24 August 2023
At the Rarities Night held by Stack’s Bowers on 13 June, an 1879 $4 Flowing Hair Stella was one of the highlights (lot 2066).
This gold coin was the result of a desire among some in government circles to create a new international coinage system that would be readily recognised and accepted throughout the world.
The idea was that a $4 gold coin struck in the United States would closely approximate in value the more widely used and accepted gold coins of several European countries, including Austria’s 8 florins, the Dutch 8 florins, France’s 20 francs, Italy’s 20 lire and Spain’s 20 pesetas.
As a result, the mint was asked to prepare pattern $4 gold pieces for evaluation by Congress. The mint eventually prepared two different proposed designs, a flowing hair motif by Charles E Barber and a coiled hair design by George T Morgan.
The Barber Flowing Hair type was used to prepare only 25 (and possibly as few as 15) examples (in a metric alloy) for distribution to Congressional leaders. Demand among officials for examples of the proposed coin proved so great that the mint eventually prepared perhaps as many as 700 additional specimens (in a standard alloy) in early 1880, still using the 1879-dated Flowing Hair dies.
These were used for presentation and other official purposes, as well as for numismatists.
Despite its popularity with politicians, the $4 gold Stella failed to gain authorisation for production and the project ended. All Stellas were struck as proofs, but because many of the surviving examples were used as pocket pieces or set into jewellery, they often appear as if they have seen very heavy circulation.
With only minimal signs of numismatic handling, this proof Stella reached $114,000 (approximately £87,884).