US Coins

1879-S Morgan Reverse of 1878 dollar elusive

About VAMS column from March 28, 2016, Weekly issue of Coin World:

Recently I had the chance to study one of the more elusive 1879-S Morgan, Reverse of 1878 dollar varieties.

The reverse hub type was first used in 1878 as the name implies, and is instantly recognized by its flat low relief eagle with a slightly concave center on its breast and parallel upper arrow feather. By contrast, the Reverse of 1879 has a higher relief eagle with a rounded breast and a slanted upper arrow feather. Six distinct Reverse of 1878 dies were used for a portion of the 1879-S Morgan dollar coinage.

Altogether, 21 varieties are now listed in this group. Many are relatively common. However, other marriages in this group are extremely rare and command a significant premium in any grade.

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The VAM-34B variety was discovered by Brian Raines in September 2003 and formally cataloged by Leroy Van Allen in New VAM Varieties of Morgan Dollars. The Reverse of 1878 group are also in The Top 100 Morgan Dollar Varieties: The VAM Keys. Most of the roughly two dozen known examples are in the Very Fine range. A piece I recently certified is the first reported Mint State example. 

Attributing any 1879-S Morgan, Reverse of 1878 dollar variety begins with correctly identifying the specific reverse. It is most easily recognized by noting a vertical gouge in the base of the eagle’s left (viewer’s right) wing. Careful study of the obverse of a VAM-34B will reveal a short die gouge from the left edge of one of the upper cotton leaves. Caution is required because another variety that shares this exact reverse has a similar yet weaker gouge in almost an identical location.

The VAM-34B obverse was used in several other marriages as well, so a pair of late die stage features are always present. A noticeable void in the hair is found directly under the designer’s initial and a small die break appears at the lower left of the digit 8.

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