For a long time I was reluctant to become a member of VAMworld because so many varieties of Morgan Dollars and Peace Dollars exist. I just couldn’t imagine my searching for them all and adding more designations to labels, especially since major grading companies now include stars, plus signs and stickers on their holders.
Then I realized something important about the study of VAMs: You can become an expert coin grader searching for them because you learn to analyze every nook, cranny and die crack—literally.
What is a VAM? The word is an acronym for die varieties on Morgan and Peace Dollars, combining the surname initials of Leroy C. Van Allen and A. George Mallis, the authors of The Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan and Peace Dollars.
The best part about VAM-searching involves sharpening the eye for coin grading, identifying the various devices in Morgan and Peace dollars, such as wheat kernels, cotton bolls and leaves found on the obverse of Morgans, say, and wreaths, arrowheads and tail feathers on the reverse.
I have several favorite books devoted to grading, including The Official Guide to Coin Grading and Counterfeit Detection, edited by Scott A. Travers with text by John W. Dannreuther; Grading Coins by Photographs by Q. David Bowers; and Making The Grade: A Grading Guide to the Top 50 Most Widely Collected US Coins by Beth Deisher.
Typical methods include segmenting a coin visually into quadrants and analyzing devices or doing so clockwise and/or counter-clockwise. Making the Grade uses a nifty color field to identify areas of a coin subject to wear.
VAM analysis requires all of the above and more—so much more, in fact—that you will eventually understand the minting process and the various levels of die doubling, chips, breaks, scratches, polish lines and more, as found at this URL.
You might also discover a new or sub variety of VAM and can discuss your find on the discussion board at VAMworld, providing you become a member. General membership is free.
At the moment I’m hoping that I found a sub-variety of VAM 21-D on a gem 1900-O Morgan Dollar.
This picture captures the die crack extending from the star between the words “One” and “United” on the reverse.
This picture shows that the above die crack continues across the top of the letters through the left wing and across “Of,” where it arcs upward toward the rim.
The die crack continues very faintly across the top of letters “M” through “C” in “America” on the reverse, as shown here.
As depicted here, the obverse has a faint die crack on stars 7 through 9 o’clock and continuing on top of the “E” in “E Pluribus Unum.”
The typical VAM 21-D has other distinguishing features, such as a small chip at top of and inside the E on the reverse. My coin lacks that.
I have submitted these pictures to the VAMworld discussion board, another feature of this useful site, and am interacting with other collectors with more experience than I in this intriguing aspect of the hobby.
I’m always honing my coin grading skills. I think VAM searching will only enhance that.