Big Nub Numismatics's Blog

29 Jul 2020

Barber Through and Through Part Two

| Big Nub Numismatics

Today's blog will be featuring one of Charles Barber's first works; The flowing hair Stella.Background

After the civil war, the US began its global outreach and started to work on an international scale. It imperialism, it negotiated, and it traded on a scale never before seen. In the 1870's, the United States' federal government made it a point to start outcompeting foreign markets and coins by introducing their own mediums of exchange, but foreign coins were difficult. The US coins at this point were either too large, or too small to begin trading in Asia and other hot markets. The Seated liberty silver dollar didn't contain as much silver as foreign counterparts and the five dollar gold pieces were too big for most transactions, which led many traders to abandon US coinage altogether, switching to better alternatives made in Spain, Mexico, France, great Britain, and other empire powerhouses. To bring balance to trade in Asia, Congress came up with the Trade dollar and the Four Dollar Stella. The Trade dollar, a William Barber design, contained more silver than any other US coin making it circulate though asian markets for the first time. This is why many are seen with chop marks. Although these coins worked well, the public didn't trust them, even though they had more silver, and many refused to accept them. Containing more silver, the coin also experienced highs where the silver content was worth more than face value, leading scrappers to ship them overseas and melt them for profit. To end this fiasco, Congress demonetized them, the first and only coin to have this done, however this was repealed many years later. As for the Stella, the four dollars and its comparable weight in gold, was slightly less than the five dollar gold pieces. Congress hoped that this would make trading easier amongst the countries, and that they would compete with European 20(mark, francs, lire, pesetas etc...) Like the trade dollar, it too failed

The Stella

It is likely that you have heard of a $4 Stella before, it would have been hard not to. Many of these pieces have been sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and one coiled hair variety went for over two million! The coin gets its name from the five-pointed star ( kind of like Stella Artois) on the reverse containing the helpful conversion of 4 dollars to 400 cents. The first four dollar pieces were coined as pattern pieces in 1879 to show Congress how they would look like. This is why the 1879 flowing hair dollar is the most common of this denomination, around 15 were made (425 is thought to be restrikes but it's impossible to tell which are which). Minted as such, these patterns were made of gold, copper, or silver, but the best ones, and most expensive ones, are known in gold.

The obverse contained a likeness of Lady Liberty with the date, and its weight and fitness distributed amongst 13 stars along the outside near the denticles " 6 G .3 S .7 C 7 grams ( 6 grams of the coin was made out of gold, .3 for silver, .7 for silver, and 7 altogether)

The reverse features the namesake star in the middle with the words "ONE STELLA" and "400 CENTS". Along the Outside are the words " UNITED STATES OF AMERICA FOUR DOL." and just inside this are the words "E PLURIBUS UNUM"- Out of Many, One- and a new motto from Latin "DEO EST Gloria"- God is Glorious

Charles Design features the face of lady liberty akin to others made at that time. It looks so similar to the coiled design made by Morgan that you have to think if they borrowed the same base for the head. Either way, Charles chose to adorn Liberty's head with long locks of golden hair which is why it's called "flowing hair" while Morgan chose to adorn her head with a shorter, braided hair kept to her head, thus "coiled hair"

The coins minted in 1880 are much scarcer. Only around 25 exist for both varieties combined as they were intended to sell to collectors only.

Both designs are popular, and only wealthy collectors can hope to get a decent example. Just take a look through the Red Book's "Top 250 Auction prices realized" and you can find many sales reaching well past what most collectors could hope for. Like the trade dollar, it failed to reach the height of other foreign coins in the latin Monetary Union, as did all of the metric coinage minted by the US (Lt this be known to those who think "Why doesn't America switch to the Metric system?", we have and it didn't work out.)

The Stella represented all of America's tries to configure to European standards of money for easy international exchange. Although not a member of the LME, Congress intended to abide to their standards. Failure of these metric coins to circulate, or to even enter circulation pushed the US back into its time-tested system.

1. Red Book

2. https://www.ngccoin.com/coin-explorer/four-dollar-stella-1879-1880-pscid-60

3. https://www.ngccoin.com/gallery/stella.aspx


5. Gold Dollars( and Other Gold Denominations) by David W. Akers



Level 5

The stella and trade dollar may have failed internationally but eventually, the double eagle became the coin of choice among foreign exchanges. This is an interesting blog and history.


Level 6

Well done! I love a researched blog and a bibliography as well. It doesn't get any better than this. I'm not a Barber fan but I love that Stella. Thanks.


Level 5

Very interesting blog Nub. I also have a few barber coins in the collection. Interesting how coinage is accepted and not accepted around the world.

I. R. Bama

Level 5

But now I want to dive deeper... What are the translations of the chop marks. I spent about a half hour researching online. I haven't come up with too much. Here is a small list of translations. I can't provide the corresponding symbol. 1. Million 2. One Hundred 3. Life 4. Three 5. Profit. I hope to write a more comprehensive article about this in the future.


Level 5

There are two great books on the subject of Trade Dollars and Chopmarks. One is "Chopmarks by Frank Rose. Mr. Rose put together arguably the very best chopmarked coin collection ever assembled encompassing numerous denominations and different countries. The other book is "Chopmarked Coins-A History" by Colin Gulberg. Both books are hard to find in real world but can be found in the ANA Library. Fun Fact - Great Britain, Hong Kong, Straits Settlement, and Japan all had trade coins denominated as Dollars.

Can't wait!

I. R. Bama

Level 5

This is another interesting blog. I thought the Stella was never issued and was considered a pattern, so you taught me something new today. I understood that he trade dollar to work well for the situational need. Hope to add a couple of them to my collection, with and without chop marks.

Mike B

Level 7

Good blog Nub. As I said in another blog i was going thru my coins and found 40 Barber Half Dollars. They show some were some are not ton shabby. Enjoyed it. Thanks for your research

We use cookies to provide users the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your cookie settings, we'll assume that you agree to receive all cookies on money.org. You may disable cookies at any time using your internet browser configuration. By continuing to use this website, you agree to our privacy policy and terms of use. To learn more about how we use cookies and to review our privacy policy, click here.