$4 Stella coin makes $2.5 million and world record-breaking prices realized at Bonhams Coin auction

Coins and Medals
23 Sep 2013
Los Angeles
Coins and Medals

$4 Stella coin makes $2.5 million and world record-breaking prices realized at Bonhams Coin auction

Coins and Medals
23 Sep 2013
Los Angeles
1880 $4 Stella Coiled Hair Cameo PF-67 NGC
George T. Morgan, designer (attributed)

Obverse: Head of Liberty facing left, wearing diadem inscribed LIBERTY, her hair braided and tightly coiled on top of her head; around, ★6★G★.3★S★.7★C★7★G★R★A★M★S★; below, 1880.

Reverse: Large five-pointed star inscribed in incuse: ONE / STELLA / — / 400 / CENTS, in five lines; around outer rim: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA — FOUR DOL.; around, within outer legend: E – PLURIBUS – UNUM — DEO – EST – GLORIA.

Condition: NGC Proof 67 Cameo (Certificate number: 1963260-004 – Photo Proof 10-07; previous Photo Proof 04-05 [number 1916321-002]: "NGC has certified just one other as PF67 Cameo and none finer").

A rich yellow-red color with exceptional frosting of the devices over deeply mirrored surfaces. A minimal lint mark to the right of the second 7 on the obverse, and a small (mint-caused) line ascending from the upper left point of the star between .7 and C are two hallmarks to identify this specimen. An amazing example which is virtually unimprovable.

References: This Coin Published: Breen (Proofs) p. 167 (8); Akers (1976) p. 82; Akers (Patterns) pp. 53, 104; Garrett & Guth (Encyclopedia) p. 170 ("One of the finest pieces known for the issue..."), 570; A Guide Book to United States Coins (The Red Book), 59th ed., 2006, pp. 233, 399; 66th ed., 2013, pp. 252, 423; this piece used to illustrate the type on the NGC Coin Explorer website. Other references: Judd 1660; Pollack 1860; Breen (Encyclopedia) 6411; Garrett & Guth, 100 Greatest U.S. Coins. (PCGS 88060)

Condition Census: Tied for finest known. NGC records only two other examples as Proof 67 Cameo, none finer; PCGS records none graded this perfectly preserved (Proof 64+ Cameo and Proof 66 without the cameo designation, the finest). (07-13)

Rarity: Exceptionally rare. One of the classic rarities of the entire United States series. Although the precise mintage records are thus far lost, the consensus of researchers is that no more than ten to fifteen were produced, with nearly ten surviving examples (though the Red Book cites only eight) having been confirmed (without duplication of listing); Teichman (U.S. Patterns website) lists nine confirmed examples including the Smithsonian example (the presently offered lot is his number 2). According to the PCGS records of auction appearances this is the finest certified piece ever sold at auction, and according to Guth & Garrett is finer than the Smithsonian coin by three full points. According to the 2006 Red Book, this coin when last sold at auction realized a price within the top-20 all-time U.S. coin prices ever realized up to that time, its price only exceeded by such iconic rarities as the 1933 Double Eagle, 1804 Dollar, 1913 Liberty Head Nickel, Brasher Doubloon, and 1894-S Dime.

Provenance: Gold Rush Collection, Heritage, January 12, 2005, lot 30044, PR66 Cameo NGC, "an exceptional cameo proof," (but incorrectly identified in the census as example 2 or 5 [Kern or DuPont]; it is example 3), ($977,500); Stack's Fixed Price List, Summer 1997 as part of a complete set ($875,000); Winner F. Delp Collection, Stack's, November 17, 1972, lot 792 ($35,000).

Note: The Coiled Hair design has long been attributed to George T. Morgan, and a close comparison of the two designs clearly defines the hands of two different engravers. Charles Barber, succeeded his father, William as the sixth Chief Engraver of the Mint in 1879. He was, by almost universal agreement, technically gifted but a lackluster artist. Morgan, an Englishman, by comparison, was recommended for the assistant engraver's post precisely because of his artistic gifts, which were amply displayed in his series of pattern half dollars in 1877 and 1878, and of course his well-known silver dollar.

