A previously unreported stage of a popular Morgan, 8 Tail Feather
dollar die marriage was recently uncovered. While the find hasn’t
generated the excitement and coverage that locating a new die
combination in this group would, it is of considerable significance to specialists.
In correspondence from May 2013, Leroy Van Allen formally listed
the new stage as the 1878 VAM-4A. It will be published in next year’s
edition of New VAM Varieties of Morgan Dollars.
It differs from other examples of the VAM-4 variety because of the
presence of strong clash marks and the transfer of the partial letters
US of TRUST into Liberty’s lower hair.
All stages of this obverse feature strong doubling on the digit 7
and a unique die chip above the dot that separates PLURIBUS UNUM.
The reverse die is readily identified by the pattern of engraved
feathers at the bottom of both wings and a lump on the bottom of the
letter F in OF.
Additionally, the VAM-4A reverse has fairly bold clash marks that
are easier to see than the clash marks on the obverse.
The recent discovery is almost certainly the final use of one of
the real workhorses of the 8 Tail Feather group.
10 obverse pairings
This reverse was paired with a total of 10 different obverse dies.
Each is only used with this reverse.
Seven of the 10 marriages are extremely rare. It is still a
mystery about the reason for this die’s frequent partner swaps, but it
would appear something about the reverse was destructive to many of
Five of the obverse dies develop strong radial breaks.
The strong clash marks on the VAM-4A stage haven’t been noted on
any of the other marriages. Further study is needed, but this stage
has provided more clarity.
More examples would shed more light on the subject, but for now
the new stage is still only known from its discovery piece.
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.