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    1879 Flowing Hair Stella, PR66
    Judd-1635, Pollock-1833
    Proposed International Trade Coin

    1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, R.3, PR66 PCGS Secure. One of the pages in the annual Guide Book that typically stops perusing collectors in their tracks features the four dollar gold patterns known as stellas. Sandwiched between the relatively short-lived but well-accepted three dollar gold series and the half eagle, a pillar of American commerce dating back to 1795, the four dollar gold denomination is a curious two-year type that never entered into circulation and was strictly produced for experimental purposes. Nevertheless, there it is, included in the bible of American coin collecting.

    The first sentence in the Guide Book explains: "These pattern coins were first suggested by John A. Kasson, then U.S. envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to Austria-Hungary." This piece of information has served as the basis for the stella's origin story for decades. However, it is only partially correct.

    It is true that as the American ambassador in Austria-Hungary, Kasson was concerned with the way trade was conducted between the two countries. Austria-Hungary was a member of the Latin Monetary Union, a European organization that standardized currencies among member states. For example, the Austria 8 florin was equivalent to France's 20 francs and Italy's 20 lire, etc. However, there was no such denominational equivalency between the United States and the Latin Monetary Union, causing undue complications in international transactions. Kasson wrote to the Secretary of State on January 3, 1879:

    "If a new gold coin were authorized by Congress, to be of the exact value of the gold piece already better known throughout Europe and the East than any other single coin, and this to be issued in substitution for the three-dollar gold pieces, which should be withdrawn, we should have a standard of money in which not only all custom-house accounts might be accurately kept, but which might gradually become the standard of all international commercial transactions, and even for the settlement of values of our home commerce in articles which are largely exported."

    Minister John A. Kasson was clear. He petitioned the United States government to create an international coin that would match "the exact value" of the coins of the Latin Monetary Union. At the time, that meant a coin worth $3.88, not $4.

    The second sentence in the Guide Book's introductory paragraph for the stella reads: "It was through the efforts of W.W. Hubbell, who patented the alloy goloid (used in making another pattern piece, the goloid metric dollar), that we have these beautiful and interesting coins." Indeed, Hubbell and Representative Alexander H. Stephens, chairman of the Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures, were the driving forces behind the denomination. The four dollar face value and metric gold composition, though impractical, fit well with their plan to create a new system of coinage. Large-scale production of these coins would have netted Hubbell, who had a patent on the alloy, and possibly Stephens, Hubbell's loyal accomplice, a tidy profit had the government approved it.

    We know that Chief Engraver Charles Barber was responsible for creating the reverse design for the stella (per Hubbell's instructions), and based his Flowing Hair portrait on one of his father's 1878 five dollar pattern designs (Judd-1574). It is likely that Charles Barber also engraved the Coiled Hair motif, although George T. Morgan is often given credit.

    The 1879 Flowing Hair stellas were probably produced to the extent of 425 pieces, though estimates vary. Mint records indicate 25 examples were manufactured between December 1879 and January 1880. Another 100 pieces were made in March 1880, and a final group of 300 coins were struck in May 1880.

    Theories abound regarding so-called "originals." These represent the first 25 stellas struck, which Hubbell called "too pale." There has also been much discussion about whether those 25 stellas were struck in the prescribed composition of six grams gold, 0.3 grams silver, and 0.7 grams copper. A related argument is that non-originals exhibit diagonal roller marks because the coins were struck from planed down half eagle planchets. Like much of the circumstances surrounding the production of four dollar gold stellas, this is purely speculative. Future metallurgical analysis on a large scale would go a long way toward shedding light on this issue.

    Certainly, all 1879 Flowing Hair stellas are scarce. Many survive in circulated grades or with impairments. Yet, demand for these coins is unwavering, pushing even flawed examples well out of reach for most collectors. Comparable Premium Gems are generally tightly held in advanced collections, where this piece is destined to find a new home.

    A hallmark of this PR66 Flowing Hair stella is its exceptionally clean fields. Profound honey-gold surfaces are virtually void of marks, the only apparent flecks appearing on Liberty's exposed cheek. The striations normally found on coins of this issue are faint on the present example. Both sides exhibit needle-sharp definition, especially around the borders, and the sole area of softness occurs on the curls above the ear. Coppery alloy spots left of the 1 and near star four serve as pedigree identifiers.(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, 2018
    14th-19th Tuesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 16
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 2,204

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