1879 Flowing Hair Stella, PR65 Cameo
1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, R.3, PR65 Cameo
Remarkably Well-Preserved Specimen
In 1866 Congress passed the Metric Act, written by Rep. John A. Kasson, then-chairman of the House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures. In March 1867 William Darrah "Pig Iron" Kelley, a Philadelphia native, would assume the chairmanship of the committee, serving through 1873. Kasson, during the next two decades, would serve in some local Iowa state posts as well as on a couple of important European assignments -- one to an international postal convention, one as Minister Plenipotentiary to Austria-Hungary.
The 1866 Metric Act is sometimes referred to as the Kasson Act, under which:
"It shall be lawful throughout the United States of America to employ the weights and measures of the metric system; and no contract or dealing, or pleading in any court, shall be deemed invalid or liable to objection because the weights or measures expressed or referred to therein are weights or measures of the metric system."
Kasson laid out his motives for legalizing the metric system in a report to the 39th Congress in 1866, pointing out that the system "is already used in some arts and trades in this country, and is especially adapted to the wants of others." He wrote further, however, that:
"Its minute and exact divisions specially adapt it to the use of chemists, apothecaries, the finer operations of the artisan, and to all scientific objects. It has always been and is now used in the United States coast survey. Yet in some of the States, owing to the phraseology of their laws, it would be a direct violation of them to use it in the business transactions of the community."
Although Kasson is usually credited with the stella proposal, Robert W. Julian in an (undated) article in Coins magazine titled "From Goloid pattern to $4 coins" puts the idea squarely at the feet of eccentric Philadelphia inventor Dr. William Wheeler Hubbell. Hubbell in 1877 received a patent for his "invention" of goloid metal, a mix of gold and silver that was really just a variant of electrum, which the Lydians had used to strike their first coinage around 600-700 B.C.
In early 1878 Hubbell, through his political connections, succeeded in getting goloid and goloid metric dollars produced (Judd-1557, 1560, 1563), which failed miserably. Even though they contained varying amounts of gold, they were indistinguishable from coins made out of normal coin silver.
The 1879 and 1880 stellas, in both Coiled Hair and Flowing Hair designs, also loudly broadcast their content in even metric weights, although the curious net gold fineness is purportedly six-sevenths, or 85.14%. (The stellas do contain an even metric weight of seven grams.) The 1879 Flowing Hair stellas were offered to congressmen -- enraging collectors of the day -- in three-piece sets with the 1879 metric dollar (Judd-1617/1618) and the 1879 goloid dollar (Judd-1626/1627).
"For some unexplained reason John Kasson, a former congressman, is given credit for Hubbell's strange ideas. Supposedly Kasson thought that the $4 coin would exchange nicely with the French 20-franc gold, even though the latter was worth about $3.86, not $4. Kasson would have known better. Hubbell did not and should get all the credit, or blame, for the idea of a Stella coin."
This is, of course, in direct contradiction to the Judd reference (edited by Q. David Bowers) and numerous other authorities, including Walter Breen and Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth. Despite the details concerning their genesis, all numismatists today would concur that the stellas are celebrated rarities whose auction appearances are certain to incite spirited bidding.
The wonderfully preserved surfaces of this unusual experimental coin radiate bright yellow-gold color with deeply mirrored fields and sharply contrasting mint frost over the devices. Extremely light die striations traverse the face of Liberty, as always. Close examination with a loupe reveals a few tiny planchet flakes and a thin mark in the left obverse field. Census: 15 in 65 Cameo, 27 finer (2/11).(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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