The Gold and Silver Mine – The rare 'Stella' gold coin

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Gold and Silver Mine Gold and Silver Mine

A weekly column dedicated to “digging out” current information about precious metals, coins and other numismatics.

During the course of the monetary history of our great country, we have experienced some strange denominations of coins. Some examples are the half-cent, 2- and 3-cent coins, a 20-cent piece, and gold coins in $2.50 and $3 denominations. Old-timers will remember the saying “phony as a three-dollar bill” (but that didn’t apply to the $3 coin, unless of course it was counterfeited). But I’m getting away from the intent of this article.

During the 1870s, a proposal was made for the production of a $4 gold coin. The reasoning was that it would facilitate trade in countries where European gold coins were used in commerce, but whose weight didn’t correspond to any of our coins’ weights.

The designs proposed had a common reverse that featured a five-pointed star with the word ‘Stella’ within it, being Latin for ‘star’ – hence the term given to the coin. The entire inscription read “One Stella 400 cents.” Many people incorrectly think ‘Stella’ refers to a woman’s name.

The proposed obverses depicted two different profiles of a woman’s face, one with flowing hair, the other with her hair coiled up on her head. Coins with the two different designs were minted in both 1879 and 1880.

The exact quantity produced is not known, but the amounts were very small. Estimates are based on actual known population figures of 450-plus of the 1879 Flowing Hair, 12 1879 Coiled Hair, 17 1880 Flowing Hair and eight 1880 Coiled Hair.

These coins were never produced for circulation, as their need was never truly determined, since even the reduced weight didn’t conform to any European standards. Besides, the American $20 gold coin was widely used and accepted in foreign countries.

As such, the Stella is more accurately referred to as a pattern, being a sample of proposed coinage. (Collecting patterns is a very specialized area of coin collecting and will be discussed in a future column.) Stella patterns bearing this design were also minted in other metals such as aluminum, copper and white metal.

From the mintage figures I’ve shown, it’s easy to determine these coins are outside the budget limitations of most collectors and investors. However, when considering what makes a good coin investment, the Stella is right near the top. While attending a coin show in the early 1980s, I had the opportunity to purchase a pair of Stellas for $20,000 – one of each design. If only I’d taken a chance…

Douglas Keefe is the president of Beachcomber Coins, Inc. He and his wife, Linda, operate Beachcomber Coins and Collectibles, formerly in the Shore Mall and now in the old Wawa building at 6692 Black Horse Pike, just past the former Cardiff Circle. They also have satellite offices in Brigantine and Absecon. Between them they have more than 70 years experience in the coin and precious metals business. They are members of The American Numismatic Association, The Industry Council of Tangible Assets, The Numismatic Guarantee Corporation, The Certified Coin Exchange and the Professional Coin Grading Service.

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