The Philadelphia Mint was successfully persuaded that the U.S. needed a four-dollar coin by the then America’s minister plenipotentiary to Austria, John Adam Kasson in 1879.
The argument that America needed a coin that would work as a form of international currency was most probably the reason for this even as the exact logic of the argument has been lost to time. The argument that the purpose could also be served with a gold coin that (roughly) measured the same weight as a French napoleon or a British sovereign is also accepted by historians.
And that is how the four dollar coin that features a giant star on one side was minted in a limited run of two versions after the project was given the green light. While one version depicted a female personification of Liberty with her hair down, the other version had her hair up.
However the coin was a flop despite Lady Liberty’s multiple coiffures.
“People never fully got on board. It was too much of a reach to say that the average citizen in 1880 was thinking about international trade. They just lost interest,” said Paul Song, the director of coins and banknotes at Bonhams. And hence the model was scrapped and the original strike of 425 coins was sold to various politicians at cost as the Congress refused to approve the coins’ widespread release.
Believed to be valued and expected to be sold anywhere between %50,000 and $60,000, one of these 425 coins is headed to auction at Bonham’s LA, on September 6.
The gap between literal value and cultural value is particularly acute in the coin market while most other collectibles rely on perceived value—paintings are “masterful,” cars are “rare,” jewelry has “provenance”. Compared to the sums for which a coin was issued, currency often sells for vastly different amounts in the coin market.
For example, almost 15 years ago, a $20 gold piece sold for $7.6 million at auction, a silver dollar sold in 2013 for more than $10 million and a penny recently sold for $1.2 million.
Different Stellas have sold for very different prices and this isn’t the only Stella coin out there. A Stella coin with her hair up and belonging to the year 1880 and a rare, mint version was sold for $2.6 million at Bonhams three years ago. An 1879 Stella sold for just over $1 million in the same auction. At the Rare Coin Wholesalers, one Stella coin is currently up for sale.
Due to wear to its surface, since it was apparently used as a piece of jewelry for many years, the coin in the upcoming sale carries a lower estimate than the other coins, , Song said. Stories about many Stella coins ending up in Washington bordellos frequented by congressmen are often there to be heard.
The coin will definitely find a buyer, says a confident Song.
“People really like the Stella. They really like the big star on the back, and they like the design. It appeals to a lot of people,” he said.
(Adapted from Bloomberg)