Stellas are four-dollar pattern coins. They are remnants of a move to recognize the Latin Monetary Union, an alliance of member nations which agreed to create an international coinage. While the US never formally joined, several efforts were made to conform US coinage to standards used more broadly. One visible step, for example, was to normalize US coinage with the metric scale by making a modest weight change on US silver coinage. The change was indicated on our silver coins by surrounding the date with arrows — creating the With Arrows type coins of 1873 and 1874.

In 1879, members of Congress proposed a four-dollar coin to compete globally with similarly valued pieces, including the French 20 franc coin, the Spanish 20 pesetas, the Dutch and Austrian 8 florins and the Italian 20 lire. To correspond with the proposed legislation, the US Mint struck pattern four dollar coins in 1879 and 1880. The four-dollar coin received an entirely new designation: “stella” (Latin for star). This was analogous to the term “eagle,” used for the ten-dollar denomination, both the star and the eagle being national emblems on our coins. The pattern coins had a unique design, and were made with two obverses, one with Flowing Hair engraved by Charles Barber and another with Coiled Hair by George Morgan.

The authorizing legislation for the stella ultimately failed in Congress. Today, only numismatists remember the dream of a universal coinage system that created these fascinating coins. For more on their history, visit the NGC Coin Encyclopedia.

The finest set of gold stellas is on display here. It was assembled in late 2007 by Lear Capital, a West Los Angeles-based precious metals company. The set contains the finest known examples of each date, and each is graded by NGC.

1879 Flowing Hair Stella

Charles Barber’s Flowing Hair Liberty was the design selected for the pattern strikings of the proposed four-dollar piece when samples were provided to Congress for review.
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1879 Coiled Hair Stella

The Coiled Hair image of Liberty seen on this very rare gold pattern from 1879 has long been attributed to George Morgan, though there appears to be no actual documentation to support this supposition.
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1880 Flowing Hair Stella

A fact seldom noted is that all 1880 Flowing Hair Stellas are actually overdates, the remnants of numerals 79 still faintly visible beneath the 80.
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1880 Coiled Hair Stella 

The final entry in the famous quartet of rare Stella varieties is this 1880 issue with the Coiled Hair Liberty. Perhaps a dozen survive from the 15 estimated to have been coined, a testament to the fact that this coin was universally prized by collectors from its inception.
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