1879 Stella, PR65 Cameo
1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1832, R.3, PR65 Cameo
PCGS Secure. The 1879 Flowing Hair stella may be considered the
"type coin" to the stella series, as the other three variants dated
1879 and 1880 are all fabulously rare. No one knows exactly how
many 1879 Flowing Hair stellas survive, but it is certainly an
order of magnitude (and likely more) larger than the number that
survive of the 1879 or 1880 Coiled Hair or the 1880 Flowing
Starkly Contrasted With a Distinctive Appearance
The closest parallel in American coinage history to the 1879 Flowing Hair stella is the 1856 Flying Eagle cent. Both are technically patterns, but both were produced in substantially larger numbers than most pattern issues. And both are actively collected right alongside their counterparts in the Flying Eagle/Indian cent and U.S. gold type series.
The 1879 Flowing Hair stellas were the brainchild of the John A. Kasson, who in 1866 was chairman of the House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures when the so-called Metric Act was passed, legalizing the use of the metric system, a mostly European convention, for American contracts. He later held several Iowa state posts in the 1860s and 1870s, and from 1877 to 1881 he was named "envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary" to Austria-Hungary under President Rutherford B. Hayes.
The stellas were one of several attempts in the 19th century to create an internationally convenient coinage -- the 1874 Bickford eagle, Judd-1373, was another -- but this was a time of Mint shenanigans of the lowest order, and the stellas were the height of impracticality.
Kasson was, from all appearances, a high-minded man who merely wanted to simplify international transactions. He was well-traveled -- one of his trips was as assistant postmaster general of the United States under the Lincoln administration, an 1863 sortie to Paris for the International Postal Convention. But the stellas could not successfully compete with established European or American coins such as the half eagle, and their cumbersome purported metric alloy would have made their striking at the Mint a nightmare. We believe that all surviving stellas are struck on shaved-down .900 fine half eagle planchets that resulted in the die striations seen on each side, rather than the nominal metric composition of six-sevenths gold, one-seventh copper-silver alloy.
This is a distinctive and unmistakable stella. The fields are deeply reflective, as one would expect, and the devices are heavily frosted. The combination of each gives the coin a stark cameo appearance. Additionally, there are two depressed alloy spots on the obverse, one behind the mouth of Liberty and the other behind the eye. These planchet flaws give this Gem stella a one-of-a-kind appearance. As with all 1879 Flowing Hair four dollar gold pieces we have seen, each side has roller marks, and the strike details are slightly soft on the hair of Liberty. Rich orange-gold color completes the picture of this remarkable Gem. Population: 12 in 65 (1 in 65+) Cameo, 14 finer (8/13).(Registry values: P1) (NGC ID# 28B2, PCGS# 88057)
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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