US Coins

1891 Morgan dollar, VAM-1A

The heart of variety collecting is a search for atypical characteristics. Some of these may be unusual and occasionally even whimsical.

While a comparison of a specific coin’s feature to a familiar object often draws a dubious eye from other observers, sometimes the resemblance is unmistakable.

In the Comprehensive Catalogue and Encyclopedia of Morgan and Peace Dollars, authors Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis describe the VAM-1A 1891 Morgan dollar as having a “die chip on forehead above eye.”

A close examination of a well-preserved example reveals a virtually perfect heart-shaped lump just below Liberty’s hairline. It is so well defined that it appears the “heart” may have been punched into the working die in a deliberate act.

Further research may one day conclusively determine if the feature is a coincidence or not.

While not well known, the VAM-1A has been actively sought by several specialists, myself included. I can personally attest to its elusive nature. A few years ago, its very existence was questioned in discussions among advanced collectors.

Since then, I’ve personally examined and photographed several examples while performing my professional duties. The 1891 Morgan dollar is a better date, and consistently, surprisingly few examples are available at most shows. The date increases dramatically in price in Mint State.

With a scarcity of coins to examine in hand, online venues are another place to search. Unfortunately, the key variety characteristic is small and may not be clearly distinguishable in auction images. There is little else to go on while searching. The date is located within what is defined in the Van Allen-Mallis reference as the normal range.

The exact position of the first 1 relative the point of the bust and the dentilated border below it is illustrated. A match to the correct date position is not positive confirmation, but pieces that clearly do not match this location can be quickly excluded.

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.

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