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Three $4 Coil Hair Stella Pattern Coins to be offered by Heritage

The $4 Stella holds a special place in most coin collectors hearts, both in terms of design, its unique denomination and the allure of desirability. There are Two different types produced over two years; The Flowing Hair design of 1879 and 1880 (designed by Charles E. Barber) and the Coiled Hair design (Designed by George T. Morgan) of the same time period. All were struck as patterns and examples can be found in Gold, Aluminum, Copper and White Metal.

The 1880 Coiled Hair issue is clearly the rarest of four varieties. In past rosters, we have only been able to account for eight different examples, but have now added a ninth example from the Dallas Bank Collection.

For many years it was believed that just 10 pieces were struck, but it is more likely that 20 pieces were originally coined. A general rule for proof gold pieces from the mid- to late 1800s is that approximately half the original mintage survives.

Like the 1879 Coiled Hair and 1880 Flowing Hair coins, the 1880 Coiled Hair is a major rarity from an extremely small mintage. Only the 1879 Flowing Hair stella could be called anything close to common (with an estimated mintage of a mere 425 pieces), and that is the issue most often chosen by type collectors who want a single example of the stella.

Three examples of the Stella are going to be offered at the Heritage Sale in Los Angeles latter this month as part of the “pre ANA” auctions, offering collectors a unique opportunity to to view and bid on these beautiful coins. What makes this even more special is that the patterns are offered in Gold, Aluminum and Copper.

The Kern-Carter 1880 Coiled Hair Stella

Lot: 1246: Judd-1660, Pollock-1860, Low R.7, PR62 NGC While George T. Morgan’ name has been forever etched in the minds of even the most casual collectors for his iconic Morgan Silver Dollar design, among advanced numismatists, Morgan is also remembered for his only contribution to the United States’ gold coinage family–the Coiled Hair stella of 1879-1880.

While Morgan’s stella design is nearly identical to that of Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber, the former artist altered the obverse portrait by coiling Liberty’s hair into a neat bun atop her head. The majority of 1879-dated specimens bore Barber’s Flowing Hair design, but the Philadelphia Mint did strike between 10 and 15 gold examples using Morgan’s motif. By mid-1880, regardless of its supposed benefit to the international monetary system, Congress had finally realized that a four dollar gold coin was superfluous in a coinage family that already included two and a half, three, and five dollar denominations. Nevertheless, a paltry sum of @20 1880-dated stellas emerged from the Mint’s presses

In his book United States Gold Coins: An Illustrated History, Q. David Bowers asserts: “Type set collectors desiring examples of the Flowing Hair stella design can be satisfied with an 1879?the Coiled Hair stella is a different story entirely. Only at widely spaced intervals does the opportunity to acquire an 1879 Coiled Hair stella present itself.”

Bob Higgins, whose firm Certified Assets has handled perhaps more Stella’s than all of ther dealers combined, had just one word for this coin, “Stunning!”

Considerable mystery surrounds the 1880 Coiled Hair Stella. Of the 9 reported survivors, 5 display mirrored fields and frosted devices while the other 4 exhibit brilliant proof qualities throughout. This variance seems to suggest that the Mint struck the 10 coins on two distinct occasions. In his book United States Gold Coins: An Analysis of Auction Records, however, David Akers speculates that the 5 cameo proofs may be survivors of the original delivery of 10 coins. In keeping with this theory, therefore, the 4 brilliant proofs represent restrikes that the Mint produced at a later date.

Some Unique Charactoristics found on all Stella’s:
Both sides have diagonal striations up to the left on the obverse and up to the right on the reverse, in the same direction on both sides when the coin orientation is considered. Those striae result from the original planchet manufacturing process. Standard half eagle planchet strip was reduced to 80% thickness in the Mint’s rolling mills and drawing bench, then planchets were cut using the standard half eagle planchet cutter. It was the process of rolling and drawing the planchet stock that left parallel striations on the planchet strip. We have never seen a gold stella without the striae, although on some it is extremely faint.

The D in UNITED is clearly doubled above, as it is on all four dollar gold pieces that we have seen from 1879 and 1880

Roster of 1880 Coiled Hair Stellas
1. DuPont Specimen. PR66 PCGS. Sotheby’s (9/1982), lot 252, $102,300; Superior (8/1991), lot 707, $440,000.
2. Delp Specimen. PR66 Cameo NGC. Stack’s (11/1972), lot 792 $35,000; Stack’s (Summer 1997 FPL) offered as part of a four-piece set for $875,000; Heritage (1/2005), lot 30444, $977,500.
3. Trompeter Specimen. Gem Brilliant Proof. B. Max Mehl (6/1947), lot 2603 sold as part of a set for $3,850; Grant Pierce; 1976 ANA (Stack’s, 8/1976), lot 2920 sold as part of a set for $225,000; Stack’s (12/1981), lot 1139, $135,000; Ed Trompeter Collection (Superior, 2/1992), lot 136 $264,000; Superior (8/1992), lot 599; Stack’s (10/1995), lot 1548, $308,000.
4. Eliasberg Specimen. PR65. Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; Louis E. Eliasberg, Jr. (Bowers and Ruddy, 10/1982), lot 319 $99,000; Holecek Family Trust (Stack’s, 10/2000), lot 1625.
5. Memorable Specimen. PR64 NGC. J.F. Bell Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 3/1948), lot 282; Stack’s (3/1999), lot 136; Bowers and Merena (1/2000), lot 352.
6. Kern Specimen. PR62 NGC. The present coin. B. Max Mehl (5/1950), lot 245 sold as part of a set for $4,100; Amon Carter, Sr.; Amon Carter, Jr. (Stack’s, 1/1984), lot 634, $72,250; Richmond Collection (David Lawrence, 7/2004), lot 1306; Superior (7/2005), lot 425, which realized $618,125.
7. Davies Specimen. PR61 NGC. Paramount (2/1975), lot 547 $67,500; Bowers and Ruddy Rare Coin Review #26, p. 64; Heritage (1/2000), lot 7519; Bowers and Merena (3/2004), lot 2620.
8. Dallas Bank. Impaired Proof. Dallas Bank Collection (Sotheby’s and Stack’s, 10/2000), lot 363.
9. Lilly Specimen. Smithsonian Institution.
From The Bay State Collection, Part Two

