Morgan dollar variety collecting began with individuals taking note
of the several design changes the series underwent. One of the
earliest lists of the various hub types was found in the June 1898
edition of The Numismatist. An article by George Rice titled
“Die Varieties of the Current United States Standard Dollars” included
a description of 1879-S Morgan dollars with the previous year’s
The marriages in this group today are defined by their listings in
the Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan & Peace
Dollars by Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis along with Van
Allen’s annual update New VAM Varieties of Morgan Dollars.
Among the earliest recognized varieties, the coins were a natural
choice for inclusion in The Top 100 Morgan Dollar Varieties: The
VAM Keys by Michael Fey and Jeff Oxman. With more collectors
pursuing all the group’s varieties, specialists began to ask questions
that required a detailed study to answer. This effort culminated in
the publication of A Guide to the 1879-S Reverse of 1878 Morgan
Silver Dollars by David Wang.
Prior to the guide’s release in 2001, during the period of
intensive study by the research group collaborating with Wang’s work,
new listings were discovered.
Some have turned out to be fairly common, but others are
considerably rarer. One of the most difficult to locate is the VAM-50
reported by Calvin Cherry in February 2001.
It employs a reverse die used in four other marriages. Beyond the
parallel arrow feathers and flat, hollow-chested eagle from the basic
design, the specific die features multiple long gouges in the wings
and a distinctive patch of short, pointed gouges in the gap between
the neck and wing.
A key feature of the 1879-S obverse is its repunched date. The top
of the 7 is clearly doubled — on well-preserved examples. That’s a
sticking point for the VAM-50. Most have seen considerable
circulation. More markers, in protected areas of Liberty’s portrait,
are almost always needed to assure a positive identification.
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.