US Coins

Heritage's Platinum Night: 1880 Gold Stella leads CSNS auction

Here is the first of three coins that were among the highlights of Heritage Auctions' recent Platinum Night auction in Illinois.

An 1880 Coiled Hair gold $4 Stella pattern coin led Heritage’s April 23 Platinum Night auction at the Central States Numismatic Society annual convention. 

The rarity, opened at a bid of $1,300,000 and then quickly moved up until it stopped at a cut bid (where a bid is split between two standard increments, here between $1.5 and $1.6 million) of $1,550,000. With the buyer’s fee of 17.5 percent, the total price realized came to $1,821,250 and auctioneer Chris Dykstra lowered the gavel to applause in the salesroom.

The coin is considered the second finest of around 10 known and graded Proof 67 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker indicating quality within the grade.

The finest known example, graded Proof 67 Cameo by NGC brought more than $2.5 million at a Bonham’s auction in 2013.

Keep reading our CSNS coverage:

Per the provenance in the lot description for the coin just sold, when offered in 1991 at a Superior Galleries auction it realized $440,000 and at a 1982 auction it sold for $102,300. 

The issue, numbered Judd 1660 and Pollock 1860 in the standard references to the pattern series, is part of a series of $4 pattern types produced in 1879 and 1880. In 1879, perhaps as many as 725 coins with Charles Barber’s Flowing Hair design were struck to be distributed to congressmen, with the hopes of gaining favor for the denomination, which had aims to be an international trade coin. An alternative design by Charles Morgan, featuring Liberty with coiled hair, was produced in smaller numbers in 1879 and in 1880. 

Of the four variants, the 1880 Coiled Hair $4 Stella is the rarest. 

The reason why the 1880 Coiled Hair issue is rarer is somewhat mysterious. The first known auction appearance of an example was in 1906, followed by a 1943 B. Max Mehl sale that stated in the description, “While according to mint records the number of specimens minted of this variety was about the same as that of the 1879 coiled hair and the 1880 flowing hair, but for some reason or other, there has been far fewer specimens of this coin offered in the past fifty years than that of any other variety.”

Ultimately, the $4 denomination was a failure in that it did not serve a real need since it did not match its European counterparts. It was never adopted for circulation production.

The offered example featured handsome, orange-gold surfaces and the typical parallel striations seen across both sides, which Heritage’s description suggests could be the result of the coins being struck on filed down $5 half eagle planchets or possibly the result of the rolling process. 

In fact, three of the top 10 lots in the auction were Stellas. An 1879 Coiled Hair Stella, Judd 1638, Pollock 1838, graded Proof 65 by Professional Coin Grading Service with a green CAC sticker, opened at a bid of $650,000 before selling for a bid of $750,000 ($881,250 with buyer’s fee) to an internet bidder. 

An 1880 Flowing Hair Stella, Judd 1657, Pollock 1857, graded PCGS Proof 66 sold for $517,000 to a floor bidder while an 1879 Flowing Hair Stella, Judd 1635, Pollock 1833, graded Proof 67 Cameo with an NGC Star, brought $305,550 as it sold to an Internet bidder.

Keep reading about rarities sold during Heritage Auctions Platinum Night:

Unique 1794 Flowing Hair half dollar

1933 Indian Head gold $10 eagle

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