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    1879 Flowing Hair Stella, Judd-1635
    PR67 Cameo, One of the Few Finest Available

    1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, R.3, PR67 Cameo NGC. CAC. Some coins just naturally stand out from the crowd, even in a well-dressed bunch such as the many memorable coins populating this Platinum Night offering. Not to diminish any other lots in this session, but the stellas are at the top of many collectors' "dream lists," even if they never even put them on their "wish lists" due to their expense.
    And all of the above applies to any stella, in any grade; as we wrote recently about a "problem" example, "It's still a stella."

    The Present Example, Among the Few Finest Available
    The present piece is among the few finest available examples of the "type" 1879 Flowing Hair -- the only remotely obtainable issue for most collectors of the four 1879-1880 designs, Flowing Hair and Coiled Hair. Certified in the incredible grade of PR67 Cameo, this piece is numerically surpassed by only a single PR68 Ultra Cameo NGC example. There are two other Ultra Cameo submissions in PR67 . Among Cameo coins, NGC has seen 10 PR67 Cameo submissions (including the present piece), of which three also bear the Star designation (12/12). The numerically finest at PCGS are one PR67 Deep Cameo, two PR67 Cameo coins and one non-Cameo PR67+.
    This PR67 Cameo NGC-certified example is blessed with an unusually strong strike throughout both sides. Note that the hair detail is essentially complete, despite the die striations that appear on every example we have ever examined (more on this below). The die striations are faintly seen and vertical on the obverse; on the reverse, they are so faint as to require a loupe to see, and again vertically oriented. The contrast between fields and devices is profound, and the enormous aesthetic appeal is heightened by consistent, mostly yellow-gold color with a mere tad of orange present. As demanded at this grade level, the surfaces are near-perfect, limiting pedigree markers to those produced at the Mint. For completeness, we mention a few tiny brownish-orange specks present from incomplete mixture of the alloy, specifically in four of the fields around the central star, excluding the right field close to GLORIA.

    The Facts -- and the Legends
    Facts are few, legends are many when it comes to the 1879- and 1880-dated stellas. We have had the privilege to examine quite a few stellas in our career, and for our money, we are not even convinced of the "Barber-Morgan bifurcation" -- that Charles Barber designed the Flowing Hair stellas of 1879-1880 and George T. Morgan the 1879-1880 Coiled Hair issues. We have remarked before on the noteworthy size difference between the date digits on the two different 1880 stella issues -- tiny and off-center, actually touching Liberty's lower hair locks on the 1880 Flowing Hair, large (or normal size, as on the 1879 pieces) on the 1880 Coiled Hair. If Charles Barber produced the obverse dies for both the 1879 and 1880 Flowing Hair issues, why would he have chosen such radically different-size dates?
    The timeframe in which the stellas were produced was one of a remarkable number of behind-the-scenes high-jinks at the Mint. The disgraced former Mint director Henry R. Linderman had resigned his post in December 1878 after being charged by Congress with professional misconduct in June of that year, and he died in January 1879, the charges against him still unresolved. Nonetheless, the string of pearls continued under his successor, Horatio C. Burchard.
    Q. David Bowers writes in his reference on three dollar gold:

    "Behind-the-scenes capers continued in Philadelphia, including the production of the beautiful 1879 'Schoolgirl' silver dollar, by George T. Morgan -- which no member of the public ever had a chance to buy, except through favored dealers with Mint connections. Pattern $4 gold Flowing Hair gold stellas were made, but apart from those given out to congressmen and senators, the Mint held onto them tightly -- causing a furor hotly discussed in catalogues and other publications of the era. Other varieties of 1879 and 1880 $4 coins were made secretly."

    At one time it was believed that "original" 1879 Flowing Hair stellas were struck in some limited amount -- usually given as 15 pieces -- which lack the die striations that appear on both sides. These pieces were supposedly struck in the nominal, curious metric alloy that the obverse inscriptions allude to, six-sevenths gold and silver with one-seventh copper alloy. At a later date, the 400-or-more "restrikes" were supposedly produced, showing the die striations and produced from regular .900 fine gold. But as we wrote in the Lemus-Queller catalog, which contained a number of pattern stella issues,

    "As time goes by and no pieces appear to lack the striations, many numismatists have concluded that neither were the pattern gold pieces produced in that odd metric alloy, but rather they were struck on regular 900 fine planchets rolled out to 80% of the thickness of a half eagle, accounting for the roller marks or die striations seen on all known gold pieces."

    Top-Ranked Examples: Recent Auction Appearances
    This ranking of top-condition stellas is limited to 1879 Flowing Hairs.
    PR68 Ultra Cameo NGC. (Stacks-Bowers, 6/2012), lot 4265. $411,250. The sole numerically finest certified at either service.
    PR67 ★ Cameo NGC. FUN Platinum Night (Heritage, 1/2012), lot 4833. $264,500.
    PR67 ★ Cameo NGC. FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2010), lot 2148. $299,000.
    PR67 Cameo NGC. Pre-Long Beach Elite Sale (Superior, 5/2008), lot 253. $402,500.
    PR67 Cameo PCGS. Dallas Signature (Heritage, 11/2006), lot 2152, unsold.
    PR67 Cameo NGC. Pre-Long Beach (Goldbergs, 2/2008), lot 2357. $322,000.
    PR67+ NGC. No auction appearances known; sole finest non-Cameo/Ultra Cameo at NGC. Census: 1, 0 finer (12/12).
    PR67 NGC. Treasures from the S.S. New York Sale (Stack's, 7/2009), lot 1380, unsold.
    PR67 NGC. Denver Platinum Night (Heritage, 8/2006), lot 5467. $402,500.
    PR67 NGC. Santa Clara Sale (Superior, 4/2004), lot 1646. $333,500.
    PR67 PCGS. ANA Classics Sale (American Numismatic Rarities, 7/2003), lot 693. $293,250.(Registry values: P1)

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 28AZ, 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.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2013
    9th-14th Wednesday-Monday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 20
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 2,492

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
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