1879 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, 1879.
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: 1963260-002 – Photo Proof 10-07; previous Photo Proof 04-05 [number 116535-001]).
Faint cloudiness over deep, clear, pale yellow surfaces, with superb cameo-effect, and slight weakness at the centers (diagnostic for this issue). A minuscule mint-caused fleck in the reverse field between the star and N of UNUM and a shallow 'dimple' by the right foot of M on the obverse help to identify this fantastic gem.
References: This Coin Published: Breen (Encyclopedia) 6409; Breen (Proofs) p. 165; Akers (1976) p. 82; Akers (Patterns) pp. 53, 104; Garrett & Guth (Encyclopedia) p. 170 ("...one of the finest pieces known..."), 570; A Guide Book to United States Coins (The Red Book), 59th ed., 2006, pp. 233, 399; 66th ed., 2013, pp. 252, 424; this piece used to illustrate the type on the NGC Coin Explorer website. Other references: Judd 1638; Pollack 1838; Garrett & Guth, 100 Greatest U.S. Coins. (PCGS 88058)
Condition Census: Tied for finest known. NGC records only two other coins of comparable quality, and PCGS a single specimen (though not designated cameo); none finer graded by either service. (07-13)
Rarity: Exceptionally rare. All references are in general accordance that the original mintage was only about fifteen pieces (Breen [Proofs] cites ten). The census information which has been published over the years seems to confirm the survival of most though with a fair share of impaired examples. Akers (1975) estimated 13-15 survivors, and Teichman (US Patterns website) positively identifies twelve, including 2 in the Smithsonian. According to the PCGS records of auction appearances, this is the single finest example to have been sold at auction: In its most recent appearance (2005) it more than doubled the price of any 1879 Coiled Hair Stella offered before. Immediately following that sale, according to the Red Book (2006 ed.), it ranked within the upper 40 of the 250 most valuable U.S. coins ever sold. In the most recent Red Book (2013), it still ranks in the top 100. Since the sale of this coin 2005, nothing remotely as fine has been offered at auction (two Proof 63 NGC examples have made four appearances, and in May, 2013 a Proof 64 Cameo PCGS example was sold).
Provenance: Gold Rush Collection, Heritage, January 12, 2005, lot 30041, PR 67 Cameo NGC, "one of the very finest known" ($655,500), this coin is number 7 in their census (largely adapted from the US Patterns website); The Western Collection of United States Gold Coins, Stack's, December 12, 1981, lot 1137 ($80,000); a further comparison of catalogue images may further extend this coin's ownership history. However, because of photographs of differing quality, it appears that there are two possibilities, which may intersect at the 1992 Ed Trompeter sale.
The Western Collection coin appears to come from a set which appeared in the Stack's 1976 ANA sale, lot 2920 ($225,000); that set, from the Grant Pierce and Son Collection had previously been in the Will W. Neil Collection, B. Max Mehl, June 17, 1947, lots 2602-2605 (sold as a set: $3,850). The identifying 'smudge' between the 9 and the neck appears to be a photographic blemish, and not on the coin. Further plate comparisons of the Tacasyl coin with the Trompeter coin correspond to various identifiers including: on the obverse, a toning "smudge" between the rim and third star, a minute "flake" at the right foot of the M, a toning spot between the S and the last star; and on the reverse, toning flecks between the S and T and T and E of STATES [Note: the reverse enlargement in the Trompeter catalogue is of the wrong coin]; therefore the provenance may also include: Ed Trompeter Collection, Superior Galleries, February 25, 1992, lot 134, Gem Brilliant Proof, "... Pristine ... outstanding." ($198,000)
Neither the Neil Collection nor the Western Collection were mentioned in the Trompeter catalogue census for lot 134, and therefore they may substitute the pedigree given in that catalogue of the Lighthouse Sale, Stack's June 16-17, 1978, lot 828 ($90,000), and Rio Rancho Sale, Superior Galleries, October 15, 1974, lot 133 ($105,000). All these pedigree chains are impressive, but prospective bidders should to come to their own opinion.
Note: The Stella is one of the few patterns collected alongside adopted issues that saw general circulation. The reason is unknown, but may be a combination of the allure of such an odd denomination and because enough 1879 Flowing Hair examples were struck to make acquiring an example possible for most advanced collectors. Also, perhaps, was the fact that some have clearly seen circulation or have been mounted as jewelry, supposedly given by congressmen to some of Washington, D.C.'s more prominent bordello owners. Regardless of the reason, Stellas have found their way into mainstream collections of regular issue coins.