1879 $4 Stella Coiled Hair Cameo PF-67 NGC

Coins, Military Medals and Banknotes

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.

Sold for US$ 1,041,300 inc. premium
1836 $5 Ultra Cameo PF-67★ NGC

Coins, Military Medals and Banknotes

1836 $5 Ultra Cameo PF-67★ NGC
William Kneass, designer (after John Reich); refined by Christian Gobrecht

Obverse: Head of Liberty facing left, her hair bound in a fillet on which LIBERTY is inscribed, her hair curled and falling to the base of her neck; around, thirteen stars; below, 1836.

Reverse: Heraldic eagle, head facing left, with shield emblazoned on its chest holding olive branch and three arrows in its talons; around, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; below, 5 D.

Condition: NGC Proof 67★ Ultra Cameo (Certificate number: 1963262-002 – Photo Proof 10-05; previous Photo Proof 10-07 [number 2019387-009] "This delightful proof is the only one certified by NGC, confirming its important status."

Deeply mirrored, almost 'black' limpid fields highlight the richly frosted designs. Struck from incredibly dense, dark gold, with dies so fresh that a few raised die polish lines are still visible (these are part of the manufacturing process and not defects). Star nine slightly flat, which is a feature shared by all the known examples. A spectacular coin without peer.

References: This Coin Published: Garrett & Guth (Encyclopedia) p. 286. Other references: Breen (Encyclopedia) 6510; Breen (Proofs) p. 65 (this example unknown); Akers (1979) pp. 86-87. (PCGS 45300)

Condition Census: The finest known. NGC has graded no other examples as perfectly preserved as this piece; the other Proof 67 graded by NGC (probably the Pittman example) lacks both the Ultra Cameo and star designations; PCGS has graded nothing even remotely as fine (Proof 63 cameo, the finest). (07-13)

Rarity: Of the highest rarity. Breen (in both Proofs and Encyclopedia) knew of only two examples, that in the National Coin Collection in the Smithsonian, and the example he identified as 'NY Specialist' (John J. Pittman). Akers (1979) concurred, but when he sold the Pittman Collection (1997), he cited the existence of a third example and, more recently (2000) a fourth (not nearly as fine as the other three) was discovered. The list of known examples includes the National Coin Collection (Smithsonian) example; John J. Pittman (Part 1 [October 1997], lot 938); Brian Hendelson, 1996 (this coin), as part of a complete proof set; Harry Bass Collection (Part 4 [November 2000], lot 344). Only three auction appearances of this exceptionally rare issue have been recorded since the Farouk sale in 1954.

As with the proof quarter eagle of 1836 in the present sale (lot 1002), for a number of years NGC had not deleted the original certification number for this coin when it was re-holdered in 2007. This gave the false impression that there was another coin as perfectly preserved as the Tacasyl coin. NGC has corrected this error, confirming the unique finest-known status of this amazing coin.

Provenance: The Rarities Sale, Bowers and Merena Galleries, July 31, 2000, lot 580 (part); prior to August 2000, the complete 8-piece set was sold to a private collector for a reported $1,000,000 (according to PCGS Coin Facts website); Brian Hendelson, 1996; Anonymous Philadelphia family (as part of a complete 1836 proof set, owned since the date of issue).

Note: The design development of the Classic Head half eagle is essentially the same as the quarter eagle (described above in lot 1002). As has been explained in some detail by Breen (Encyclopedia), the passage of the Mint Act of June 28, 1834 (which reduced the weight and purity of all gold coins) required the production of a substantial number of new dies which would clearly differentiate the new issues from the 'old tenor' coinage. The re-use of John Reich's Empire head (which Breen, peculiarly, saw as androgynous), and the elimination of the motto, E PLURIBUS UNUM, were the two distinctly new design elements. Producing the large number of dies was a chore as so many different design elements had to be imparted by hand and over the short life of the design numerous small adjustments were made, first by Kneass and then, following his stroke in August 1835, by Christian Gobrecht, who created a series of transitional designs which culminated with his coronet design in 1839.

Although the specific authorization and purpose for the striking of Proof coins in 1836 has thus far eluded researchers (Breen [Proofs] suggested sets may have produced early in the year to celebrate the admission of Arkansas as a state, or late in the year in anticipation of Michigan's admission), it is logical to infer that they were produced for presentation purposes, possibly, as with the 1834/1804 proof sets as diplomatic gifts. The two 1836 gold proofs in this sale have been together since the year they were struck, and together represent the finest 1836 gold proof set obtainable.

Sold for US$ 690,300 inc. premium

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