Stella!!! 6

I did a Google search this morning on “coin news” and came across this article from yesterday’s Bloomberg news: “There Is a $4 U.S. Coin, and It’s Now Worth $60,000“.  It is about an 1879 $4 Gold Piece going to auction in Bonham, LA on September 6, 2016. Now $60,000 sounds a bit low for one of these, but reading further into the article, I saw this from the director and banknotes of Bonhams, Paul Song saying the piece “carries a lower estimate than the other coins because of wear to its surface—it was apparently used as a piece of jewelry for many years“. Now it makes sense. Let me explain this by giving the Brief History of the US $4 Gold Piece or Stella as most people knew it as.

Brief History1879 Stella Flowing Hair Obverse

The $4 Gold Piece has the briefest history of any coin only lasting 2 years (1879-1880). Even the Susan B. Anthony dollar lasted 4 years, if you include 1999.

The idea behind having a $4 Gold Piece started with John A. Kasson, US plenipotentiary (diplomat with full authority to transact business on behalf of the United States) with Austria-Hungary.  It was suggested to create a pattern coin that the US could use toward joining the Latin Monetary Union. The LMU existed from 1865 to 1927 and was meant to merge different European currencies into one currency, similar to the Euro today. The intention was was to have a bimetallism system of gold and silver based on the French Franc. The United States entry would be a gold coin similar to the twenty franc Napoleon. However the Gold Coin did not meet LMU standards based on weight and gold content.1879 Stella Coiled Hair Obverse

There would be two different obverses released, one with a woman with flowing hair designed by Charles Barber, the other with coiled hair designed by George T. Morgan. Around the woman would be letters and numbers with stars in-between, ★6★G★.3★S★.7★C★7★G★R★A★M★S★. This stood for 6 grams of gold, .3 grams of silver and .7 grams of copper for a total weight of 7 grams.

The reverse was the same on both coins. In the middle was a star with the inscription ONE STELLA 400 CENTS. Now the word Stella came from the Latin word for star. Around the star was the usual E PLURIBUS UNUM and DEO EST GLORIA (Latin for “To God is the glory”) .

With all the Latin included on the coin, it was obvious they were trying to include this coin with the LMU, but in the end, Congress rejected it. Hundreds of the Flowing Hair version proofs (425 of which are known to exist) were made in 1879 as well as a few Coiled Hairs. There were also a few proofs of both versions made in 1880, but that was it.Stella Coin Reverse

Stellas did not have a good reputation. This included that some were used as jewelry by women at Washington DC’s bordellos. After 1880, the idea of Stella coins disappeared and the $4 Gold Coin was never minted in the US again.

Want to see a Stella in person?

Unless you can attend one of those high priced auctions like the one coming up in September, your best bet would be visiting the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. There, you can find some of the rarest coins in the United States including the 1804 Silver Dollar, 1933 Double Eagle and the 1913 Liberty Nickel.

Now the Moment We have all been Waiting for

In the beginning of this post, I spoke about a $4 Gold Piece that is expected to bring in $60,000. I mentioned that I thought it was low but I don’t know what grade it has been given, just that it’s worn.

Here are some Stellas that have been sold at auction and what they sold for:

  • June 2012, Stack’s Bowers Auction, 1879 Flowing Hair, Proof-68 Ultra Cameo, $402,500
  • September 2013, Bonhams Auction, 1879 Coiled Hair, Proof-67 Cameo, $1,041,300
  • September 2013, Bonhams Auction, 1880 Flowing Hair, Proof-67, $959,400
  • September 2013, Bonhams Auction, 1880 Coiled Hair, Proof-67 Cameo, $2,574,000
  • April 2015, Heritage Auctions, 1880 Coiled Hair, Proof-67, $1,821,250
  • June 2015, Heritage Auctions, 1880 Coiled Hair, Proof-65, $1,116,250

Amazing, isn’t it. Wouldn’t you want one of these?

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6 thoughts on “Stella!!!

  • Matt's Mom

    This is very interesting and I like this coin. I like the design on it with the star. I can’t believe that it is worth $60,000! But being in circulation for such a short period is why right? Then to see some sold for over a million! Wow. I really didn’t quite see who Stella was. Was this a significant person that this coin was made for?

    • Kevin Post author

      This is a common misconception. Stella wasn’t a person, but was the Latin word for star. In an effort to join the Latin Monetary Union, they tried to put as many Latin terms on it as possible. Congress ended up rejecting the coin and the Stella was no more.

  • Brianna

    This page was very interesting to read! I never knew there was a $4 coin and I loved learning all about it and the history. Looking at the other coins that have been sold is crazy to think about. Over a million dollars?! I think I am going to have to make a trip to the Smithsonian and check out all these rare coins!

    • Kevin Post author

      It is understandable not knowing about the $4 gold coin, seeing that it was only out for 2 years and there were less than 1000 made. I’ll have to make a trip down to Washington too someday.

  • James

    Nice article Kevin!
    I would love to get a hold of one of these. I’ve always wanted to collect and sell rare coins. I’ve had a $5 and $10 1993 gold eagle ultra cameo. I made a few hundred dollars off of those after gold climbed to $1900/oz. I’ve also made a little off of the Silver Morgan Dollars.
    I’ve just never had enough money to devote to the rare coins. I’ll get there someday.
    Do you do a lot of collecting?

    • Kevin Post author

      That’s great that you had those gold coins. I just started collecting again the past couple of years. I did more collecting back in the 90’s. I worked on a Peace Dollar collection before I got laid off in 2001. Only one I need is the 1934-S. I only have a couple of 1/10 ounce gold coins. I want to start building a $2.50 Indian Quarter Eagles set in the near future..