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    1880 Flowing Hair Stella, Judd-1657, PR65
    One of Only 19 Coins Traced
    A Legendary Rarity

    1880 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1657, Pollock-1857, R.6, PR65 NGC. CAC. One of the key individuals involved in the creation of the fabled four dollar denomination was prolific Philadelphia inventor Dr. William Wheeler Hubbell (1821-1902). His personal history is a fascinating one, characterized by high-stakes court trials, scientific discoveries, wartime munitions patents, and culminating with the invention of his well-known goloid alloy.

    According to History of the Hubbell Family, written by Dr. W.W. Hubbell's son Walter Hubbell in 1881, Wheeler Hubbell studied law in Philadelphia and was admitted to the bar in 1845. As a lawyer, he was involved in numerous patent cases. One of his biggest cases took place in 1853, when Hubbell successfully defended several railroad companies accused of infringing on a specific rail car patent. He received $20,000 as compensation for the case -- an impressive sum in the mid-19th century.

    Hubbell always managed to keep himself preoccupied. When he was not serving as council in patent court cases, he spent his time devising and patenting his own inventions. Some of his more notable inventions include the explosive shell fuse, the percussion fuse, the solar magnet and solar magnet engine, the section draft pipe for locomotives, the first swinging breech-block, breech-loading firearm, and a curative medicinal practice known as "vivopathy." Dr. Hubbell is perhaps most famous, however, for his goloid patent.

    In the mid-1870s, Dr. Hubbell began to study the history of money and the role of gold and silver. On May 22, 1877, he obtained his first patent for goloid (No. 191,146), an amalgam of gold, silver, and copper mixed in specific ratios. The patent, "Improvement in Metal Alloys for Commercial Coin," explains:

    "The invention consists in the discovery and manufacture of a denser, more valuable, or heavier alloy for a given size, adapted to coin dollars, and more difficult to counterfeit; and consists of certain proportions of gold, silver, and copper. The exact and best proportions are one pound of gold, twenty-four pounds of silver, and two and a half pounds of copper. Melt them separately and pour them together, and, in mixing, add one grain of sulphate of sodium or sulphate of potassium to one thousand grains of the metal. The alloy metal is slightly heavier than the mean of the component metals, which makes it peculiarly valuable for coin, not easily counterfeited. At the same time a dollar of the alloy is very much less in size than a silver dollar."

    He obtained a second patent in October 1878 (No. 209,263) to adjust the ratios, previously recorded in troy weights, according to the metric system:

    "In this improvement the minimum is fourteen and the maximum is twenty of silver to one of gold, and the gold and silver both in metric measure...The proportions are seventy-five (75) grams in weight of pure gold, one hundred and forty-two and a half (142.5) grams in weight of pure copper, and twelve hundred and seven and a half (1,207.5) grams in weight of pure silver, sufficient to make one hundred dollars."

    Inspired by U.S. Minister to Austria John A. Kasson's desire for coin equivalent to the French 20 francs or the Austrian 8 florin, Dr. Hubbell devised an international coinage system using his own goloid alloy. The proposed coins would (supposedly) facilitate currency exchange with European countries and thus alleviate the complexities associated with trade. The proposal impressed the Hon. Alexander H. Stephens, Chairman of the Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures. In the House of Representatives Report 203 submitted on February 12, 1880, Stephens provided an overview and explanation of the proposed bills related to the new metric coin system, including the creation of the new four dollar gold coin, and expressed his favorable position regarding the implementation of Dr. Hubbell's goloid alloy:

    "On January 24, 1879, the Secretary of State transmitted to the Secretary of the Treasury, dispatches of date January 3, 1879, from Hon. John A. Kasson, formerly chairman of the Committee Coinage, Weights, and Measures, and at present minister at Vienna, in relation to a coin to express invoice values, in a unit of denomination near to the eight-florin piece, which latter coin had been allowed by Treasury for this purpose, as a commercial convenience.

    "These papers were handed over by the committee to Dr. Hubbell, who worked out the problem perfectly in the metric gold coin of 400 cents even value, containing six grams of pure gold, three decigrams of pure silver, and seven decigrams of pure copper, seven grams even in total weight; closely approximating to all the foreign coin of near this denomination, and in all computations convertible into them, and in to other United States coin with a single numeral, four, and absolutely metric in all respects, being one-fifth' of the metric double-eagle."

