Many auctioneers and some dealers do not recognize obvious varieties of Morgan dollars, even though these coins command a premium–meaning you can cherrypick them and build a nifty collection at discount prices.
We’re not talking about the gazillion VAM varieties. (“VAM” is an acronym for the authors of The Comprehensive Catalogue and Encyclopedia of U.S. Morgan and Peace Silver Dollars.) Many collectors find VAMs intimidating because there are so many, with varieties subtle or difficult to differentiate from others in a complex numbering system.
I like looking for VAMs, as explained in a previous Coingrader Capsule, because it sharpens my eyes for obvious varieties.
You can learn more about VAMs by visiting vamworld.com.
Today we’re focusing on these obvious varieties that major grading companies recognize, often without special fees, and that most hobbyists can find with a little searching online or at coin shops or shows:
1. 1878 8TF. The “8TF” stands for eight tailfeathers on the eagle on the coin’s reverse. Mintage of this was about 700,000, much lower than several Carson City dollars; so you’ll want to inspect every 1878 Morgan you see. An “8TF” at MS63 can fetch $210–almost double that of the 1878 7TF reverse of 78, a common type.
2. 1878 7/8TF strong. The “7/8TF” stands for seven over eight tailfeathers, although usually the strong variety has about 5 obvious tips of ones protruding from below the main feathers. Mintage of 7/8 varieties is about 544,000, making this one of the rarer Morgans. An MS63 sample can cost close to $350.
3. 1878 7/8TF weak. As the name suggests, you’ll find only one or a few less obvious tips of feathers protruding from below the main feathers. Nonetheless, these are scarce, command somewhat higher prices than the 7TF variety, and are useful in contrasting this from its “strong” cousin. One at MS63 can cost about $160.
4. 1878 7TF reverse of 79. Common 1878 7TF Morgans have a flat eagle’s breast on the reverse with a straight top arrow feather on the clutch of arrows in the eagle’s talons. (Sometimes the word “parallel” is used for “straight.”) The rarer variety has the redesign of the 1879 reverse featuring an eagle with a rounded breast and a slanted top arrow feather. An example of the latter at MS63 can run about $175.
5. 1879-S reverse of 78. Again as the name suggests, this variety differs from the more common 1879-S in that it features the reverse found in most 1878 coins, with the straight top arrow feather. The 1879-S with a 79 reverse (slanted arrow feather) is a rather plentiful coin, with more than 9 million minted. An MS63 example might cost about $75. One with an 1878 reverse at the same grade? About $475.
6. 1882 0/S weak and strong. The mint mark “O” has an “S” inside. If you see a well-defined crossbar (spanning both sides of the “O”), you have a “strong” variety. If you see a wisp of an “S” that doesn’t span both sides of the “O,” you have a “weak” variety. Both command premiums, with the strong worth more. How much more? A common date 1882-O at MS63 might cost $80; a weak variety, same grade, $300; a strong one, $1000. (That’s why we search 1882-Os!)
7. 1890 CC Tailbar. This is a real obvious variety–a bar extending with a slight slant from the first tailfeather and bottom arrow feather down to the wreath. You can buy a worn 1890-CC at VG12 for about $100; a tailbar at the same grade costs about double that.
8. 1899-O Micro O. The 1899-O is a very common Morgan with more than 12 million minted. So you’ll have no trouble locating one at AU55 for about $35-40. You’ll almost always find a large O mint mark. The rare micro O is considerably smaller (about 60% of the large mark) and worth about $300 at AU55.
9. 1900 0/CC. Again we’re dealing with a common-date Morgan, with about the same mintage and cost at AU55 as the 1899-O above. The “O/CC” variety has a fainter “C” on each side of the “O” and costs more than $200 at the same AU55 grade.
10. 1903-S Micro S. The 1903-S is a semi-key date, with only 1,241,000 minted and costing about $140 at VG12. As in the 1899-O Micro O, the “S” is noticeable smaller–usually about 70% of a regular “S.” If you find one, you can ask $500 at VG12.