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$6 Million in Small Change:

Kevin DeMeritt is president of Lear Financial, Inc., a downtown Santa Monica firm that since 1997 has catered to investors and institutional clients in the precious metals business. On Thursday, October 18, he was holding a set of four precious gold coins worth “close to $6.5 or more million” for shipment the next day to his client, “a prominent New York businessman who collects rare coins.”

DeMeritt, who worked in the same industry as a principal of Meritt Financial in Santa Monica before founding Lear 10 years ago, said that his firm’s practice is nationwide – he deals with precious metal investors from across the country. He spent three years trying to obtain the 1880 Coiled Hair Four Dollar Stella that is the real gem of this four-coin set, valued at more than $3 million on its own.

The Four Dollar Stella depicts lady Liberty on the obverse (or “heads”) side, one design with Flowing Hair engraved by Charles Barber and another with her hair in a bun (Coiled Hair) engraved by George Morgan of the famed Morgan Silver Dollar. The reverse (or “tales”) side of both designs feature a five-pointed star, from which the Stella takes its name in the same manner that the Ten Dollar Eagle takes its name from the eagle on the reverse of that coin.

The odd thing about the Four Dollar Stella is that the coin was never put into circulation. A limited number of each design (Flowing Hair and Coiled Hair) were struck by the Philadelphia mint in 1879 and again in 1880 (hence, the four-coin set). Those coins were considered by Congress to be issued as official American money, but the legislation was never adopted, and the stella never saw regular production – only patterns were made.

And why a four dollar coin? Well, 20 nations had agreed in Paris in 1867 to adopt a gold standard for currency with the French franc as its base. The proposed four dollar denomination was intended to compete globally with many similarly valued pieces, including the French 20 franc coin and the Italian 20 lire. In those days a “four dollar” coin had to contain four dollars worth of gold.

The $6 million in small change was exhibited to certain members of the press on October 18, and after this reporter had viewed the coins, packed up his interview notes, and readied to leave, Kevin DeMeritt inquired as to how many children or grandchildren I had. Alas, only one stepson. “No matter,” he said, and presented me with a Morgan Silver Dollar as I left.

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