Posted by Toby Adkins, Numismatic Scholar for International Currency on Feb 24th 2017
What is a VAM?
I know all of you have a couple of Morgan Silver Dollars tucked away but not all Morgans are created equal. Let's take a look at a special group of Morgan Silvers known as VAM's. So, what is a VAM? Read on and find out.
Die Variety and Identification
Die variety and identification can sound a little overwhelming but the premise is simple. Think of it like this: how and why is this Morgan different than it's counterparts? Die varieties have been noticed for decades but it went to a whole new level in the 1960's. Through the efforts of Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis these differences would be studied and cataloged. Their work would have collectors scrutinizing every Morgan and Peace Silver Dollar they owned and a new term was born, VAM. It is actually an acronym of the names Van Allen and Mallis. The little differences between dies would forever change silver dollar collecting.
Variety vs. Error
Some collectors first saw VAM coins as mistakes or errors but that is definitely incorrect. The definition of an error is a mismade or defective coin. A variety is a process that has the same characteristics repeated on each coin struck from the same die or dies. A good example is the 7/8 Tail Feather Morgan pictured above. Those dies were purposely changed from 8 to 7 tail feathers and resulted in a whole run of 7 tail feathers on top of the original 8 tail feathers. It happens in modern coins too. In 2008, the West Point mint inadvertently struck a small batch of Silver Eagles with a 2007 reverse die and a new collectible was born! Varieties are not all mistakes, especially in the Morgans. Back in 1878 there were no lasers or computers to get everything perfect and a lot of the fine details were done by hand. Naturally, each time a die was touched it would turn out differently. Through all of the years, the little differences matter!
Should You Collect VAM'S?
To answer this, I will jump up and land with a foot on each side of the fence! All collectors love the fact that they can have something that not everyone can own. Otherwise, it would not be collectible! That being said, there are hundreds of VAM's that have been identified and obtaining all of them would be an exercise in futility. The most common and collectible VAM's have earned the moniker of "Top 100". There is another group known as the "Hot 50". I do think every Morgan collector probably has a VAM or two and may not even know. The top grading services (NGC and PCGS) typically notate VAM's on certified coins but a lot of us own uncertified coins. With a little homework and a good loupe, it's fun to check your own Morgans for varieties. Knowing the story behind our coins is often as much fun as obtaining them and the little details can mean an awful lot!
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