Following a suggestion from Honorable John A. Kasson, minister to Austria from America, a gentleman who traveled widely, the $4 piece was conceived as being interchangeable at par (more or less) with similarly sized gold coins issued by various European nations. To promote international acceptance and ready determination of its metallic content, the obverse inscription was stated in the metric system, and noted that the $4 contained 6 parts gold, .3 parts silver, and .7 parts copper, yielding 7 grams of alloy, 90% gold as stated.
The reverse stated the denomination as 'ONE STELLA 400 CENTS,' within a 5-pointed star. The long used motto E PLURIBUS UNUM appeared above, and the experimental motto DEO EST GLORIA below. Surrounding is the inscription: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA/FOUR DOL. Interestingly, the particular reverse design states the denomination three different ways possibly a good item to insert in a numismatic trivia contest. The value is given as 'ONE STELLA,' also as '400 CENTS,' also as 'FOUR DOL.' Hopefully, there was nothing else left to the imagination!
The idea of a freely interchangeable international coin had several fatal flaws, and, in essence, the concept was dead at the starting gate. First, the $4 Stella was never interchangeable on a one-to-one basis with other specific coins, as there would be some small amount of adjustment to be made to reflect different values. Secondly, even if the $4 were interchangeable at a given time, exchange rates varied then, as now, and the parity would soon be lost.
It is probably the case that the 1879 $4 pieces were struck simply to answer the call for creating such a denomination for inspection, without any serious Treasury Department thought of using it. Additional pieces were struck of the Flowing Hair design in 1880, and of the Coiled Hair design (by Charles E. Barber) in 1879 and 1880, in small quantities, and not disclosed to the numismatic community. Information concerning these other issues was not generally available until early in the 20th century when their existence was publicized by Edgar H. Adams.
Although the 1879 $4 was made as a pattern and, of course, still is, the uniqueness of the denomination made it popular with numismatists, and in short order the 1879 Stella was incorporated into many collections, eventually into catalogs and price lists. Likewise, the 1880 issues are also included by many collectors. Today, Stellas are primarily collected by numismatists in general, rather than pattern specialists.
Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.