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    1879 Flowing Hair Stella, PR66 Ultra Cameo
    One of the Finest Examples Known
    A Noble But Impractical Idea for International Coinage

    1879 $4 Flowing Hair PR66 Ultra Cameo NGC. Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, R.3. The precise number of 1879 Flowing Hair stellas produced will almost certainly never be known. It is generally thought that there was an initial quantity of 15 or 25 pieces struck, followed by a second much larger production that was offered to congressmen only -- outraging collectors of the era. The congressional offering was for three-piece sets along with two silver pattern dollars, Judd-1617/1618 and Judd-1626/1627, at the Mint's production cost of $6.10. (Note that the face value of the sets was $6.)

    Judging from the available numismatic evidence -- and there is little documentation other than the coins themselves -- the quarter-century from roughly 1859 to 1884 was the peak of various Mint shenanigans aimed at enriching facility insiders and their coin-dealer cronies outside.

    Among the more infamous numismatic hijinks were:

    --The restriking of (and production of fantasy pieces and mules of) Gobrecht dollars dated 1836, 1838, and 1839 (circa 1875-76);
    --Restrikes of the 1804 silver dollars (circa 1858-59);
    --Concoction of the 1879-dated "Schoolgirl" and "Washlady" and like patterns for the exclusive benefit of Mint officials (circa 1879);
    --Production of the limited-edition 1879 Coiled Hair and 1880 Flowing Hair/Coiled Hair stellas and other patterns, again for the private profit of Mint officials; and
    --Clandestine production and distribution of 1884 and 1885 Trade dollars (circa 1885). (The 1884 Trade dollars were legitimately produced, but the 10 pieces struck, out of 875 proof sets, all went to the Mint's favored coin dealer, William Idler.)

    In particular, the production of many of the 1879- and 1880-dated patterns, completely unpublicized and for the sole apparent purpose of lining the pockets of government officials, created consternation and furor in the numismatic fraternity, a cause célèbre that inspired one of the most prominent and trusted numismatists of the era, W. Elliot Woodward, to pen the passage below. Woodward was writing in the October 1880 catalog of the Ferguson Haines Collection concerning a rare 1802 half dime (the passage is quoted from Bowers' Rare Silver Dollars Dated 1804 and the Exciting Adventures of Edmund Roberts):

    "This piece is undoubtedly the rarest of the American silver series -- not only that, but it must remain so, as the dies are no longer in existence.

    "Judging from my own experience, I believe that the purchaser of an 1804 dollar, or any one of many of the rarest of United States coins, has no guarantee that the son of some future director or chief coiner of the Mint will not, at an unexpected moment, place a quantity on the market. 'What man has done man may do,' and the ways of the Mint are past finding out, though transactions, such as restriking 1804 dollars, 1827 quarter dollars and rare half cents, and speculations in rare experimental coins designed, engraved, and struck at the expense of the government, have been too frequent not to be well understood. What the lords of the Treasury will do next is 'what no feller can find out.' We will wait and see.

    "In these days of investigation, an inquiry into the past operations of the Mint at Philadelphia, or rather into the past conduct of some of its officials, would, if properly conducted, be fruitful in results; and, if properly reported, would furnish what Horace Greeley used to call 'mighty interesting reading.'

    "As government is fond of illustrating its reports, as a frontispiece, is suggested a view of a son of a late official of the Mint, as he appeared at the store of the writer, when on a peddling expedition from Philadelphia to Boston, he drew from his pocket rolls of 'God Our Trust' patterns, and urged their purchase at wholesale, after sundry sets had been dispersed at $100 to collectors of rare coins, with the assurance that only a very few had been struck, and that the dies were destroyed.

    "Should, however, an investigation be ordered, it is to be hoped it will not be entrusted to that committee which requires 618 sets of the goloid coinage [this refers to the 1879 Flowing Hair stellas], costing nearly $4,000 for the metal alone, before it can decide whether to recommend the acceptance or rejection of the most stupid humbug and most stupendous swindle that has lately been honored with official attention."

    "Stupid humbug" and "stupendous swindle" sounds like a harsh way to describe what has become one of American numismatic's most popular and highly priced coins. But then, Woodward and other 19th century dealers, were given to inflammatory language and accusations. Such well-known dealers as Woodward, Édouard Frossard, Edward Cogan, and Ebenezer Mason regularly exchanged printed barbs that today would surely warrant a well-founded libel case. What Woodward overlooked was the legitimate need for the four-dollar patterns we know as stellas. They were struck as a means to form a stable form of international currency, a noble but impractical idea.

    This is a remarkably well-preserved example that has deeply mirrored fields on each side and strongly contrasting, frosted devices. The usual die striations are seen over the central obverse device of Liberty, as seen on all 1879 stellas we have examined. There are no obvious pedigree identifiers in terms of contact marks. The only possible identifier is a wavy lint mark to the right of the upright of the star in the field above the E in ONE on the reverse. This is one of the most attractive stellas known, one that will undoubtedly realize an extremely strong price when it is hammered down. Census: 3 in 66 Ultra Cameo, 2 in 66 ★ Ultra Cameo, 3 finer (4/13).(Registry values: P1)

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 28AZ, PCGS# 98057)

    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
    June, 2013
    5th-9th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 22
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 4,062

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