One of the more interesting examples of die progression involves a
marriage employed for some of the 1921-S Morgan dollars. Each of the
10 major and minor identifiable stages of the VAM-1B “Thornhead” die
marriage is considered a desirable find, but some of them are truly rare.
Recently, I had the chance to examine one of the rarest stages,
the VAM-1B7. It was reported by Michael Fey in April 2004 and was
published in New VAM Varieties of Morgan & Peace Dollars
by Leroy Van Allen. The stage is believed to be the terminal die state.
The “Thornhead” group acquired its defining characteristics
through several incidents of repetitive die damage and aggressive
polishing to remove it.
In its earliest reported stage, the VAM-1B1 1921-S Morgan dollar,
a prominent “spike” protrudes from the back of Liberty’s Phrygian cap.
This is polished away in later stages, but a strong gouge from the
inner fold of the cap to the edge of an upper cotton leaf remains
throughout the series. The gouge crosses one of the deepest portions
of the obverse die, which precluded it being polished away like other
similar damage to the die’s fields.
In a series of similar events, most likely unintended contact from
a faulty feeder mechanism, the dies change in appearance until the
final reported stage.
The VAM-1B7 configuration is defined by a strong gouge from the
lower left edge of the uppermost cotton leaf through the y of liberty.
Currently, only three credibly attributed examples of the VAM-1B7
variety are known. A clear trading history has yet to be established,
but any example would be expected to sell for a significant premium
over some of the more frequently encountered “Thornheads.”
In 2009, Jeff Oxman included all of the VAM-1B stages of the
1921-S Morgan dollar in his book Official Guide to the Morgan
Dollar Hit List 40. This newfound status has only served to
further increase competition for examples of an already desirable variety.
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.