The Top 100 Morgan Dollar Varieties: The VAM Keys
highlights many of the most desirable varieties within the series. The
collaborative work of Jeff Oxman and Michael Fey includes several
group listings — a variety type rather than a specific die marriage.
While only one representative marriage from one of these group
listings is required for a “Top 100” set, many advanced collectors
pursue all of the respective components. Typically, some members of
these subsets are quite rare.
In 1888, the New Orleans Mint employed two distinct Mint mark
styles. The “Round O” is found on the overwhelming majority of the
issue, while another O Mint mark with a taller and thinner appearance
was used for a few marriages.
While engaged in research that culminated in the booklet The
Oval O Coins of 1888 and 1889, Ash Harrison discovered a new
marriage with a previously unreported obverse die. What specialists
now know as the VAM-34 1888-O Morgan dollar was formally listed by
Leroy Van Allen in the 2008 edition of New VAM Varieties of Morgan
& Peace Dollars.
Besides the obvious Mint mark style, the VAM-34 1888-O Morgan
dollar may be identified by characteristics of its obverse. The date
position may serve as a good first indicator that a much closer look
The digit 1 fits neatly over the third and fourth dentils counting
from the point of the truncation of Liberty’s bust. Careful inspection
of the lower loop of the last 8 reveals a portion of unfinished die
partially filling the left half of the opening. This element oddly
resembles the edge of a dried leaf.
An accurate attribution hinges on the correct identification of
the obverse, as this specific Oval O reverse die is shared by three
other Top 100 marriages.
The Society of Silver Dollar Collectors maintains a variety
registry. Each coin is only counted once. Resubmissions and
“crossovers” don’t skew the results. Currently only four pieces are
reported. More examples will likely be uncovered as it becomes more
widely known. Thus far, it remains elusive.
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.