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1879 Stella pieces fell into unlikely hands

OK, a $4 Stella is technically a pattern and not a coin. Similar to the 1856 Flying Eagle cent, collectors don

OK, a $4 Stella is technically a pattern and not a coin. Similar to the 1856 Flying Eagle cent, collectors don?t care what it is ? they simply want an example in their collection. As a result, the $4 Stella is included in many price guides and references with the regular gold issues of the United States. The doubt over its being a coin has not held back its prices over the years.

The idea of creating the Stella came from John A. Kasson, minister to Austria-Hungary, as an attempt at an international trade coin. At $4 with a composition of 85.71 percent gold, 4.28 percent silver and 10 percent copper, the Stella, named for the five-pointed star on its reverse, would have been a somewhat strained attempt at producing a U.S. coin more in line with European issues.

It?s not easy for such ideas to get any sort of a hearing, but this one got help from Dr. W.W. Hubbell, who was responsible for patenting the gold alloy ?goloid? used in making the famous goloid metric dollar.

The odds were not the best for the Stella since its value was not the same as the regularly circulating gold coins of Europe, and higher denominations were desired for the bulk of international trade.

Even so, the Stella was created. Charles Barber designed the Flowing Hair variety and it may well be his best work at the Mint. The Coiled Hair variety was the work of George T. Morgan, coming just a couple years after his design was used for the Morgan dollar.

The long-standing total for the 1879 Flowing Hair variety is 425, but Q. David Bowers estimates this total to be 700 in A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Bowers places the 1879 Coiled Hair variety total between 20 and 30 pieces.

It is what happened after the Stella?s production that played a big role in what we find today. Examples of the 1879 Flowing Hair were given to members of Congress and others with influence. Shock and dismay followed as they ended up in the hands of local ?ladies of the evening.?
Apparently these women were not dedicated numismatists, evidenced by the number of circulated, polished and jewelry examples we have today.

As a result, a large percentage of 1879 Flowing Hair examples found today are impaired proofs. That does make them less costly. A Prf-60 might well run $75,000 and a Prf-65 more than $135,000. The price of a Prf-60 1879 Coiled Hair is likely to be closer to $115,000, while a Prf-65 is going to be in the $325,000 range. Sometimes the Coiled Hair tends to be poorly struck with possible planchet flakes and lintmarks. Clearly most opt for the less expensive Flowing Hair 1879, although a few have attempted to assemble complete sets of the 1879 and even tougher 1880.

Even though the Stella is technically a pattern, it is certainly a piece that is interesting, very tough and likely to draw a crowd at any show.