Jeff Oxman’s book, SSDC Official Guide to the Hot 50 Morgan
Dollar Varieties, has helped specialized collectors focus on a
select group within the series for more than a decade. With added
attention and experience, some of the listed components have been
redefined. Seeing how some of the more noteworthy varieties fit into
the larger picture of a mint’s annual production often further adds to
In 1998, one of the true pioneers of Morgan dollar variety
research, Terry Armstrong, first reported an 1888-S Morgan dollar with
a strongly pitted reverse. It was originally designated as VAM-1B in
the first annual installment of New VAM Varieties of Morgan &
Peace Dollars by Leroy Van Allen. The stage was reclassified as
VAM-6A in 2009 when its repunched Mint mark was noted.
The current understanding of the progression of the reverse die’s
usage appears to begin with its pitted stage, implying it was placed
into service with plainly visible flaws. A strong patch of raised
pitting extends from the tail feathers, past the left side of the bow,
between the E of ONE and the D of DOLLAR, down to the rim.
After a short production run the reverse die was polished,
removing almost all the pitting except where it passed through the
wreath. Subsequently, the obverse die was changed, and the dies
clashed and both dies were polished yet again.
Some likelihood exists that further revision of the VAM listings
will be forthcoming.
The former VAM-1B and VAM-1C coins, all of the stages of the
former VAM 12, and all of the current listings within the VAM-6 group
are related to this single reverse die.
A detailed understanding of the reverse die’s different stages has
been both added and subtracted from the Van Allen-A. George Mallis book.
Only the strongly pitted version currently known as VAM-6A is
considered part of the Hot 50 set, but each of the other related
stages forms a piece of a puzzle that is still being assembled.
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.