Skip to content
Lot 3278

Image Information

Type Coin
Title Lot 3278
Date 1879
Side obverse
Grade 65
Service NGC
Service Catalog # 8057
Denomination $4
Description 1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1832, R.6, PR65 NGC. Original Composition 85% Gold, 10% Copper, 5% Silver. The 1879 and 1880 four dollar stellas are among the most interesting and enigmatic of all pattern issues, about which much has been written but seemingly little is incontrovertibly known. The origin of the stella is more clearly understood than the coin itself. John A. Kasson, the Minister of the United States in Vienna in the late 1870s and a former Chairman of the Committee of Coinage, Weights, and Measures, collaborated with the Secretary of the Treasury, John Sherman, to seek Congressional approval of an international gold coin based on the metric system -- one that would circulate interchangeably with several other foreign gold pieces based on its metric alloy composition. Dr. Wheeler W. Hubbell of Pennsylvania, who had patented goloid metal and was a staunch advocate of the metric system, devised the composition details. The earliest appearance of an original stella at auction took place in a sale by S.K. Harzfeld, who is best known for his outspoken criticism of corrupt practices at the U.S. Mint. His June 30, 1880 sale included an original proof set consisting of an 1879 stella, a goloid Metric dollar, and a silver Metric dollar. He wrote: {blockquote}"THE NEW METRIC SET. PROPOSED FOR COINAGE. This is one of the original 15 sets, submitted to Congress. As to the value, I need only say that a gentleman at Washington refused, some time ago, $100 for one of these original sets. The pieces will be sold separately, without reserve, to the highest bidder; but should there be a fair bid for the lot, when the first piece is put up, the right is reserved to sell the three pieces as a set. The pieces are the more desirable, as there is not the least doubt that they will not be accepted for our coinage. "The adoption of the Gold piece instead of improving our coinage would be a decidedly retrograde movement. Not merely that, for the old design of the United States coinage some 75 years ago, was more beautiful and more practical for the purposes of circulation."{/blockquote} Harzfeld saved his most scathing words, however, for the goloid and silver dollars that accompanied the stella in the set. {blockquote}"All we want is a Silver dollar, worth 100 cents, instead of 90 cents, as at present; with a chaste head of Liberty on the obverse, and a genuine looking eagle on reverse, instead of the present frightened-looking bird, with clipped wings and pulled feathers."{/blockquote} While the current coin is likely not the exact stella described in Harzfeld's set, it is one of the original 15 proofs struck. Eric P. Newman purchased the present coin in 1944 from the "Colonel" Green Collection in partnership with prominent St. Louis coin dealer, B.G. Johnson. The primary kraft envelope used to house the coin states, "1879 U.S. $4 Gold Stella. Flowing Hair. Brilliant perfect Proof (6/13/44 Johnson). A second envelope indicates "1879 U.S. Pattern in Gold / Original not restrike. Perfect Proof." It is the proper weight. This coin weighs 108.5 grains. The metric alloy indicated on the stella calls for: {blockquote} 6 grams of gold = 92.57 grains (85.7%) .3 grams of silver = 4.63 grains (4.3%) .7 grams of copper = 10.80 grains (10.0%) Total: 108 grains{/blockquote} A hand-written note accompanying the coin says, "108� grains / Original. Rarity 6 / Restrikes weigh 103 gr / (and) are Rarity 2 / See Judd." We now know restrikes can range in weight from 103 grains to 109 grains, so it is not possible to tell originals from restrikes solely by the weight. However, originals, such as the present coin, are of the proper weight of 108 to 109 grains. This coin was tested by NGC and determined to be of Original Composition 85% Au, 10% Cu, 5% Ag - one of two coins tested to date that are closely aligned to the Mint's stated composition for the metric alloy (8/14). In addition to the proper weight and composition, this piece corresponds with the correct physical appearance for an original-strike stella. At one time it was thought that the presence or absence of planchet striations (or roller marks) was an indicator of original proofs. Current thinking is that all proof stellas show roller marks to one extent or another. The Mint was experimenting with a new alloy and planchet thickness for the stella, which must have required adjustments both in planchet preparation and spacing of the dies. This historic, Gem proof coin shows light roller marks on Liberty's hairline and portrait, although the fields show little evidence of the parallel striations. The silver content of this proof contributes to the attractive green-gold coloration, with reflective fields and frosted devices. The strike is bold except for the highest hair strands. This coin has been in private hands and unavailable for public sale for at least the past 70 years. As only 15 were ever minted, opportunities to purchase one at auction are extremely limited. Our thanks to John Dannreuther, Saul Teichman, and Chris Pilliod for their contributions regarding the current stella research and composition testing. Ex: Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society. Realized $182125.00. Description courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Related Content

Image Collection Eric P. Newman Collection, Part V
NNP is 100% non-profit and independent // Your feedback is essential and welcome. // Your feedback is essential and welcome.