About VAMs column from the Jan. 23, 2017, issue of
One of the more unusual Morgan dollar variety features is a
relatively recent discovery and is still not fully understood. Several
varieties display anomalous raised lumps that are now referred to as
“ovaloids.” Every listing found with this oddity so far has also
displayed strong clashing, and usually multiple clashes as well.
For decades the Morgan dollar has ranked at the top U.S. coin
collectors' favorite coins. Why is the Morgan dollar so popular?
There are many reasons, including: large size, attractive designs,
numerous varieties, historical significance. How much are
Morgan dollars worth?
One of the more dramatic examples of the phenomenon is found on the
VAM-3-O 1921 Morgan dollar discovered by John Baumgart in 2003. When
first listed by Leroy Van Allen in New VAM Varieties of Morgan
Dollars, the unusual raised areas were described as die damage. In
the years since, this particular VAM has picked up the unofficial
nickname “goldfish” for the distinctive shape of the lump in front of
Liberty’s nose. Another ovaloid is found on the reverse. The marriage
also shows clear evidence of multiple clashes that have been partially
effaced by coarse polishing.
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It is possible that the disruption of the die faces during the
several clashing episodes left the small depressions we now see as
lumps on the coins. The effect is not unique to Morgan dollars. Oddly,
when clash marks were originally noted by some of the first American
variety collectors of earlier series, they were referred to as
The piece is also part of the set presented in
WOW! An Introduction to Sixty of the Most
Fascinating Morgan Dollar Die Varieties Currently Known by
Robert Franklin. The book presents a group that is easily recognized
and remembered. Some of the entries are major rarities, but the
VAM-3-O can be found with a modest degree of patience. Examples are
With a touch of whimsy from its nickname, and the remaining air of
mystery behind its cause, the variety has become a favorite among specialists.