VAM-8A 1891-S Morgan dollar has gouged leg: About VAMs

Cause of impressive damage unknown
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 04/11/16
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About VAMs column from April 25, 2016, issue of Coin World:

Several Morgan dollar varieties are specifically listed for their bold die gouges. One of the most famous is the Tailbar 1890-CC Morgan dollar. Another, the VAM-8A 1891-S Morgan dollar, was discovered by Jim Baxter in 1974 and listed as VAM-1A in the Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan & Peace Dollars by Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis. In 2006, close examination of another example’s obverse led Van Allen to revise the listing.

The variety may be instantly identified by the dollar’s bold and distinctive gouges on the reverse.

A strong gouge transects the top of the eagle’s right (viewer’s left) leg. Another section of this bold gouge skips across two clusters of olive leaves. Yet another small section can be found in the left wreath bough. While these sections aren’t contiguous, they line up and are apparently from a single damaging event.

Later die state examples have a pattern of die cracks through the top of the left wing. The obverse has minor doubling on all of the stars on the left but this can be difficult to see, even in magnified photographs. The date position has helped confirm that all known examples share the same obverse.

It’s not entirely clear why some of the more dramatic gouged die varieties suffered this type of damage. One of the more commonly expressed theories points to contact between the die and the feeder fingers. While some gouges may be caused by an event like this, it would seem improbable that errant motion from the feeder mechanism could impart the kind of force required to mar hardened steel to the extent seen on the stronger varieties of this nature.

It appears the VAM-8A had its distinctive gouges throughout its entire progression. While we may never know the exact reason for this feature, the touch of mystery certainly adds to its appeal.

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