Here the coiled hair design is not only treated with greater naturalism than Barber's flowing hair design (even the pupil of Liberty's eye is delineated), but the design itself is more sophisticated. The braided plait on top of Liberty's head is delicately and intricately engraved, and the portrait of Liberty is fully modeled and has a distinct individual personality. By contrast, the flowing hair design presents a more distant, cool effigy of Liberty with her hair more heavily engraved, both aspects of which are more in keeping with Barber's well-established use of classical sculpture for his inspiration.

David Akers also noted that there may be an aura of mystery surrounding the issue of 1880 Coiled Hair Stellas. In his extensive examination of examples during his long career, he noticed that the issue came with two distinctly different finishes. The first group (as displayed on this specimen and that in the Smithsonian, for example) has frosted devices and mirrorlike fields; those of the second variety are effectively brilliant proofs with little if any cameo contrast (indeed, Akers states that they appear polished). He suggested that one variety, probably the first group (as the Smithsonian's example bears these features) may be original strikes, and the other re-strikes, but there is no data thus far known which would support such a conjecture.

Suffice it to say, as Akers did, "this stella remains the rarest of the four." In fact, the 1880 Coiled Hair Stella has long been thought of as the 'great white whale' of the four coin series, and while the voracious collector Virgil Brand is known to have owned more than one example, it eluded even such great and sophisticated collectors as T. Harrison and John Work Garrett, the Norwebs, and Harry Bass.

Bonhams shatters Coin auction price records

1880 Coiled Hair Stella brings record $2,574,000

1879 Coiled Hair Stella brings record $1,041,300

Sale total: $10,778,040

Los Angeles — Bonhams is delighted to announce the sensational "white glove" results of the "Tacasyl Collection of Magnificent United States Proof Gold Coins" sold on September 23 in their Los Angeles salesroom. This collection of 27 lots represented a virtually complete collection of every major gold design type issued in proof in the US between 1836 and 1915 and realized $10,778,040 with every lot sold. The astounding $399,186 lot average represents a world record for a rare coin collection on a per lot basis (nearly doubling the previous record).

Leading the set was the 1880 Coiled Hair Stella. This example, one of the very finest known, brought an astonishing $2,574,000 (more than doubling the presale estimate). Making this Stella one of the ten most expensive US coins ever sold at auction (based on the Red Book 250 Top Auction prices). This price placed it in the vaunted company of the 1933 Double Eagle, the 1794 Silver Dollar, 1804 Silver Dollar, 1913 Nickel and Brasher Doubloons.

The 1879 Coiled Hair Stella nearly doubled the previous high for the design and date while realizing a phenomenal $1,041,300. And the 1880 Flowing Hair Stella also doubled the previous record for the type selling for $959,400. The four coin set sold for an aggregate price of an amazing $4,855,500.

Other highlights included the 1891 Proof Double Eagle (NGC Proof 68* Ultra Cameo), which set a new world record as the most valuable Liberty Head Proof Double Eagle ever sold at auction at $655,200. In addition, the Saint-Gaudens high relief double eagle is one of the most coveted coins in the entire US series. The Tacasyl example (NGC Proof 69) one of the very finest in existence set a new world record for a proof high relief (beating its own record set in 2005) at $573,300.

Finally the sale closed with the Double Eagles. The Type one Liberty Double Eagle, 1863 (NGC Proof 65 Cameo) brought $345,150 and set an auction record for the date. The last two lots of the sale the Saint Gaudens design double eagles both easily exceeded their pre-sale high estimates, the 1909 (NGC Proof 68) brought $184,860, and the 1911 (NGC Proof 68) brought $157,950.

Paul Song, Director of the rare Coins and Medals Department at Bonhams, said of the sale: "I am stunned and delighted. Having been entrusted with the opportunity to sell the Tacasyl Collection is personally one of the highlights of my career, and the more I got to work with the collection I realized just how special each and every coin in the collection was. The fact that probably more than 75% of the sale was bought directly by collectors is testament to the phenomenal nature of the collection. The sale proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that superb quality and great rarity are a magical mix."


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com

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