Featured Vid​eos
See More​​​​
​​ ​​​
Social Media
Blog Feed

Premium Gem Flowing Hair Stella to Be Offered in Our November 2015 Baltimore Rarities Night Auction

By James McCartney, Numismatist & Cataloger. Based on the lot description by Jeff Ambio, Vice President of Numismatics & Auction Catalog Production

Author: James McCartney & Jeff Ambio / Friday, October 02, 2015 / Categories: United States Coin of the Week

While never issued for circulation and by all definitions a pattern coin, the Stella's inclusion over the years in the Guide Book has made the denomination an essential part of a complete gold type set. Today, most Stellas are found either impaired or well preserved. Many appear to have ended up as jewelry or as pocket pieces, with some apocryphal accounts even placing these worn coins in the hands of proprietors of Washington's many "houses of ill repute," though this claim has not been reasonably proven. Others were clearly well cared-for, such as the present piece, and have become cherished mementos. The addition of a Stella to one's numismatic holdings has always been a crowning achievement.

The surfaces of this Gem offer exceptional technical quality. Delicate pale orange adorns otherwise warmly and evenly toned medium gold surfaces. The devices are boldly impressed with a soft, satiny texture. The fields, on the other hand, are decidedly reflective in finish, and there is nearly enough contrast to support a Cameo designation. Expertly preserved and worthy of inclusion in the finest cabinet.

The story of the four-dollar Stella begins in Europe in 1865 with the establishment of the Latin Monetary Union in which several of the major economic powers of their day established a unified monetary standard. This economic union, which lasted officially until 1927 and was a predecessor of today's EU, allowed gold and silver coins of many nations to circulate freely at the same weight and purity standard, easing commerce within Continental Europe. American travelers abroad noted the ease of currency exchange within the union, as well as the comparative difficulty in converting American coins. These challenges prompted several attempts to make the American gold coinage system conform more closely to the standards of the Latin Monetary Union

In 1879, another proposal gained significant momentum when John A. Kasson, the United States minister plenipotentiary to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and a former chairman of the Congressional Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures, suggested the creation of a $4 gold coin to facilitate trade abroad. The $4 coin would be closer in weight to the most popular European gold coins then in circulation, in particular the Austro-Hungarian 8 florin piece, a coin with which Kasson was most familiar. Two designs were prepared, the Flowing Hair design by Charles E. Barber, as here, and the Coiled Hair design by George T. Morgan (the attribution of the portraits is by numismatic tradition only, as no original archival information or documentation has been found regarding the authorship of the motifs). The proposed new name for the denomination, Stella, was based "in analogy to one eagle, both the star and eagle being national emblems on our coins."

The Barber Flowing Hair design was selected initially and 25 (and possibly as few as 10 or 15) three-piece pattern Proof sets were prepared for distribution to Congressional leaders. The coins proved to be popular among government officials and the resultant demand for additional specimens was so great that the Mint was obliged to strike several hundred more examples in 1880, all bearing the 1879 date. Estimates of production figures for the 1879 Flowing Hair type range from the traditional figure of 425 coins to as many as 800 pieces suggested by some modern researchers. Walter Breen initially classified the production in two categories, originals and restrikes, though there has not been a definitive way of distinguishing between the two. In the end, the proposed denomination failed to garner enough support to be authorized and was never put into production.

View this and the rest of the numismatic treasures to be offered in our November 2015 Official Auction of the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Baltimore Expo next month at StacksBowers.com. For more information or to reserve your copy of the catalog, please visit StacksBowers.com or call our offices at 1-800-458-4646.