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    Stunning 1879 Flowing Hair Stella, Judd-1635, PR65

    1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, R.3, PR65 NGC. The 1879 Flowing Hair gold stellas were offered in sets that also contained the Judd-1617 and Judd-1626 patterns, both known as "goloid metric dollars" with obverse design by William Barber. The Judd-1617 was designed to contain a small proportion of gold to silver, about 1:213. The Judd-1626 was designed to contain gold to silver proportioned at about 6:94. As far as we can determine (and as and patterns expert Saul Teichman reinforce), none of those patterns have ever undergone metallurgical testing to determine their actual composition. Although we tend to view the 1879 stellas with awe and in isolation, they were part of a series of alternate proposals aimed at:

    --Developing new markets, domestic and international, for U.S. silver
    --Creating new, workable alloys of gold and silver
    --Establishing viable international coinages with metric exactitude

    William D. Kelley, Richard P. Bland, and John A. Kasson were three Congressmen, all members of the House of Representatives, with nearly 70 years of service among them. With his well-developed flair for hyperbole, Walter Breen in his Complete Encyclopedia calls them an "unholy trinity" that "also became instrumental in various proposals (1868-1880) for international coinage, aimed at creating a larger foreign market for domestic silver. This explains in part their adoption of metric weights of U.S. silver coins 1873-1964, as well as for the 'goloid' and 'metric' coins, including the Stellas." Breen cites the Trade dollars (1873-1885) and Morgan dollars (1878-1921) as among their proposals "for new issues of silver coin as a captive market for silver bullion at artificially inflated prices."

    William Darrah "Pig Iron" Kelley (1814-1890)

    Philadelphia native Kelley pursued classical studies but worked as an apprentice, then jeweler from 1828-40. He got his law degree in 1841 and rose through Philadelphia political circles in the 1840s and 1850s. After losing a bid for Congress, he was a delegate in 1860 to the Republican National Convention (where he is likely to have first met Kasson). Winning a second election bid, he served in Congress from 1861-90. Kelley was nicknamed "Pig Iron" because of his advocacy of Pennsylvania mining interests. He chaired the House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures from 1867-73, later serving on numerous other committees. He died in Washington and is interred in Philadelphia.

    Richard Parks "Silver Dick" Bland (1835-1899)

    Bland was born in Ohio but moved to Missouri at age 20, then on to California and the western Utah Territory (present-day Nevada). There he taught school and tried prospecting and mining, a subject that interested him keenly and that was a mainstay of the western Nevada economy. After passing the bar, he practiced in Virginia City and Carson City. His first elected office was as Carson City treasurer from 1860-64, the year Nevada became a state. (It was there that he undoubtedly would have met town founder Abraham "Abe" Curry, who established Carson City in 1858 and would be the first superintendent of the Carson City Mint.) Bland returned to Missouri in 1865 and was elected to Congress in 1872, serving from 1872-94 and 1896-99. Bland chaired the Committee on Mines and Mining from 1875-77 and the Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures from 1883-89 and 1891-95. In 1878 he cosponsored the Bland-Allison Act, which reintroduced the silver dollar. Bland was known as "Silver Dick," reflecting his 25-year campaign to establish bimetallism and support silver mining. Bland lost the 1896 Democratic presidential nomination to William Jennings Bryan, who campaigned for unlimited "Free Silver" coinage.

    John Adam Kasson (1822-1910)

    Kasson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives six times, a career he repeatedly interrupted for diplomatic service. Kasson in 1860 was an Iowa delegate to the Republican National Convention. Abraham Lincoln named him first assistant postmaster general in 1861, an office he held until 1862. He was elected to the House of Representatives from 1863-67, during which time he chaired the Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures. In 1863 and again in 1867 he served as a delegate and commissioner to international postal conventions. In 1866 he drafted the Metric Act, legalizing the previously illegal metric system for use in the United States. He was an Iowa state representative in 1868-72 and served again in Congress 1873-77. He was an envoy to Austria-Hungary in 1877-81, the period in which the 1879 stellas were coined.

    Although Breen's description of the men as an "unholy trinity" may be somewhat offensive, their biographies enable us to understand them a bit better, rather than demonizing them. Two of the three had such deep and abiding identification with mining interests that they were nicknamed "Pig Iron" and "Silver Dick." The third, Kasson, was a veteran international traveler-diplomat with interests in the metric system as well as coinage.
    It is nonetheless true that the stellas, along with the goloid dollars and the various metric coinage proposals, were flawed and unworkable. The stellas would only approximate, rather than exactly equal, the values of several well-established European gold coins--a proposition of doubtful value. And the goloid and metric goloid dollars--silver alloyed with varying amounts of gold and copper, just as the stellas purportedly were--were indistinguishable from the normal "coin silver" dollars containing no gold. This was an immediate inducement to "wicked coiners," as Mint chief coiner Oliver Bosbyshell termed it.
    We believe the Mint produce no experimental metric alloy for the stella patterns; rather, it shaved down half eagle planchets of normal .900 fine gold for their coinage, leading to the striations seen on all pieces we have cataloged. The striations on the present lovely Gem run slightly west-southwest to east-northeast through Liberty's hair, cheek, and eye areas, as well as faintly out into the field behind her head. On the reverse after a normal coin turn, the striations run slightly west-northwest to east-southeast. A couple of shallow, undistracting indentations on Liberty's cheek are noted, along with a few hair-thin scrapes in the field just above the date. Unmentioned on the holder is the considerable cameo contrast visible over the yellow-gold surfaces. This is a stunning piece, with equal parts immense numismatic interest and enormous eye appeal. Census: 17 in 65, 15 finer (9/09).(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
    October, 2009
    22nd-24th Thursday-Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 18
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