Identifying different varieties of Morgan and Peace silver dollars can be fairly intimidating to the new or inexperienced collector. These coins can come in an endless amount of variations, and are often referred to as VAM coins, after the founders, Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis. These two specialists wrote The Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan and Peace Dollars, which is one of the foremost authorities on the coins. Numerous types of VAM silver dollars exist; the best way to see if you have a VAM coin is to become familiar with the different types of errors and varieties that have been identified. In order to be able to see these small differences, you will most likely need a magnifying glass or jeweler’s loupe.
The dies of the Morgan and Peace dollars were extensively polished to ensure that accumulated dirt and grime would not affect the quality of the coin. Also, as we will discuss later in the article, polishing was used to eliminate the effects of what is known as die clashing. However, over polishing can cause the relief of the coin to become shallow, which can prevent many of the details of the coin from appearing. Also, in some instances you can actually see the marks from brushing the die, either in groups, straight lines or definitive swirls.
When an un-marked coin, known as a planchet, does not accurately feed into the press, the two dies can strike each other and leave an imprint of each die on the opposite side of the coin. In other words, the impression on the front of the die can be left on the reverse side and vice versa. While die clashes can occur with any coin, they’re most frequently seen with Morgan dollars. While traditionally labeled as common variations, clashed Morgan and Peace dollars have become more sought-after as of late. A distinctly clashed coin has seen appreciation over time and likely will continue to increase in value, especially if it is already a rare piece.
Cracks in the die will occur over time due to extensive use of the die. When cracks occur, it can leave hairline cracks on the coins. Unlike typical hairlines, which leave a mark below the surface of the coin, die cracks cause a raised effect, as they occur on the die rather than the coin itself.
Doubling (And Even Tripling)
When a planchet is struck more than once, often the overlap is seen in what is known as doubling. This can occur in nearly any variation, and on any of the features of the coins. For those who are not as familiar with the various features of the coins, doubled letters and numbers might be the easiest to see. This will look like a shadow on the characters and can occur on any lettering on the coin, including the date and mint mark. On the obverse side of the coin, the date mark is one of the most common areas where doubling occurs, as is the “LIBERTY” around the crest. On the reverse side, the mint marks and the lettering are typically where you will see doubling.
Mint Date and Mintmark Orientation
This variation is one of the most difficult for new collectors to identify, and refers to any mintmark that is not properly oriented on the coin. One way to tell if a mintmark is properly placed is to determine if it sits inside or outside of the “D” and the “O” in the word “DOLLAR.” While sometimes only slightly off center, more times than not, the variation can be seen with the naked eye. Also, the placement of the date with respect to the denticles on the coin is another way to determine if it’s properly located.
While we’ve just scratched the surface with respect to VAM coins, we hope that the above information will help you to potentially identify VAM coins in your possession. Prior to selling silver dollars, we recommend that you thoroughly inspect your coins, as you could potentially have a much more valuable coin in your collection than you realized.