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    1879 Flowing Hair Stella, Judd-1635, PR66
    An Extraordinary Example of John Kasson's
    Proposed International Coinage

    1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, R.3, PR66 NGC. For all of his varied background and wide travels, John A. Kasson must have been an extremely naïve man.
    Kasson (1822-1910) was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives six times, yet he repeatedly interrupted his House terms to serve in diplomatic capacities. Kasson got his law degree before moving to Iowa from Missouri in 1857. In 1860 he was a delegate to the Republican National Convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln, where he quickly rose to national prominence. Lincoln appointed him first assistant postmaster general in 1861, a post he held until 1862. That same year he was elected to the House of Representatives for Iowa's new Fifth Congressional District, serving from 1863-67. In 1863, on one of his first documented trips overseas, he served as a U.S. delegate to the International Postal Convention in Paris. During the entire period from 1863-67 he served as chairman of the House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures. In 1866 he drafted the Metric Act, which specifically legalized the previously illegal metric system for use in the United States.
    In 1867 Kasson served as U.S. commissioner to negotiate postal conventions with Great Britain, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. From 1868 to 1872 he served in the Iowa House of Representatives, then again in Congress from 1873 to 1877. He served as "envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary" to Austria-Hungary from 1877 to 1881. (It was during this time that the 1879-80 stellas were coined.) He was reelected to Congress from 1880 to 1884, when he headed the U.S. legation to Berlin, Germany. He was named envoy to the Congo International Conference in Berlin in 1885 and special envoy to the Samoan International Conference in 1889. He served as U.S. special commissioner plenipotentiary to negotiate reciprocity treaties in 1897, and in 1898 was a member of the U.S.-British Joint High Commission to adjust differences with Canada.
    How could a man with such broad international experience have possibly believed the stellas would succeed? He certainly had traveled abroad sufficiently to know that currencies constantly fluctuate against one another. The Judd pattern book sums up this idea rather nicely, if pungently:

    "Once again the tired and rejected concept of an international coinage came to the fore. Then and now, the valuations of different world monetary units varied with each other, often over a short span of time. It was Kasson's thought that a United States $4 coin would be approximately the same value as the Austrian 8 florins, French 20 francs, Italian 20 lire, Spanish 20 pesetas, and Dutch 8 florins. The entire idea was absurd at the start, as approximate values would never satisfy the needs of commerce, and such pieces would eventually be valued on their gold content and would not come out in even units of foreign currency."

    Nevertheless, Kasson was influential enough to convince Mint officials to design two different pattern designs for his proposed international gold coin, and strike them in two years. The 1879 Flowing Hair variant is by far the most frequently encountered, as 425 pieces were struck. But seldom is a stella encountered in such a superior state of preservation as this piece. The surfaces are bright yellow-gold, the fields are moderately mirrored, and the usual diagonal striations (roller marks ?) are seen in the center of the obverse. There are no notable contact marks on either side of this extraordinary four dollar gold piece.(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.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    August, 2010
    11th-15th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 14
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,203

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