One of the most commonly encountered varieties of the 1878 Morgan,
7/8 Tail Feathers dollar’s family of die marriages, VAM-38, is also
one of the most visually dramatic. Depending on the wants and needs of
the individual collector, it is either a welcome find or committed to
memory as something to avoid.
Some of the pioneering researchers of Morgan dollar varieties were
particularly interested in the 7/8 Tail Feathers group. In 1965,
Anthony Morano and Leroy Van Allen wrote separate articles examining
the specific dies involved for Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine.
The two authors share credit for the discovery. The VAM-38 variety
was first formally listed in Van Allen’s 1965 solo booklet, Morgan and
Peace Dollar Varieties.
The marriage is an example of Class III or design hub doubling on
both the obverse and reverse. Literally, hubs with two different
designs — some on which the eagle has 8 tail feathers and others on
which the eagle has seven tail feathers — were impressed into the
working dies. This was a deliberate act of “recycling” some of the 8
Tail Feathers dies, after the design was deemed less than adequate for
The doubling on the reverse is most readily noted in the five
“extra” feather tips along the bottom of the eagle’s tail, but the
wreath bow and olive branch also show a strong shift.
The obverse designs were similarly modified to reduce their
relief, and some of the older dies were also rehubbed with the newer
design. Strong doubling is evident in the letters of e pluribus unum,
liberty and along the wheat leaves. Because of the strength of the
doubling, the variety is occasionally mistaken for some of the more
valuable 1878 Morgan dollars.
A die scratch shaped oddly like a tear drop at the back corner of
Liberty’s eye is an instant identifier.
Because the VAM-38 1878 Morgan dollar is both dramatic and common,
it makes an excellent and affordable choice for date collectors as a
representative of the 7/8 Tail Feathers type.
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.