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    Magnificent Gem Proof 1879 Flowing Hair Stella
    Judd-1635, Pollock-1833

    1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, R.3, PR65 NGC. Of the thousands of patterns produced by the United States Mint, all but a handful are collected and studied almost exclusively by specialists. The highly elusive nature of such pieces, not to mention the cost and the impossibility of forming a complete set, limits their popularity to a small subset of numismatists. As far back as 1883, a time when pattern production was ongoing (if not so active as in earlier decades), certain collectors described patterns largely as curiosities, not worthy of serious analysis. In his introduction to United States Gold Patterns, David Akers (1975) quoted Patterson Du Bois, author of a January 1883 article, "The Pattern Piece," published in the American Journal of Numismatics. His description of such items is vivid and memorable:

    "Open for me your cabinet of Patterns, and I open for you a record, which but for these half-forgotten witnesses, would have disappeared under the finger of Time. Read to me their catalogue, and I read to you, in part, at least, the story of an escape from the impractical schemes of visionaries and hobbyists--a tale of national deliverance from minted evil."

    Today, far from perceiving patterns as "deliverance from minted evil," collectors consider them to be fascinating detours from regular-issue coinage, often with their own artistic and technical merits. In addition, while most such pieces are far from readily available, a handful of patterns were produced in sufficient quantity that they are considered collectible, not only by pattern specialists, but by the general population of U.S. coinage enthusiasts. The Flying Eagle cents of 1856 are a famous example, and, among gold coins, the 1907 Saint-Gaudens eagles with wire rim and periods at E PLURIBUS UNUM are sometimes collected alongside the regular issues. One widely collected pattern, however, is not collected alongside any series, since it occupies a singular place in the annals of American coinage. That piece is the 1879 Flowing Hair stella.
    Originally, the 1879 Flowing Hair stella was like many other pattern issues, produced in highly limited qualities. Pollock (1994) quotes research by R.W. Julian, published in the November 1987 edition of The Numismatist under the title "The Stella: Its History and Mystery," that claims that just 25 sets of three coins, each containing an 1879 Flowing Hair stella, as well as an 1879 metric dollar (Pollock-1813) and an 1879 goloid dollar (Pollock-1822), were produced and distributed to Congress. A previous estimate of only 15 sets appeared in Akers. The story might have ended there, with the pieces winding up as rarities in scattered pattern cabinets and generally unappreciated by numismatists at large.
    Congress, or more accurately, members of Congress who saw the pieces and wanted examples of their own, intervened. Early in 1880, the Mint struck off further three-coin sets, which were then made available to legislators at cost. A famous contemporary diatribe by S.K. Harzfeld, described in Breen's Encyclopedia and elsewhere, noted with some bitterness that the gift-giving of representatives and senators had led to the patterns appearing in the hands of "boarding house keepers" and women of ill repute. The pieces also attracted the attention of contemporary collectors, who soon discovered that while Congressmen could obtain the coins, they could not, except by working through various agents who claimed Mint connections. In many ways, this 19th century pursuit of the sets containing the stella cemented its reputation as desirable, though the odd denomination made the four dollar gold pieces more sought-after than the accompanying goloid and metric dollars; the lower-denomination pieces never achieved the same cachet.
    Since a number of 1879 Flowing Hair stellas are known in various states of impairment, the search for an attractive and well-preserved example can prove long and occasionally frustrating. This delightful Gem exemplar should prove a welcome change to the discerning collector. Honey-gold, orange, and apricot-wheat shades converge on the shining surfaces. Faint striations cross the portrait and the central highpoints show a hint of softness, both suggestive of this piece being one of the 1880 restrikes. A few tiny points of contact are present at the margins, but these flaws are trivial in light of the pattern's incredible visual appeal. In short, this is an astonishingly beautiful survivor that merits a place in a world-class collection.(Registry values: P1)

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

    Weight: 7.00 grams

    Metal: 86% Gold, 4% Silver, 10% Copper

    View Certification Details from NGC

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2008
    16th-18th Wednesday-Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 15
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 4,397

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