Extremely Rare 1879 Coiled Hair Stella1879 $4 Coiled Hair, Judd-1638, Pollock-1838, R.6, PR63 NGC. Richmond Collection. The background of the stella is rooted in the attempt of 19th century America to solve the silver/gold relationship as well as create an international coinage. While some of Walter Breen's research has been repudiated in the years since his death, his grasp of the two issues that drove the mint to create the stella bears repeating: "This silver/gold 'rivalry' was to become subject matter for thousands of learned papers and books exhibiting mostly their authors' ignorance, reams of futile congressional debates, and eventually the main issue of the 1896 and 1900 presidential campaigns, inspiring William Jennings Bryan's obfuscatory 'Cross of Gold' speech. Underlying all the rhetoric were official policies only partly concealing the real issue, which was subsidies to wealthy mine owners while people starved in the streets."
After Prussia went on the gold standard and dumped 8,000 tons of silver on the international metals market, the situation worsened for mine owners and silver proponents. New outlets were needed. The internationally accepted Trade dollar promoted Comstock silver abroad with an extra grain of silver in each coin to help guarantee acceptance of these coins (mostly in China). Also, the Bland-Allison Act was passed in 1878 and led to the creation of the Morgan dollar and the government requirement to purchase between two and four million ounces of silver per month of 'new' silver. Additionally, an international coinage was proposed in 1879 by Rep. John Kasson for a metric gold coinage that would contain both gold and 10% silver. These are the coins that we know today as stellas.
As Mark Borckardt pointed out in the write-up for the PR67 1879 Flowing Hair stella, it is doubtful that such planchets were actually produced. It would have been more expedient for the purposes of pattern coinage to simply cut down half eagle planchets that were alloyed with 10% copper. After all, the purpose of pattern coinage was to give an idea of what such coins would look like, rather than be technically correct, and the difference between a 10% copper alloy and 10% silver alloy would be visually imperceptible. The difference would only have been important if the denomination had actually been adopted. In that case, a 10% alloy of silver in a widely circulating gold coin would have absorbed a significant amount of Comstock ore.
Two designs were executed for the proposed four dollar gold piece. The design that is usually seen is by Chief Engraver Charles Barber and depicts Liberty with flowing hair curls. The other design, and the one that we see in this lot, was designed by Barber's assistant, George Morgan. His design shows Liberty's hair tightly coiled on top of her head. Numismatists and art critics may debate the relative merits of each design, but it is clear that Morgan had more to lose with a so-so design than Barber did. Morgan had been stung by public criticism of the eagle on the adopted 1878 dollar design. Some said it more resembled a turkey, and others said it was just plain ugly. Apparently Morgan took the criticism to heart. In 1879 he created the "Schoolgirl" series of patterns, and ten years later the "Shield Earring" dollars. Both designs are unquestionably among the most artistically accomplished patterns of the 19th century. The Coiled Hair stella was also created during this highpoint of creativity for George Morgan.
More than 400 pieces were struck of Charles Barber's Flowing Hair design and dated 1879. However, George Morgan's Coiled Hair design is so seldom seen that it is one of the premier gold rarities of the 19th century. Mintages for the four stella issues (Flowing Hair 1879, 1880 and Coiled Hair 1879, 1880) vary from one expert to another. The 1879 Coiled Hair has a reported mintage between 20 and 25 pieces. However, what is most important are the number of survivors. It is generally believed that 13 to 15 individual coins are known today. The roster of known specimens as listed on USPatterns.com lists 12 different examples, listed below:
1. January 1882 Bangs and Company Sale; John Work Garrett; Johns Hopkins University Nov. 1979 Bowers and Ruddy Garrett Sale (431) $115,000; Auction '80 (835) $175,000; May 1987 Superior Buddy Ebsen Sale (2444) $165,000. Pedigree Marks: Spot above 8 and others inside loops of digit; spots in front of neck.
2. W.W. Neil; June 1947 B. Max Mehl Neil Sale (2603) $3,850 in set; Grant Pierce; August 1976 Stack's ANA Sale (2920) $225,000 in set. Pedigree Marks: Spot between the 9 and truncation of bust.
