About VAMs column from April 25, 2016, issue of
Several Morgan dollar varieties are specifically listed for their
bold die gouges. One of the most famous is the Tailbar 1890-CC Morgan
dollar. Another, the VAM-8A 1891-S Morgan dollar, was discovered by
Jim Baxter in 1974 and listed as VAM-1A in the Comprehensive
Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan & Peace Dollars by Leroy
Van Allen and A. George Mallis. In 2006, close examination of another
example’s obverse led Van Allen to revise the listing.
The variety may be instantly identified by the dollar’s bold and
distinctive gouges on the reverse.
A strong gouge transects the top of the eagle’s right (viewer’s
left) leg. Another section of this bold gouge skips across two
clusters of olive leaves. Yet another small section can be found in
the left wreath bough. While these sections aren’t contiguous, they
line up and are apparently from a single damaging event.
Later die state examples have a pattern of die cracks through the
top of the left wing. The obverse has minor doubling on all of the
stars on the left but this can be difficult to see, even in magnified
photographs. The date position has helped confirm that all known
examples share the same obverse.
It’s not entirely clear why some of the more dramatic gouged die
varieties suffered this type of damage. One of the more commonly
expressed theories points to contact between the die and the feeder
fingers. While some gouges may be caused by an event like this, it
would seem improbable that errant motion from the feeder mechanism
could impart the kind of force required to mar hardened steel to the
extent seen on the stronger varieties of this nature.
It appears the VAM-8A had its distinctive gouges throughout its
entire progression. While we may never know the exact reason for this
feature, the touch of mystery certainly adds to its appeal.