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    Outstanding PR64 Cameo 1879 Flowing Hair Stella

    1879 $4 PR64 Cameo PCGS. Judd-1635, R.3. Today, travel-related commerce between European countries is aptly facilitated by the euro, which was introduced in 1999 to alleviate the problems that had faced international voyagers for centuries before. The Honorable John Adam Kasson (1822-1910) was a U.S. politician and lawyer from Iowa during the second half of the 19th century. His political appointments required travel throughout Europe and, through his tours, he had first-hand experience with the inconvenience of conducting business across international currencies. Even the simplest of transactions at a merchant often resulted in the awkward--and probably inaccurate--conversion of American hard currency into the local monetary unit. Change was required since the various European currencies, and of course the U.S. dollar, did not have denominations that were truly equal to one another.
    Thus was born the idea for the American stella, or four dollar gold piece, which Kasson suggested to Secretary of State John Sherman in early 1879. Kasson had all of the credentials for developing a solution to the international currency debacle: He was chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures from 1863 to 1867; helped negotiate postal conventions between Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, and Holland in 1867; and was the U.S. ambassador to Austria-Hungary from 1877 to 1881. Kasson devised a plan to alleviate the problems facing those, especially Americans, who traveled throughout Europe. He calculated that a gold coin of four U.S. dollars would approximate the Austrian eight florin, French twenty franc, Italian twenty lire, Spanish twenty pesetas, and Dutch eight florin coins, within a few cents (Breen, 1977).
    It seemed foolish to produce a coin that only approximated other currencies, since change would still be needed. However, a perfect solution was not feasible, since the values of the various currencies floated against each other at varying rates. Determining the actual intrinsic value of each piece was really the only way to solve the problem, even though change would still be required. The idea of a single currency that would solve the problem was idealistic at best, but dignified in its simplicity.
    Perhaps through political allies, the Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures in 1879 favored Kasson's idea. Production of a limited number of sample four dollar gold coins was ordered by the Mint, to provide government officials with a prototype of the proposed international currency. As such, stellas--so named for the large star on the reverse (from the Latin "stella," meaning star)--are technically patterns, the current piece attributed as Judd-1635. It is believed that only 15 pieces of the Flowing Hair stellas were coined in 1879, although it is now believed that between 600 and 700 additional patterns were struck in 1880 from the original dies. Since it is difficult to differentiate between the originals and so-called restrikes, all 1879 Flowing Hair stellas, as engraved by Charles Barber, are considered Judd-1635. Patterns were also produced in copper, aluminum, and white metal. George Morgan designed a similar issue for 1879, which shares the same reverse die, but the obverse is of a Coiled Hair design (Judd-1638).
    The 1879 Flowing Hair four dollar pieces are the most available today, even though they are hardly considered common. Many are impounded in collections and numerous examples are circulated or impaired, suggesting that members of Congress, the intended recipients, treated the stellas as souvenirs. Competition for attractive, high grade specimens is fierce, as evinced by the strong prices realized whenever a stella crosses the auction block.
    The current piece is one of 17 designated at PR64 Cameo at PCGS, with 18 grading finer within the Cameo designation (3/08). As one would expect from a Cameo coin, the devices are noticeably frosted with deeply contrasting mirrorlike fields. The surfaces have a slight reddish tinge and are fully struck. As seen on most stellas, there are numerous roller marks in the center of the obverse; on this piece, they are almost vertical. An essentially defect-free stella and a commanding example of this important and popular experimental coinage.(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
    April, 2008
    16th-18th Wednesday-Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 9
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 2,631

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