Dazzling $20 gold Stella coin reels in $1.88 million

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The pullback in the gold bullion market was likely not on the minds of those bidding last week for an extremely rare jewel of 19th-century American numismatics: a $20 Stella from 1879.

But this wasn’t just any Stella. Dubbed the Virgil Brand-Amon Carter-Ed Trompeter-Bob Simpson Quintuple Stella, the coin is the second-finest of just five known to exist one of which resides in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution.

And as of this week, this Stella is a member of the rarified class of numismatic coins that have commanded seven figures in 2016 bringing in an incredible $1.6 million! When including a 17.5% buyers premium, the total price paid was $1.88 million.

Classified as a Judd-1643, the coin was certified as PR64 DCAM by PCGS and has seen significant price appreciation over the years.

Star motif replaced the eagle: Stella is the Latin word for star, and to elite coin collectors everywhere, the Stella has always been one of the most elusive and sought-after coins in U.S. numismatic history. Minted in 1879 and 1880, the Stella patterns were the product of a U.S. ambassadors plan for an American currency that would approximate the value of common European coinage of the time and facilitate Americas entry into the Latin Monetary Union. John A. Kasson proposed two metric gold coins and one goloid silver dollar. The two gold coins would be a $4 Stella and a $20 Quintuple Stella, each containing 10% silver. The silver dollar would contain 4% gold.

The Mint then went to work on creating pattern coins for Congress inspection. Because the bald eagle already adorned all domestic coins, the star was chosen as the motif for the United States go-to coin for international trade.

The $4 Stella exists in two versions: the Flowing Hair depiction of Miss Liberty, created by Mint Engraver Charles E. Barber; and the Coiled Hair design, created by Barbers assistant engraver, George T. Morgan. In the Flowing Hair version, Lady Liberty sports cascading locks and a headband etched with Liberty, in contrast to the restrained bun atop the Coiled Hairs design. The quintuple Stella reproduced the $20 Liberty Head design of the time on the obverse but added the legend “30G1.5S3.5C35GRAMS” in place of the encircling stars.

Some found their way to D.C. bordellos: Despite the Stella’s beautiful design, it never received the official authorization of Congress. The Stella has now joined an exclusive club of highly coveted collectible patterns that includes the 1856 Flying Eagle Cents, Gobrecht Dollars, and Wire Edge Indian Head Eagles.

Though these pattern pieces all proofs never entered circulation, several hundred were sold to congressmen at cost, eventually fueling a 19th-century sex scandal of sorts when numerous Stellas were spotted as jewelry pieces adorning the necks of madams operating bordellos in the District of Columbia. Many Stella survivors show the wear and tear of having been used as jewelry or pocket pieces.

But the Stella that sold for $1.6 million this week is not one of those damaged specimens its the cream of the crop and another real-time marketplace example proving that the best rare coins will almost always generate mega-prices for their lucky owners.