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.