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.)
Hair: 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