US Coins

Gold $4 Stella Pattern to Lead Baltimore Expo sale

An 1879 Flowing Hair gold $4 Stella pattern that has been off the market since the 1950s and is accompanied by a small archive of correspondence related to coin dealing in the mid-20th century will highlight Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ November Baltimore Auction.

The wide-ranging auction including U.S. and world coins and paper money will accompany the Whitman Coin and Collectibles Baltimore Expo at the Baltimore Convention Center, Nov. 5 to 8.  

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A crowning achievement

The 1879 Stella grades Proof 65+ by Professional Coin Grading Service and has been off the market since at least 1956. It comes with a charming, small custom cardboard box that once housed this coin, a reminder of the individualized storage methods collectors used before the advent of third-party grading and encapsulation. 

The lot includes letters from numismatist M.H. Bolender, detailing his involvement with the collection. The first, dated Aug. 8, 1957, details his attempt to purchase the collection, specifically mentioning the Flowing Hair $4 Stella. The second dated Feb. 12, 1975, has Bolender writing from a Christian retirement home in California, and that letter, plus another dated Feb. 13, 1975, recommends that Stack’s sell the collection. 

In 1879 and 1880, both Flowing Hair and Coiled Hair types were produced, and of the four, the 1879 Flowing Hair $4 Stella is the most common. The pattern was struck as a proposed alternative to popular European trade coins that were accepted in trade globally, although as a denomination and as a trade coin, it seemed unwanted.  

The Flowing Hair design is attributed to Charles Barber and the Coiled Hair design is assumed to be by George T. Morgan. 

Official mintage figures indicate that 425 1879 Flowing Hair Stellas were produced, although that number may have been higher, based on survival rates.

Today, the issue is collected as a mainstream 19th century issue, and examples in all grades are expensive, with low-end examples of the 1879 Flowing Hair type with problems selling at the $40,000 level. 

As the catalog description notes and population reports confirm, “Many appear to have ended up as jewelry or as pocket pieces, with some apocryphal accounts even placing these worn coins in the hands of proprietors of Washington’s many ‘houses of ill repute,’ though this claim has not been reasonably proven.” It adds, “Others were clearly well cared-for, such as the present piece, and have become cherished mementos,” before concluding, “The addition of a Stella to one’s numismatic holdings has always been a crowning achievement.”

For reference, another 1879 Flowing Hair Stella, also listed as Judd 1635 in the standard reference to the series, graded PCGS Proof 65 with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker, brought just under $200,000 earlier this year at a Heritage auction.   

Other noteworthy gold offerings in the Stack’s Bowers auctions at the Baltimore Expo include an 1859-D Coronet gold $5 half eagle representing the Medium D Mint mark variety, graded Mint State 62 by PCGS, and an 1814/3 Capped Bust gold $5 half eagle graded PCGS MS-62 in an old-style PCGS holder. 

Beyond the auction, the show is scheduled have more than 1,000 dealers, as well as youth programs. Additionally, the Colonial Coin Collectors Club will present several educational sessions throughout the show as part of its annual C4 convention.  

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