Stellas 1879-1880: The four dollar “Stellas”
were developed from the mistaken idea that international trade
would be facilitated if the United States had a coin that
was roughly the equivalent in value to certain coins of other
trading nations. It was felt that the four dollar coin would
be approximately equal to the Austrian 8 florins, Dutch 8
florins, French 20 francs, Italian 20 lire, and Spanish 20
pesetas. This idea was mistaken because currencies fluctuate
in value. Also gold coins would be valued by their weight
and fineness not their denomination for international trade.
Nonetheless, John A. Kasson, the United States Ambassador
to Austria-Hungary, prevailed and convinced Congress of the
need for these coins.
There were two types of Stellas. The first
was designed by Charles Barber. It is called the Flowing Hair
Type. It shows Liberty facing left with her hair loosely tied
behind wearing a band inscribed LIBERTY. The words of the
inscription 6 G .3 S .7 C 7 G R A M S separated by stars surround
Liberty. The reverse, which was common to both types, shows
a large five pointed star inscribed with ONE STELLA followed
by 400 CENTS. Surrounding the star are the words DEO EST GLORIA
and E PLURIBUS UNUM. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA arc above the
star and previous inscription, and words FOUR DOL. are below.
The second obverse type was designed by George Morgan. It
has the same inscriptions as the Barber type, but Liberty
is seen with her hair stylishly coiled.
Charles E. Barber was the sixth Chief Engraver
of the United States Mint. He served from 1879 to 1917. He
is best known for his designs of the “Barber”
dime, quarter, and half dollar. In addition he designed the
Liberty Head nickel, several commemoratives, and the Flowing
Hair Stella pattern. Barber was born in London in 1840. He
came to the United States in 1852 with his family. His father
became an engraver at the Mint in Philadelphia. Following
Longacre’s death, William Barber became the Chief Engraver
and made his son, Charles, his assistant. After his father’s
death in 1879, Charles became the Chief Engraver despite the
fact the George T. Morgan may have been more qualified or
at least more talented.
George T. Morgan was born in 1845 in Birmingham,
England. In 1876 he came to the United States and was hired
to be an Assistant Engraver at the Mint. It was understood
that William Barber would soon retire so there would be a
place for Morgan to work. In 1878 Morgan designed a Liberty
head for the new dollar. Although they languished for years
in bank vaults, today they are among the most popular coins
and collectors’ favorites. When William Barber died
in 1879, his relatively untalented son, Charles, became the
Engraver. Morgan finally became Engraver after Charles died
in 1917. Morgan remained Chief Engraver until he died in 1925.
In 1879 the first Stellas were minted. They
were then restruck in 1880 with the 1879 date. All were the
flowing hair type. The Morgan obverses were also struck in
1879 but are very rare with this date. More were later struck
in 1880. They were clandestine issues made for members of
Congress. More congressmen were able to obtain Stellas than
were coin collectors. Newspapers of the time ran stories about
Washington D.C. madams who had necklaces made from Stellas.
Many pieces that are seen today have evidence of solder removal.
All Stellas are rare in any condition. NGC
has a total of 254 in all grades, and PGCS has 354.The 1879
Stella Flowing Hair certified by PCGS has a population in
proof 63 cameo of 6 with 38 better. The 1879 proof 66 has
an NGC population of 29 with 0 better. The 1880 Flowing Hair
is a pattern (J-1658). It is made from copper and has been
gilded. It is an L7 rarity (7-12 pieces are known to exist).
The 1880 Coiled Hair Stella is also a pattern (J-1661). It
is made from copper and has a 6 on the rarity scale. (13-30
pieces are known to exist.)
Charles Barber’s design saw a mintage of about 425.
Since 531 have been certified, there are many resubmissions
and crossovers. The finest known is a single PFUC68 at
NGC. - 1879
$4 Gold Stella NGC PF63 CAMEO