I’m not a VAM hunter but I respect those who are because they learn so much about numismatics through research, discovery and identification — skills every home hobbyist should possess.
VAMs are die varieties identified in The Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan and Peace Dollars by Leroy C. Van Allen and A. George Mallis.
I do keep an online silver dollar set registry, however, and so visit www.Vamworld.com on occasion, as I did especially when searching for two elusive overdates required for a set of Morgan dollars with major varieties.
The 1887/6 and the 1887/6-O Morgan dollars are also the VAM-2 and VAM-3 varieties, respectively, for that year and that Mint.
I like my online set registry, as I keep my Morgan dollars in a bank box and seldom get to view them. I can upload photos in registries and otherwise make notations about specific coins. I have registries with Professional Coin Grading Service and Numismatic Guaranty Corp. You can go to those companies’ websites for details on how to compile your own online set, competing with other hobbyists and learning more about grading and rarities.
I searched in vain for the two varieties for about five years and only recently secured circulated examples of each. I wish I could tell you that I found them in a local coin shop, regional coin show or antiques mall, but I ended up winning both in online auctions.
PCGS graded the 1887/6 Morgan dollar Very Fine 35 (value $56) and the 1887/6-O dollar, About Uncirculated 58 (value $300).
These coins are difficult to locate. Do a search on eBay for the 1887/6-O Morgan dollar, the rarer of the two, and you’ll likely find none being offered or just a few in Mint State with opening bids in the thousands of dollars.
Because the overdate on both coins is very faint — just an indistinct remnant of the bottom loop of the 6 — few well-worn examples are available or gradeworthy. Mint State ones are often too expensive for many hobbyists.
Ron Guth, president of PCGS CoinFacts, says the 1887/6 and 1887/6-O Morgan dollars are popular with collectors, just like all of the overdates from other series. “There’s something attractive about a coin that spans two or more years,” he says.
Both coins are scarce, Guth notes, but they cannot be considered rare except in high grade — that is especially true of the New Orleans Mint strike, “which is really difficult to locate above MS-63.”
Guth agrees that finding circulated examples of both overdates can be challenging, because circulation wear obscures the variety. “On the other hand,” he says, “this gives collectors an opportunity to find an unattributed example for themselves for the price of a regular 1887.”
An MS-62 1887 Morgan dollar is worth about $55 and an 1887/6 dollar is worth about $450. In MS-62, an 1887-O Morgan dollar is worth about $90 and an 1887/6-O dollar is worth about $1,600.
Those values sure can inspire a VAM hunt!
Michael Bugeja, a coin collector since childhood, is a professor at Iowa State University and also a member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. He is a nationally known author, journalist and educator.