The VAM-1A 1891-O Morgan dollar with its bold “E” under the eagle’s
tail feathers is a variety even the casual collector of the series is
Despite the variety being known for decades, full appreciation of
its other features, particularly in its later stages, is only a recent development.
In 1963, Francis X. Klaes published his landmark booklet, Die
Varieties of Morgan Silver Dollars. The example pictured in that work
is considered its first formal listing.
Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis noted it in their solo works
on dollar varieties, and included it in their 1971 Guide to Morgan
and Peace Dollars. The VAM-1A coin is also in The Top 100
Morgan Dollar Varieties: The VAM Keys by Michael Fey and Jeff Oxman.
The focus of all this attention is the result of a feed
malfunction at a press in New Orleans in 1891. With no intervening
planchet, the dies struck each other, or clashed, each coining a
portion of its design into the steel of its mate. Subsequent
production carried the clash marks from this incident, including the E
from LIBERTY raised under the eagle’s tail feathers.
Advanced collectors have even greater interest in the later stages
of this marriage. The progression was first noted in 2000 and formally
listed as the stages VAM-1A2 and VAM-1A3 in 2006 and 2007,
respectively. Earlier examples with the strong clashing, but lacking
the features that define the later stages, are currently cataloged as
VAM-1A1. They are fairly common in circulated grades, and with some
patience can be found in a near Basal State.
After a relatively long production run, the reverse die began to
fail. The failure is evident as a raised mound above the olive leaves
and inside the left wreath bough. This “dome” is the defining
characteristic of the VAM-1A2 stage. After more coins were
manufactured, this point of weakness ruptured into a well defined
internal die break, now known as VAM-1A3.
Both of these later variants would command a premium over the
listed retail prices for VAM-1A that appear in Coin World’s values.
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.