Collectors have been aware of the 1879-S Morgan, Reverse of 1878
dollars virtually from the time of their minting. What is not widely
known, even among specialists, is the close relationship with some of
the other silver dollars of the year.
In September 2007, Brian Raines reported a previously unknown
marriage to Leroy Van Allen who listed the discovery in New VAM
Varieties of Morgan & Peace Dollars as VAM-65.
The obverse die was also employed for the VAM-34 die marriage, a
well-known, but relatively scarce Reverse of 1878 variety.
The reverse of the then new find is from the Reverse of 1879 hub
with a round breasted eagle, slanted top arrow feather and higher
relief overall. The specific reverse die is shared with the VAM-16A
variety, and like several other of Raines’ discoveries for the date,
it shows evidence of deliberate modifications by the San Francisco Mint.
The November 1964 issue of Whitman Numismatic Journal contains an
article by Neil Shafer titled “The Morgan Silver Dollars of 1878-1921
A Study of Major Die Varieties.” This pioneering work is the original
source for many of the current hub descriptions and also cites
correspondence between several Mint officials regarding the
development of the Morgan dollar and issues that arose from its
coining. Henry Dodge, the superintendent of the San Francisco Mint in
1878, writes about a noticeable difference in height in stacks of 20
coins from the two reverse hub designs. He further states, “It is
impossible to obviate the difficulty,” strongly suggesting they made
an attempt to match the relief of the 1878 design.
The reverse of the VAM-65 variety is heavily overpolished, with
portions of the leaves in the wreath missing. Other leaves have been
crudely repaired. One of the more interesting features is an engraved
portion of the ribbon below the bow knot that adds a piece that wasn’t
in the original design.
Raines has found several more reverse dies with similar
modifications in recent months. Further discoveries seem highly likely.
John Roberts is director of attribution services for ANACS. He is
a longtime collector of Morgan dollar varieties and is considered an
expert in attributing Morgan varieties.