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Three Dollar Gold Pieces and Four Dollar Stellas

Three-Dollar Pieces

Various explanations have been proposed for the coining of this denomination, but none are truly convincing. The most plausible is that an additional coin was needed to absorb the vast amount of gold being mined in California and Australia. In any case, the three-dollar piece was authorized in 1854, and the first examples were delivered May 8. This seemingly odd value was actually seen with some frequency on bank notes of the period, so it made more sense in that context than it does today.

James B. Longacre created a bust of Liberty adorned in a native headdress, and this was paired with a wreath of American agricultural products on the reverse. As with the gold dollar, the date appeared on the reverse. Only in 1854 was this denomination produced in significant numbers, and its almost immediate failure resulted in a sharp drop-off in mintages from 1855 through the end of coining in 1889. Small spikes in production during 1874 and 1878 were prompted by the expected return to general circulation of gold coins after years of hoarding, but all this did was make such coins more readily available to numismatists in later years. The final three years of production, 1887-89, saw somewhat larger mintages as well, but this was purely in response to demand from speculators and the jewelry trade. Due to the use of so few dies in producing mostly small mintages, there are very few varieties for this series. The most notable are the different mintmark sizes of 1856-S, and these are recognized by NGC under its VarietyPlus Service.

Four-Dollar Pieces or Stellas

The Latin Monetary Union was established in 1865 to provide for a standard gold coinage that would be exchangeable across borders. Though the USA never joined this organization during its 60 years of existence, Congress did take an interest in creating a gold issue that would be comparable in value to familiar European gold issues such as the French 20 francs and Italian 20 lire coins. In 1879-80 pattern coins were struck in gold and several base metals for a four-dollar piece that was approximately equal in value to these foreign pieces, but the idea was doomed from the start. Creating a coin that contained exactly four dollars in gold that would be suitable in domestic circulation rendered it of unequal value to the established foreign pieces, and no practical solution was found to this problem.

Two designs were created, the Flowing Hair Liberty attributed to Charles Barber and the Coiled Hair Liberty by George Morgan. These featured a common reverse dominated by a five-pointed star, and it from this device that the coins acquired the name Stella, Latin for star. The balance of the design consisted mostly of numerals and text defining the coins' metallic composition, this in an effort to sell the international concept.

NGC will attribute all Stellas at no additional fee beyond that of grading. The gold strikes will be attributed by their dates and designs alone, while the base metal strikes will include their Judd numbers from the standard reference on United States pattern and trial coins.



Denom.MS/PFDateFee*NGC LabelBreen
$3MS1856 S LARGE S$15 B-6354
$3MS1856 S MEDIUM S$15 B-6355
$3MS1856 S SMALL S$15 B-6356
$3MS1873 CLOSED 3- B-6383
$3PF1873 CLOSED 3- B-6383
$3PF1873 CLOSED 3 RESTRIKE- B-6384
$3PF1873 OPEN 3- B-6382
$4PF1879 FLOWING HAIR- B-6407,-6408
$4PF1879 COILED HAIR- B-6409
$4PF1880 FLOWING HAIR- B-6410
$4PF1880 COILED HAIR- B-6411


* In order to have the above varieties requiring the $15 fee designated by NGC, VarietyPlus service must be requested at time of grading. VarietyPlus service is also available for coins already encapsulated by NGC. For coins where the fee column is blank, no VarietyPlus charge is required to have your coin designated during grading. For coins marked $15, a $15 surcharge applies to the tier fee during grading, or a $15 fee applies to have the VarietyPlus designation added to any coin already graded and encapsulated by NGC.
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