The rush to new standard dollar production in 1878 forced the various
Mint facilities to take a number of unusual shortcuts with George
Morgan’s design. It accounts for the extraordinary variation found in
this year’s pieces.
While changes like hub designs are well documented, some of the
expedient methods employed on individual dies have only recently been discovered.
A few weeks ago, I examined the first known example of the VAM-113
1878-S Morgan dollar, and spoke with its discoverer, Mark Daveler. He
said, “I knew right off this was something different.”
In correspondence Oct. 25, 2013, Leroy Van Allen officially listed it.
The reverse is well known to variety specialists as it is also used
for the several marriages and stages in the VAM-36 group. This
particular die had been overpolished when it was basined. The voids in
the centers of both wings were then filled back in by an imaginative
worker who placed a few drops of parting acid in the weakened areas of
Other reverse dies have been repaired by this unusual method, but
this is one of the strongest examples, affectionately known as the
“dragon scales” variety.
The real surprise is found on the obverse. The normal design of
Liberty’s hair has several small voids in it. One of the patterns in
her lower hair, nicknamed the “bear claw,” was strengthened by hand engraving.
While the hair strands in this area normally terminate in several
points resembling claws, the touch up work exaggerates the effect.
This die was noted by Van Allen as the first example of a Morgan
dollar reported with engraving in Liberty’s hair. His interest and
excitement about the find is clear from reading his letter. “This die
combo is immediately one of my all time favorites with both engraving
and acid treatment.”
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