What has become known as VAM collecting is based on the work of Leroy
Van Allen and A. George Mallis, authors of the Comprehensive
Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan & Peace Dollars.
Before the 1950s, interest in some of the series’ variations had
peaked and waned several times, but Morgan dollars themselves weren’t
considered part of the mainstream by many people. Then, the Treasury
Department releases in the 1950s and early 1960s of millions of
Uncirculated dollars at face value made the coins cheap and readily available.
The old adage about no such thing as “bad press” certainly proved
true for silver dollars. Entire bags could be bought at or near face
value and searched at leisure for better dates.
With the explosion of attention suddenly devoted to the series, some
of its more noteworthy varieties also came to light. It was in this
environment in 1963 that Francis X. Klaes wrote his groundbreaking
work, Die Varieties of Morgan Silver Dollars. While it only
contained 55 listings, each was plated, many for the first time.
Among new discoveries were the VAM-44 1878 Morgan dollar, often
called the “King of VAMs” and the VAM-3 1901 dollar, also commonly
known as the Shifted Eagle.
The greatest impact Klaes’ book had was finding its way into the
hands of a young numismatist named Leroy Van Allen as he searched bags
of dollars for 1878 dollars and better dates.
Figure 33 in the booklet illustrates an 1888-O Morgan dollar with
dramatically doubled obverse. Shortly after seeing it pictured, Van
Allen found an About Uncirculated example, now popularly referred to
as the “Hot Lips” variety.
Van Allen credits this find as changing his focus from date
collecting to the study of varieties. In a very tangible way, every
dollar we now note as a VAM can trace its roots back to Van Allen’s
first find and the book that showed him what to look for.
Today, Klaes’ book is fairly rare, much harder to find than any of
the Morgan dollars it first illustrated.