    Hubbell's involvement in the production of the four dollar gold coins, or stellas, was not limited to their metallurgic composition. He played an integral role in their design as well. The motto DEO EST GLORIA was added to the reverse in the place of the usual IN GOD WE TRUST at his suggestion. The reverse was also to include a pentagonal star motif and three iterations of the denomination: ONE STELLA, 400 CENTS, and FOUR DOL. Obverse designs were based on portrait compositions by Charles E. Barber and George T. Morgan, and included the legend 6 G .3 S .7 C 7 GRAMS, stating the component weights of the amalgam. Barber's Flowing Hair design, formally adopted for the stella coins, was based on an earlier 1878 five dollar pattern (Judd-1574) designed by his father William Barber, who had passed away just a few months earlier in August 1879. Coins bearing Barber's Flowing Hair portrait and dated 1879 are the most plentiful in the series. Between 425 and 725 coins were struck, with estimated mintage figures varying from one source to another. The 1880 Flowing Hair stella, along with Morgan's 1879 and 1880 Coiled Hair coins, were struck in highly limited quantities, likely distributed to high-ranking individuals in numismatic circles through well-connected dealers -- a common practice among Mint officials at the time. However, a definitive explanation for the coins' production continues to elude scholars. Reasonable mintage estimates range from 15 to 20 examples for both Coiled Hair issues and perhaps as many as 25 coins for the 1880 Flowing Hair issue.

    Eventually, the proposed bills pertaining to the implementation of Hubbell's metric coinage system failed to pass muster. The stellas were never produced for circulation and are strictly patterns. Dr. William Wheeler Hubbell, who stood to gain heavily from the production of the stella and other metric coins, accepted defeat and retreated to his 1,000-acre tobacco and grain farm near Lynchburg, Virginia. He died in 1902, leaving behind numerous inventions and an impressive legacy largely defined by the coins that never were.

    The 1880 Flowing Hair stella is widely recognized among collectors today as one of the great rarities in American gold coinage. A total of 19 distinct pieces have been traced, and it is estimated that just over 20 examples may survive. The coins seldom appear at public auction, and every occurrence deservedly receives widespread attention. This wonderful example presents an excellent opportunity to obtain a legendary coin, one that is sure to be a highlight of even the most advanced collection.

    Each side of this impressive Gem representative displays lustrous orange-gold surfaces with strong detail on the devices and just a trace of softness on the hair over Liberty's ear. The usually seen striations occur diagonally in a southwest to northeast direction on the obverse and in a northwest to southeast direction on the reverse. Pedigree markers take the form of a few small alloy spots throughout rather than distracting contact marks. A few stray ticks are in accordance with the grade, but they do not at all affect appeal of this renowned CAC-approved rarity. Census: 4 in 65, 2 finer (4/15).

