By far, one of the most difficult challenges undertaken by advanced
Morgan dollar variety enthusiasts is an attempt to assemble a complete
collection of 1878 Morgan, 8 Tail Feathers die marriages.
Some of the varieties are of such great rarity that simply having
the money is far from enough to procure a desired piece. Competition
for the truly rare components of the set is nothing short of ferocious.
One of the “stoppers” for completing the set is the VAM-14.19. It
is described in New VAM Varieties of Morgan & Peace Dollars by
Leroy Van Allen and further identified in the 1878 Morgan Dollar 8-TF
Attribution Guide by Jeff Oxman and Les Hartnett.
The Society of Silver Dollar Collectors registry reports a half
dozen or so examples.
The first known example was discovered in August 1998 by Del
Alder. Alder’s specific piece was readily identified by a strong
radial break through the right side of the second 8. However, roughly
half the known examples lack this break.
The break occurred while the obverse was still in an early die
state, which would intuitively account for its scant population.
The piece I was graciously loaned to photograph and study is
certified as About Uncirculated 55. I’d conservatively estimate its
value at $15,000 if the owner had any interest in parting with his prize.
The reverse die is shared by four other marriages, so obverse
markers take on added significance when one is attempting to identify
an example lacking the break at the 8.
This specific obverse die was only employed for this pairing.
There is a well defined die chip on Miss Liberty’s upper cheek roughly
halfway between her eye and ear.
Additionally, several other die scratches are found within
protected recesses of the design, which greatly assists in an accurate verification.
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.