The Lemus 1879 Coiled Hair Four Dollar Patterm

Lot 1385: 1879 $4 Coiled Hair Four Dollar, Judd-1640, Pollock-1840, High R.7, PR66 Cameo NGC. Ex: Lemus Collection. The reverse and the obverse periphery are the same as the Judd-1635 through 1637 stellas, but the center obverse features the George T. Morgan Coiled Hair design. Liberty’s hair is braided, and a hair band in front reads LIBERTY. Struck in aluminum with a reeded edge.
Until the late 1880s and early 1890s when a new chemical isolation process was discovered, aluminum was considered among the most precious of metals, far rarer and much more coveted than gold. It is difficult today to find adequate words to express how elusive pure aluminum was at the time this coin was struck. We have mentioned elsewhere in this catalog the story of how when the Emperor Napoleon served an imperial dinner of elaborate scale, he reserved the aluminum tableware for the most revered guests, reserving the gold service for those of lower estate. Until the early 1880s, aluminum was sold in troy-ounce quantities, and domestic yearly production was in the range of 1,000 to 3,000 troy ounces, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The purity of the aluminum provides a radiant backdrop for splendid, intense field-device contrast recognized by NGC. The fields are quicksilver and brightly mirrored, while arctic mint frost cleanly covers both the central devices and the peripheral legends. Light striations are seen through the central star on the reverse, but none appear on the obverse. Some minor planchet roughness is to be expected, due to the Mint’s unfamiliarity with what amounted to, at the time, an experimental (and quite valuable) metal. NGC has certified a single piece each in PR66 Cameo (the present example) and PR67 Cameo (6/09).
There appear to be five separate specimens that we can enumerate:

1. Public Auction Sale (Lester Merkin, 9/1967), lot 407; Rio Rancho (Superior, 10/1974), lot 136; 1979 ANA Sale (New England Rare Coin Auctions, 7/1979), lot 1358; Pittsburgh Elite Coin Auction (Superior, 8/2004), lot 893, realized $89,125. Not gilt.
2. Rare Coin List #10 (Paramount, 6/1975); Dallas Bank Collection (Sotheby’s/Stack’s, 10/2001), lot 369. Not gilt.
3. Edward Maris Collection (H.P. Smith, 6/1886), lot 221; Garrett Collection (Stack’s, 3/1976), lot 668; Harry Bass; Harry Bass Research Foundation. Not gilt.
4. Auction ’80 (RARCOA, 8/1980), lot 1946; Auction ’83 (Rarcoa, 7/1983), lot 1410. Gilt.
5. CSNS (Rarcoa, 5/1971), lot 397; Winter ANA (Steve Ivy, 2/1983), lot 1791; 1988 ANA (Heritage, 7/1988), lot 2759; The Lemus Collection (Heritage, 1/2009), lot 1930. The present coin. Not gilt.

1880 Coiled Hair Stella Struck in Copper

Lot 1386: 1880 $4 Coiled Hair Four Dollar, Judd-1661, Pollock-1861, Low R.7, PR64 Red and Brown NGC One of Three Copper Examples Certified! 1880 $4 Coiled Hair Four Dollar, Judd-1661, Pollock-1861, Low R.7, PR64 Red and Brown NGC. Ex: Lemus Collection. The reverse and the obverse periphery are the same as Flowing Hair stellas as struck in the various metals, but the center obverse features the George T. Morgan Coiled Hair design. Liberty’s hair is braided, and a hair band in front reads LIBERTY.

While the 1879 Flowing Hair stellas in gold are frequently seen in the numismatic marketplace, the 1880 designs, both Flowing Hair and Coiled Hair, are extremely rare regardless of the metal composition, be it gold, aluminum, or copper. Since the 1880 Coiled Hair design in gold is one of the most revered and coveted designs in all of U.S. numismatics, the 1880 Coiled Hair patterns struck in copper–while equally rare–provide another venue for collectors to obtain an example of the design. Many of the copper examples have been gilt, making this nongilt specimen all the more desirable. About a dozen examples are purported to exist, according to USPatterns.com.

Interestingly, while the 1880 Flowing Hair stellas show a date that is small, shifted right near the tresses, and distant from the denticles, the date on the 1880 Coiled Hair types is large and well-centered between the peripheral legends, the denticles, and the bust truncation, providing yet another point of contrast among these interesting designs.

There are two Brown coins certified at NGC–one each in PR65 Brown and PR67 Brown Cameo–but this PR64 is the only Red and Brown at NGC. As of (6/09), PCGS has certified no examples of this Judd variety. Ex: Lemus Collection, Queller Family Collection Part Two (Heritage, 1/2009), which realized $51,750.
From The Bay State Collection, Part Two.

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