The provisions of the Bland-Allison Act of 1878 imposed a
requirement to purchase a monthly minimum of $2 million in silver
bullion earmarked for the dollar coin the law created.
Although the dollar design was not developed to the Mint’s full
satisfaction, it had to be rushed into service to offset the recurring
bullion purchases. Problems demand solutions, and some of the
improvised fixes on individual working dies are quite dramatic.
George Morgan’s original design was in higher relief than
practical for circulating coinage. As a result, central details did
not strike up well, and the dies tended to break after a relatively
short run. A hasty redesign to what is now commonly referred to as the
Reverse of 1878 addressed some of the striking issues, but required
Mint workers to use an unprecedented and laborious die polishing
process to impart a slight curvature onto the individual working die
faces that would have normally been incorporated into the design
itself in a less hurried environment.
Exhaustive polishing can lead to overpolishing and many working
dies from 1878 have prominent voids. As a result, San Francisco Mint
workers made hand-engraved corrections on a large number of dies with
One of the most dramatic is described as VAM-18 in Comprehensive
Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan & Peace Dollars. The heavy
hand-engraved lines in the centers of both wings bear a resemblance to
pasta, prompting collectors to dub it the “Spaghetti Wing” variety.
Little attention had been paid to the obverse as it is fairly
nondescript. However, several months ago, it was noted that it is the
exact obverse die used earlier with the rare 1878-S Morgan, Long Nock
dollar marriages, VAM-72 and -59. The “nock” is the end of the center
arrow shaft and designs show two slightly different but distinct
lengths. This is the first reported die link to this group and it
strongly suggests the VAM-18 variety may have been the first “Short
Nock” variety produced at the San Francisco Mint.
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.