Mintage: Precise mintage numbers unknown.
Interesting facts: This coin was rejected by Congress, but not before several hundred restrikes of the Barber flowing hair design had been produced and sold to Congressmen at the cost of production. These later became a source of scandal when it was noted that a number of them ended up as jewelry pieces adorning the necks of madams operating some of Washington's most famous bordellos.
In the first half of the 19th-century, Americans were absorbed with western expansion fulfilling their "Manifest Destiny" to conquer the continent. By the 1870s, the interior of the country was secure, and the nation's focus began to move beyond its borders, with increased emphasis on international trade. But global commerce was hampered by scores of competing coins and currencies, and many people on both sides of the Atlantic called for a worldwide coinage system to facilitate trade. In 1867, growing discussion blossomed into an international conference in Paris, where twenty nations agreed to adopt a gold standard with the French franc as its base.
Many in Congress envisioned the United States as the hub of a world monetary system and responded with their own ideas for an international gold coin. The suggestion of a U.S. four-dollar coin, was brought before Congress with the goal to compete globally with a myriad of similarly valued pieces, including the French 20 franc coin, the Spanish 20 pesetas, the Dutch and Austrian 8 florins and the Italian 20 lire.
Four-dollar gold pieces, or stellas (Latin for star), are patterns, not regular coins. Stellas were produced in 1879 and 1880 at the suggestion of John A. Kasson, U.S. minister to Austria, who felt that a coin of this value would have been used by foreign travelers, as it could be readily exchanged for gold coins of approximate equivalent value in European countries.
Odds were stacked against the Stella from the start. The denomination of four U.S. dollars didn't match any of the European counterparts, and at any rate the U.S. Double Eagle $20 was already used in international commerce, and was a more convenient medium of exchange. The Stella was never minted in quantities for circulation. Those dated 1879 were struck for congressmen to examine. The 1880 issues were secretly made by Mint officials for sale to private collectors.
Although all four-dollar gold pieces are patterns, they have nevertheless been incorporated into the regular series of U.S. coins, similar to 1856 Flying Eagle cents, Gobrecht dollars and Wire Edge Indian Head eagles. Because of their rarity, however, they are usually collected as type coins.
Obverse: Indicative of its intended international nature, the obverse legend of the $4 piece expressed its metallic content in the metric system as follows: 6G, .3S, .7C, 7 GRAMS.Two obverse designs were produced, the Flowing Hair type by Charles E. Barber (who was chief engraver of the Mint at the time) and the Coiled Hair type by George T. Morgan (he of 1878 silver dollar fame).
Reverse: The reverse star had the inscriptions ONE STELLA and 400 CENTS, while the reverse rim had the legends UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and FOUR DOL., and circling the star but between its points were the legends E PLURIBUS UNUM ("Out of many, one") and DEO EST GLORIA ("To God is the glory").
Overall: Today, specialists believe that only 15 originals and 425 "restrikes" of the 1879 Flowing Hair design were made, with the originals lacking the die striations of the later pieces. These 1879 Flowing Hair "restrikes" are the most frequently encountered of this denomination, as all the other issues are exceedingly rare. Surviving 1880 dated Flowing Hair coins number fewer than 25, and the highest estimates of existing Coiled Hair pieces are 15 for the 1879 and 10 for the 1880 coins. Whatever the exact number, 1880 Flowing Hair pieces are at least a dozen times scarcer than their 1879 counterparts, and Coiled Hair stellas are rarer still, seldom appearing on the market except in sales of major collections.