    Roster of 1880 Flowing Hair Stellas
    1. PR67 NGC. Dr. John E. Wilkison; Jeff Browning; Dallas Bank Collection (Stack's/Sotheby's, 10/2001), lot 362; Tacasyl Collection (Bonhams, 9/2013), lot 1010, realized $959,400.
    2. PR66 PCGS. Sherwood Boyd; Greater New York Convention Sale (Stack's, 5/1985), lot 1343, realized $63,250; Dr. Jack Adams Collection (Superior, 5/1992), lot 2673, realized $91,850; Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2015), lot 5300.
    3. PR66 NGC. Will Neil Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1947), lot 2604 sold as part of a set for $3,850; Grant Pierce; 1976 ANA (Stack's, 8/1976), lot 2920 sold as part of a set for $225,000; Western Collection (Stack's, 12/1981), lot 1138, realized $41,000; Summer FUN Signature (Heritage, 6/2008), lot 1960, realized $431,250; FUN Signature (Heritage 1/2013), lot 5856, realized $440,625.
    4. PR65 NGC. Auction '84 (RARCOA, 7/1984), lot 1913, realized $61,600; Chicago Sale (RARCOA, 8/1991), lot 967, realized $96,250. The Present Coin.
    5. PR65 NGC. 1974 ANA (Paramount, 8/1974), lot 873, realized $40,000; Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 1/1994), lot 1489; Gold Rush Collection (Heritage, 1/2005), lot 30043, realized $264,500.
    6. PR65 NGC. Rio Rancho Collection (Superior, 10/1974), lot 134, realized $35,000; Auction '79 (Stack's, 7/1979), lot 801, realized $50,000; Auction '80 (Superior, 8/1980), lot 386, realized $105,000; Blevins/Bodway Collections (Superior, 6/1988), lot 6731, realized $84,700; Chris Schenkel Collection (Bowers and Merena, 11/1990), lot 508, realized $231,000; Long Beach Signature (Heritage 2/1995), lot 5837, realized $77,000.
    7. PR65 NGC. John Work Garrett; Johns Hopkins University; Garrett Collection, Part I (Bowers and Ruddy, 11/1979), lot 432, realized $65,000; Jascha Heifetz Collection (Superior, 10/1989), lot 4297, realized $297,000; Swan/Sweet Collections (Bowers and Merena, 3/2004), lot 2621, realized $310,000; Dallas Signature (Heritage, 11/2006), lot 2153, realized $287,500; Dallas Signature (Heritage, 4/2007), lot 1694, realized $316,250; Husky Collection (Stack's, 6/2008), lot 2051.
    8. PR64 PCGS. Jerome Kern; Golden Jubilee Sale (B. Max Mehl, 5/1950), lot 244; Amon Carter, Sr.; Amon Carter, Jr. (Stack's, 1/1984), lot 633, realized $68,750; Ed Trompeter Collection (Superior, 2/1992), lot 135, realized $77,000; Somerset Collection (Bowers and Merena, 5/1992), lot 1470, realized $39,050; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 9/1998), lot 7106, realized $103,500; 65th Anniversary Sale (Stack's, 10/2000), lot 1624; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2001), lot 8171, realized $94,875.
    9. PR63 PCGS. October Sale (Superior 10/1990), lot 2074, realized $71,500; Gainsborough II Sale (Superior, 2/1997), lot 2907.
    10. PR63 NGC. J.F. Bell (Jacob Shapiro); Memorable Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 3/1948), lot 281; United States Gold, Silver & Copper Coins (Stack's, 3/1999), lot 135; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 1/2000), lot 351, realized $86,250.
    11. PR67. Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; United States Gold Coin Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 318, realized $55,000.
    12. PR65+. S. Hallock DuPont Collection (Sotheby's, 9/1982), lot 251; Charles Kramer Collection (Stack's/Superior, 11/1988), lot 285, realized $72,600.
    13. PR65. Josiah K. Lilly; Smithsonian Institution, grade per Garrett and Guth.
    14. Gem Brilliant Proof. Massachusetts Historical Society (Stack's, 10/1970), lot 807, realized $13,000; Stack's FPL Summer 1997 offered as part of a four piece set for $875,000; Americana Sale (Stack's, 1/1998), lot 1498, still part of the set, unsold.
    15. Gem Brilliant Proof. Winner F. Delp Collection (Stack's, 11/1972), lot 791, realized $17,000.
    16. Gem Brilliant Proof. Samuel McVitty Collection (B. Max Mehl, 3/1938), lot 325; Floyd T. Starr; 65th Anniversary Sale (Stack's, 10/2000), lot 1716.
    17. Choice Brilliant Proof. Possibly Belden Roach Collection (B. Max Mehl, 2/1944), lot 803; Auction '80 (Stack's, 8/1980), lot 1451, realized $65,000.
    18. Brilliant Proof. Winthrop Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 9/1975), lot 583, realized $31,000; Gainsborough (Abner Kreisberg, 9/1980), lot 1275, realized $52,000.
    19. Brilliant Proof. Auction '89 (Stack's, 7/1989), lot 1930, realized $72,600.
    From The New Orleans Collection, Part Two.(Registry values: P2) (NGC ID# 2AJG, PCGS# 8059)

    Weight: 7.00 grams

    Metal: 86% Gold, 4% Silver, 10% Copper

    Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.

    View all of [The New Orleans Collection, Part Two ]

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2015
    4th-7th Thursday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 22
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