Popular Gold Pattern, Judd-1635
Rarely Seen Finer
1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, R.3, PR67 Cameo NGC. The 1879 Flowing Hair stella is one of the most popular and charismatic issues in the history of American coinage. Technically a pattern (Judd-1635), traditionally the stellas have also been collected as trophy coins and type issues by a wide range of collectors from many different collecting interests. Despite a surviving population of several hundred pieces, there are never enough high-quality examples available to satisfy the intense collector demand. Heritage Auctions is privileged to showcase this stunning Superb Gem proof specimen in this important offering.
Origins of the Denomination
After more than 135 years of wide spread interest and detailed study by some of the country's most astute numismatists, many aspects of the origin and production of the 1879 Flowing Hair stellas remain mysterious. Paradoxically, it seems that every new exploration of the subject raises more questions than it answers, and what we "know" about the issue keeps changing. For many years, it was assumed that the stella was the brainchild of the Honorable John A. Kasson, the U.S. Minister to Austria in 1879, and former chairman of the Congressional Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures. On January 3, 1879, Kasson wrote a letter to the State Department, which was passed on to the Treasury Department, and finally to the House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures. The Committee was chaired by Representative Alexander Stephens of Georgia, formerly the Vice President of the Confederate States of America, and one of the most influential Democrats in the South. Kasson suggested making a U.S. coin that would be directly convertible to the eight florin gold piece. The florin was the official unit used in invoices for customs purposes between the U.S. and Austria, and the eight florin coin was equivalent to other coins of the Latin Monetary Union that were in popular use, like the French 20 franc piece, Italian 20 lira coin, Spanish 20 pesetas, etc. Such a coin would facilitate settling invoices from these countries considerably. Kasson's letter reads, in part:
"The United States have no coin closely approximating the value of the 20-franc piece. 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 singe coin, and this to be issued in substitution for the three-dollar 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..."
Writing in the Spring 2015 issue of the Journal of Numismatic Research, Roger W. Burdette notes that while Kasson's letter may have provided the inspiration for a new gold coin at the critical time in 1879, he was actually asking for something quite different from the four dollar stella. Kasson wanted a coin that could be exchanged exactly for the Latin Monetary Union coins he described, which would be worth $3.88. The four dollar stella would be a very loose approximation to the value of these coins, making a direct exchange unprofitable for the party using the U.S. coins. The stella would have been essentially useless for his purposes, and Kasson undoubtedly realized this, as he made no further contribution to the issue.
Burdette suggests the real impetus behind the creation of the stella came from Dr. William Wheeler Hubbell, an advocate of the metric system and holder of the patent for the goloid alloy used on a controversial series of patterns in the late 1870s. Goloid was a composition of gold, silver, and copper, combined in various proportions. Representative Alexander Stephens was an ardent admirer of Hubbell's coinage proposals and he naturally referred the question of Kasson's proposed new coinage to him when the matter came to his attention. Hubbell had previously sponsored a Metric Gold twenty dollar pattern in 1879 (Judd-1643), and several alternative patterns to replace the Standard Silver dollar, like the 1879 Goloid dollar (Judd-1617) and the 1879 Goloid Metric dollar (Judd-1626). Hubbell immediately saw the advantage of another coin that would use his patented composition. If any of his coin proposals were accepted, his royalties would make him a rich man. Accordingly, he proposed a four dollar stella as an approximation of Kasson's suggested $3.88 coin. The stella would be a handy denomination in his proposed coinage system, exactly one fifth the value of his 1879 twenty dollar pattern, with a suggested composition of six grams of gold, 3 decigrams of silver, and 7 decigrams of copper, and a weight of 7 grams. With Stephens' political clout behind the proposal, the Committee issued a favorable report on the stella on March 3, 1879, leading to House Resolution 113, which called for adoption of the new coinage.
Design of the Stella
Two different designs were proposed and two different dates were produced for the four dollar stella patterns, all having a common reverse design, for a total of four varieties. These varieties are 1879 Flowing Hair, 1879 Coiled Hair, 1880 Flowing Hair, and 1880 Coiled Hair stellas.
