About VAMs column from Oct. 24, 2016, weekly issue of
In September 1981, Leroy Van Allen uncovered an 1879-S Morgan dollar
with a bold series of parallel gouges coming out of the leading edge
of Liberty’s lower curls. He and co-author A. George Mallis designated
the find as VAM-1B when they included it in the Comprehensive
Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan & Peace Dollars. While
examples would garner some interest when found, the variety languished
in relative obscurity for decades.
That changed a few months ago when variety enthusiast Chris Simpson
encountered a later stage of the marriage with an unusual appearance.
The entire obverse field had been coarsely polished in a vertical orientation.
To the untrained eye, the stage could easily be dismissed as harshly
abrasive cleaning. Van Allen examined Simpson’s coin in July 2016 and
cataloged it as the new VAM-1B2. In addition to the odd looking
fields, Van Allen also noted characteristics not described when the
marriage was first listed. Several other gouges in Liberty’s lower
hair were found, and they appear to be interconnected.
The lower hair was also overpolished on the later stage, leaving
gaps not present on the earlier portion of this die’s production.
Additionally, the reverse had several re-engraved leaves in the left
“Examination of this die variety after the many years since its
listing was a real eye-opener to say the least and deserved a greatly
expanded description!” Van Allen said.
While it’s not entirely clear what motivated the heavy polishing on
the newly discovered stage, it has certainly prompted greater interest
from the VAM community. I recently had the chance to meet Chris
Simpson at a coin show and asked him about his find as well as Van
Allen’s reaction. He replied “It was a good surprise.”