3. May 1950 B. Max Mehl Golden Jubilee Sale (243) $4,100 in set; Amon Carter Sr.; Amon Carter Jr.; January 1984 Stack's Amon Carter Sale (632) $88,000. Pedigree Mark: Minor toning spot on obverse rim below right side of 8.
4. February 1954 Sotheby's Palace Sale (392) in set; May 1970 Stack's Gaston DiBello Sale (796). Pedigree Marks: Spot alongside side of star above E in ONE; obverse spot between hair and C; toning over left side of 9.
5. Armand Champa May 1972 Bowers and Ruddy Champa Sale (521) $29,000; September 1982 Sotheby's Sale (250) $61,600; October 1983 Stack's Sale (57) $74,800; August 1995 Bowers and Merena Sale (307) $137,500. Pedigree Marks: Spot between star one and rim; spot in right field near joining of hair and neck; two blots to right of the hair; lint mark behind hair bun below R; spot on reverse inside dentils at 4:30; blemishes at base of D and L of DOLLAR.
6. October 1974 Superior Sale (133) $105,000; June 1978 Stack's Sale (828) $90,000; Ed Trompeter; February 1992 Superior Ed Trompeter Sale (134) $198,000; August 1992 Superior Orlando Sale (598); October 1995 Stack's Sale (1547) $220,000. Pedigree Marks: Spot below right foot of M; vertical line impairment extending from edge of star over D in DOLLAR.
7. December 1982 Stack's Western Sale (1137) $80,000. Pedigree Marks: Spot on obverse between the eye and 3; small specks over star and below N and M of UNUM.
8. Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; Louis E. Eliasberg, Jr.; October 1982 Bowers and Ruddy U.S. Gold Sale (317) $101,750; January 1985 Superior Jerry Buss Sale (1766) $95,000; October 1991 Superior Sale (3389). Pedigree Marks: Spot above the hair below star 6; spot on reverse rim below U in FOUR; reverse spot on star between E of ONE and first L in STELLA.
9. March 1948 Numismatic Gallery Memorable Sale (280); July 1997 Bowers and Merena Rarities Sale (359) $231,000; Spectrum Numismatics. Pedigree Marks: Spot directly below star 1; blemish between 6 and throat of Liberty; spot below left side of G in GRAMS; spot on reverse dentils below left edge of O in DOL.
10. Josiah K. Lilly Smithsonian Institution.
11. Dr. Wilkison; Browning, Sotheby's October 2001.
12. The Present Specimen. Stack's (Summer 1997 Fixed Price List at $875,000 in set); January 1998 Stack's Americana Sale (1498), unsold; unknown intermediary; Richmond Collection I (David Lawrence, 7/04), lot 1304, $299,000. Pedigree Mark: oblong spot between star 2 and rim on obverse.
This particular coin shows the attribute seen on almost all stellas of each design type: central striations on the obverse. On this piece they appear to have been caused by roller marks. This would make sense as planchet stock would most likely have been created for the four dollar coins by reducing the thickness of half eagle planchet strip by passing the strip through rollers. Rollers oftentimes imparted marks that resemble striations over the highpoints, e.g., 1902-S dollars. Softly defined over the highpoints of Liberty's hair, the surfaces are bright and the fields highly reflective with even reddish patina over each side. As mentioned above, the single most telling pedigree identifier on this coin is an oval-shaped planchet void that has taken on a dark appearance, located between star 2 and the denticles.
George Morgan's design for the proposed international coinage of four dollar gold pieces was short-lived and soon forgotten by mint personnel, and by those in the circles of influence in Washington who briefly considered John Kasson's idea for a gold coin that could be accepted throughout Europe. Nevertheless, for those who pursue U.S. numismatics it provides an enduring legacy of a 19th century gold "euro" and has remained one of the most famous and popular of all U.S. denominations.(Registry values: P3) (NGC ID# 28B2, PCGS# 8058)
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