 3168.
Z. Proof. Public Auction Sale (Lester Merkin, 6/1972), lot 427.
AA. Gem Brilliant Proof. Winner F. Delp Collection (Stack's, 11/1972), lot 791, realized $17,000.
BB. Choice Brilliant Proof. Possibly Belden Roach Collection (B. Max Mehl, 2/1944), lot 803; Auction '80 (Stack's, 8/1980), lot 1451, realized $65,000.
CC. Brilliant Proof. Winthrop Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 9/1975), lot 583, realized $31,000; Gainsborough (Abner Kreisberg, 9/1980), lot 1275, realized $52,000.
DD. Proof. Sale 7499 (Sotheby's, 6/2000), lot 396, catalog not available for comparison.
From The Burgess Lee Berlin, M.D., J.D. Collection of Important United States Rarities. (Registry values: P2) (NGC ID# 28B3, PCGS# 88059)
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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