Designer: Charles E. Barber (Flowing obverse, reverse), George T. Morgan (Coiled obverse)
Value: USD 4.00
Composition: 86% gold, 10% copper, 4% silver
The four-dollar Stella gold coin was the brainchild of John A. Kasson, Austro-Hungarian ambassador under Rutherford B. Hayes. Although the twenty-cent piece had recently met its demise, the Stella was similarly intended for use in the Latin Monetary Union, equivalent to 20 francs. However, it was never released to general circulation, being minted only as a pattern coin, a prototype.
There were two variations on the Liberty bust in the obverse, one with flowing hair and one with coiled hair, both with a headband labeled "LIBERTY." Around the rim is the text "6G .3S .7C 7GRAMS" (stars separating each character) to indicate weights and measures, and the date is at the bottom, with no mint mark. On the wordy reverse, a five-point star is inscribed with "ONE STELLA - 400 CENTS." On the outer rim is "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - 4 DOL." to drive the value home, and inside that, "E PLURIBUS UNUM - DEO EST GLORIA."
30 flowing- and 20 coiled-hair coins were struck between 1879 and 1880 as specimens, and after being made available to Congressmen to purchase, 400 to 600 more were produced; however, the restrikes' weights varied. Many Congressmen seem to have had necklaces made of these restruck Stellas as gifts -- to Washington madams. This caused a minor uproar at the time, and since the US never did join the Latin Monetary Union, it was probably the most attention the Stella received. Today, such coins are nearly forgotten, highly rare, and (of course) accordingly expensive.
http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art30966.asp (detailed history)
http://www.unionlatine.com/lmu_one_type.php?ID=2000&COUNTRY=USA&METAL=or (excellent pictures)
United States Coinage