The $4 gold "Stella" is one of the most famous and coveted U.S. pattern coins. The Stella pattern was minted in 1879 and 1880 in two types: Charles E. Barber's Flowing Hair type and George T. Morgan's Coiled Hair type. The coin was christened "Stella" because of the five-point star adorning the reverse (Stella is Latin for 'Star.') Today, these coins are extremely rare and very much in demand as one of America's premier numismatic works of art.
In their day, Stellas provided a very juicy scandal and many laughs at the expense of Congressmen who had ordered a special striking of these coins. The story broke that while no coin collector could obtain a Stella from the Mint at any price, these coins in special holders adorned the bosoms of Washington's most famous madams, whose brothels were favored by those same congressmen. Even today, several dozen actual Stellas exist which still exhibit traces of these infamous necklace loops. Can you imagine the stories that could be told, if only these coins could talk…
The two types of Stella patterns in existence were designed by two of the most famous of all U.S. coin designers:
Flowing Hair (right): Charles Barber
Coiled Hair (above): George T. Morgan
The original Stella was struck for only two years – 1879 and 1880. Because of the extremely low mintage — Only 20 pairs of both types could ever have existed! (The 1879 has the highest mintage – 440. Only 10 of the Coiled hair type were struck each year— for a total of 20).
The Stella was actually an attempt by the U.S. Mint to create a gold coin that was comparable to the gold coins used in Europe – which had a value of approximately $3.88. It was proposed that the denomination be $4.00 (400 cents) and be called STELLA – since U.S. gold coinage was based on the concept of the EAGLE and both the star and the eagle were national emblems of our country. However, the idea of an international coin was rejected by Congress and the Stella was destined to remain a two-year pattern and never be issued as a circulating coin.
Original $4 Gold Stellas list between $100,000 – $450,000 depending on variety and grade. An 1880 Coiled Hair Stella is currently valued at $775,000 in PCGS Proof 64 – and up to $1.4 Million in PCGS Proof 66.