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    1879 Flowing Hair Stella, Judd-1635, PR64
    'Premier Glamour Pieces' in American Coinage
    About 425 Pieces Struck

    1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, R.3, PR64 PCGS. The Coin Dealer Newsletter featured an article in its February 2005 Monthly Supplement focused on the enigmatic four dollar gold coin pattern known as the stella. Author Don Ketterling called it one of the "premier glamour pieces" and "holy grails" in American numismatics. We doubt anyone would disagree with that glowing assessment.

    Unlike many other 19th century coins, the stella cannot be collected by die variety, it cannot be cherry-picked from a dealer's inventory, and it is not especially rare in the absolute sense with about 425 pieces struck in 1879-1880. Indeed, the stella was never authorized for circulation and should not be considered among other regular issues. So what is it that keeps these four dollar gold pieces at the forefront of American coin collecting?

    Simply put, the stella tells a fascinating story -- one that has been told and retold for more than a century. The details of that story, including the roles of its key protagonists, have often been confused and misrepresented like a game of broken telephone.

    It was long believed that the American ambassador in Austria-Hungary, Minister John A. Kasson, suggested production of a four dollar gold piece. Today, we know that Dr. William Wheeler Hubbell was the driving force behind the denomination's creation, with his intent being to profit from a new system of metric coinage.

    It was also believed that Charles Barber was responsible for the Flowing Hair design and that George T. Morgan created the Coiled Hair motif. There is now a belief among some researchers, like Roger Burdette, that Barber handled both designs, drawing inspiration from his father, William, and from Morgan.

    One of the more titillating tales associated with the stella is the now-debunked myth put forth by Walter Breen in his 1988 Complete Encyclopedia that the stellas "commonly adorned the bosoms of Washington's most famous madams, who owned the bordellos favored by those same congressmen [who ordered examples]." This line has been quoted repeatedly. Although completely unsubstantiated, this legend remains popular with collectors.

    Perhaps the greatest point of contention concerns the existence of "originals." We know without question that Wheeler Hubbell was displeased with the first group of 25 1879 Flowing Hair stellas struck, which he described as being "too pale." It has also been proposed by the likes of Michael Hodder and others that so-called "originals" may be distinguished by their lack of planchet striations, subsequent productions having been struck on planed down half eagle planchets showing roller marks over the centers. However, further research is required on that front, specifically, metallurgical analysis.

    The four dollar gold stella continues to captivate the collecting public, and this near-Gem proof is sure to draw much attention when it crosses the block. The surfaces feature deep orange-gold color and textured, brightly reflective fields. The devices are mostly pinpoint-sharp, except the centers, which, as usual, display diagonal striations. Ticks under Liberty's lowest curl and in the field above (STELL)A identify this coin. Housed in a green label holder.
    From The HBC Collection. (Registry values: P1)

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 28AZ, PCGS# 8057)

    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 HBC Collection ]

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2019
    9th-14th Wednesday-Monday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 15
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 738

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