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Four Dollar Gold

1879 Flowing Hair $4 Gold Stella

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1879 $4 Stella - Flowing Hair
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1879 $4 Flowing Hair, Judd-1635, Pollock-1833, R.3, PR63 Cameo NGC. Patterson Du Bois, author of a January 1883 article, "The Pattern Piece," published in the American Journal of Numismatics. His description of such items, which is especially meaningful to $4.00 Gold Stella's is vivid and memorable:

"Open for me your cabinet of Patterns, and I open for you a record, which but for these half-forgotten witnesses, would have disappeared under the finger of Time. Read to me their catalogue and I read to you, in part, at least, the story of an escape from the impractical schemes of visionaries and hobbyists--a tale of national deliverance from minted evil."

Today, far from perceiving patterns as "deliverance from minted evil," collectors consider them to be fascinating detours from regular-issue coinage, often with their own artistic and technical merits and they have easily attained recognition on the book, 100 Greatest Coins. In addition, while most such pieces are far from readily available, a handful of patterns were produced in sufficient quantity that they are considered collectible, not only by pattern specialists, but by the general population of U.S. coinage enthusiasts. The Flying Eagle cents of 1856 are a famous example, and, among gold coins, the 1907 Saint-Gaudens eagles with wire rim and periods at E PLURIBUS UNUM are sometimes collected alongside the regular issues. One widely collected pattern, however, is not collected alongside any series, since it occupies a singular place in the annals of American coinage. That piece is the 1879 Flowing Hair stella.

Originally, the 1879 Flowing Hair stella was like many other pattern issues, produced in highly limited qualities. Pollock (1994) quotes research by R.W. Julian, published in the November 1987 edition of The Numismatist under the title "The Stella: Its History and Mystery," that claims that just 25 sets of three coins, each containing an 1879 Flowing Hair stella, as well as an 1879 metric dollar (Pollock-1813) and an 1879 goloid dollar (Pollock-1822), were produced and distributed to Congress. A previous estimate of only 15 sets appeared in Akers. The story might have ended there, with the pieces winding up as rarities in scattered pattern cabinets and generally unappreciated by numismatists at large.

Congress, or more accurately, members of Congress who saw the pieces and wanted examples of their own, intervened. Early in 1880, the Mint struck off further three-coin sets, which were then made available to legislators at cost. A famous contemporary diatribe by S.K. Harzfeld, described in Breen's Encyclopedia and elsewhere, noted with some bitterness that the gift-giving of representatives and senators had led to the patterns appearing in the hands of "boarding house keepers" and women of ill repute who operated out of Washington D.C's Bordello's who fashioned the pieces into necklaces. The pieces also attracted the attention of contemporary collectors, who soon discovered that while Congressmen could obtain the coins, they could not, except by working through various agents who claimed Mint connections. In many ways, this 19th century pursuit of the sets containing the Stella cemented its reputation as very desirable.

Since a number of 1879 Flowing Hair Stella's are known in various states of impairment, the search for an attractive and well-preserved example can prove long and occasionally frustrating. This delightful Choice specimen of the $4.00 Flowing Hair Stella should prove a welcome change to the discerning collector. Honey-gold, orange, and wonderfully made, the Cameo contrast provides an incredible visual appeal. In short, this is an astonishingly beautiful survivor that merits a place in a world-class collection.


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