The Top 100 Morgan Dollar Varieties: The VAM Keys by Michael
Fey and Jeff Oxman lists some of the series’ most desirable pieces.
Three of its listings have achieved a level of notoriety after it
was discovered they are contemporary counterfeits. The spurious
dollars dated 1896, 1900 and 1902 all share a “Micro O” Mint mark used
for genuine issues in other years.
I recently had the opportunity to examine a well-preserved VAM-3
1902-O Morgan dollar. Its description in the Comprehensive Catalog
and Encyclopedia of Morgan & Peace Dollars by Leroy Van
Allen and A. George Mallis notes the abnormally small Mint mark along
with a reverse hub type that was replaced in 1900. Seeing the piece
now, its nature seems obvious with the benefit of hindsight.
Of course, that’s a luxury that’s never available at the onset of
any new research. The counterfeits passed as dollars at face value
with apparent ease, as most examples are heavily circulated. The wear
of commerce hid the telltale flaws for decades.
Although some suspicions were raised earlier, only in 2005 was
conclusive proof presented. Studying a group of higher grade examples,
Mike Faraone at Professional Coin Grading Service found matching and
repeating depressions on multiple examples.
Further research by Van Allen uncovered that the reverse used for
all three dates was copied from an VAM-6 1899-O dollar. His booklet
Micro O and Other Counterfeit Morgan and Peace Dollars also
describes a growing family of die linked issues now unmasked. The
scale of the operation had gone undetected for perhaps a century. We
don’t know exactly when they were produced, but it’s a reasonable
assumption that they were all made around the same time.
A few months ago, a collector showed me a VAM-4 1896-O Morgan dollar
with the date 1905 crudely carved into its obverse.
The coin showed signs of circulating after suffering the graffiti.
It’s hardly proof, but suggests the fakes were made shortly after the
dates from which they were copied.