The central obverse device of the 1879 Flowing Hair stella was a bust of Liberty with flowing locks and a headband inscribed LIBERTY, derived directly from William Barber's design for an 1878 half eagle pattern, Judd-1574. This device was adopted with minimal changes by Charles Barber for the 1879 coinage, with the specifications for the stella spelled out in abbreviated form around the borders, punctuated by stars. The large logotype date was underneath. This basic design was repeated on the 1880 Flowing Hair version, but with a new die that shows some minor differences. The 1880 date is from a smaller logotype.
The Coiled Hair obverse is modeled after George Morgan's design for the 1879 goloid metric dollar, Judd-1631. Liberty faces left in profile with her hair coiled in a bun atop her head, wearing a headband inscribed LIBERTY. Around, the legend * 6 * G * .3 * S * .7 * C * 7 * G * R * A * M * S * and below, the date, 1879 (or 1880). The 1879 obverse has a large date logotype, apparently the same as the 1879 Flowing Hair obverse. The 1880 obverse has star 5 doubled, recutting in R, and die defects in the second 8. For many years, it was assumed that Morgan designed this issue, but Burdette's research indicates Morgan's goloid metric dollar design was actually adapted by William Barber for use on the Coiled Hair stellas.
The common reverse, designed by Charles Barber, features a large five-pointed star with the four-line inscription ONE STELLA 400 CENTS. Around, an outer legend reads UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, with the denomination expressed as FOUR DOL. below. An inner legend, with words separated by the star points, reads E PLURIBUS UNUM--DEO EST GLORIA. D in UNITED is sharply doubled.
The 1879 Flowing Hair stella was produced in large numbers for a pattern, and the issue is always available for a price in today's market. The other varieties are all quite rare today.
Production and Composition
Documentary evidence suggests 425 examples of the 1879 Flowing Hair stella were struck between October 4, 1879 and May 10, 1880, all for inclusion in three-coin pattern sets that also included examples of the 1879 goloid dollar (Judd-1617) and the 1879 goloid metric dollar (Judd-1626). These sets were offered to Congressmen for their bullion cost of $6.10. None were offered to collectors or the general public until the 1880 congressional term was over. Based on the large number of survivors, several numismatists have suggested the actual production of 1879 Flowing Hair stellas may have been larger, ranging from 500-750 examples, all told. There is no documentation for any production after the first 425 examples were struck, but there is also no documentation for the striking of 1879 Coiled Hair, 1880 Flowing Hair, or 1880 Coiled Hair stellas, all of which obviously exist. The final mintage figures remain an open question.
Similarly, the exact composition of the planchets is difficult to establish. The Mint documentation called for all coins to be struck in the goloid composition, but the great majority of survivors that have been subjected to elemental analysis were struck in the standard .900 fine gold coinage alloy. We are aware of only two instances where testing confirmed the coins were struck in Hubbell's goloid composition, and those cases may be anomalous. It has been suggested that the first 25 examples, which were struck early in the production cycle, were conscientiously produced in the required goloid composition, while all later strikings were accomplished on shaved half eagle planchets of regular gold composition. Prominent striations show on almost all examples seen, supporting this theory. Under this scenario, the two coins tested with goloid composition would be examples of the 25 "originals", while the great majority of survivors come from the later "restrikes." Like almost everything else about the 1879 stellas, this subject is hotly debated by expert numismatists, with no definitive answer in sight. In the end, Congress failed to approve the stella, and no business-strike coinage was ever produced.
The present coin is a spectacular Superb Gem, with sharply detailed design elements in most areas and just the slightest touch of the usual softness on the hair at Liberty's temple. The delightful orange-gold surfaces show only faint traces of the striations seen on almost all known examples. The deeply reflective fields exhibit noticeable cameo contrast with the frosty design elements and no mentionable distractions are evident. Overall eye appeal is terrific. Census: 16 in 67 (2 in 67* Ultra Cameo, 3 in 67* Cameo, 7 in 67 Cameo), with 1 finer (10/17).
From The Burgess Lee Berlin, M.D., J.D. Collection of Important United States Rarities. (Registry values: P1) (NGC ID# 28B2, PCGS# 88057)
Weight: 7.00 grams
Metal: 86% Gold, 4% Silver, 10% Copper