Vol. XIII No. 4
The Top 100 Morgan Dollar Varieties: The VAM Keys
A Book Review
By Randy Campbell, NLG
NSDR Vice President
In the 1960s, the pursuit of scarce Morgan and Peace dollar die varieties was restricted to just a handful of enthusiasts. By the late 1970s, the number of variety collectors had grown exponentially, due mainly to the publication (in 1976) of Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis’ Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of U.S. Morgan and Peace Silver Dollars, the so-called “VAM book.” (“VAM,” by the way, is an acronym of the authors’ last names- Van, Allen and Mallis.)
In 1991, Van Allen and Mallis published an updated third edition of their landmark opus. It covered approximately 2,000 Morgan and Peace dollar varieties. Each variety was described according to its distinctive attributes and was accompanied by a photograph which highlighted a key area of the particular variety.
Unfortunately, the size and weight of this book (the hardbound edition is roughly the size and weight of a medium to large telephone book) limited its sales and usage. Plus, most of the varieties listed in the book carried little or no premium value.
Authors Jeff Oxman and Michael S. Fey, Ph. D., had a better idea. Why not pick the 100 most popular and/or most valuable VAMs and publish a light, pocket-sized book featuring even better photographs and even better descriptions? And why not accompany these Top 100 VAMs with approximate current market values?
Mission accomplished! Their book, The Top 100 Varieties: The VAM Keys, has successfully weeded-out the insignificant varieties and focused attention on those VAMs which are the prime targets of the “VAM-pires!”
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Jeff Oxman has been a respected writer, researcher, and editor for over 20 years. His primary focus, silver dollar wise, has been in the research and attribution of Morgan and Peace dollar varieties. He is generally regarded as one of the very best attributer of scarce and rare dollar varieties.
In 1988, a group of dollar specialists formed the Society of Silver Dollar Collectors (SSDC). Oxman has edited the SSDC’s quarterly publication since its inception. He also has written the catalogs for the SSDC’s VAM auction, which are mailed out to the society’s member about four times a year. IT’s no exaggeration to say that Jeff Oxman IS Mr. SSDC!
Michael S. Fey, Ph. D., received his doctorate from Cornell in 1980. He is president of a pharmaceutical company, and holds patents for a new drug which helps people quit smoking.
In the 1960s, Fey found a 1955 doubled die Lincoln in his mother’s change. Ever since then, the possibility of finding scarce to rare varieties has captivated him.
Dr. Fey firmly believs that rare Morgan dollar varieties are underrated and undervalued. He sees the publication of The Top 100 as a logical step in the process of educating his fellow collectors about the scarcity and desirability of these rare varieties.
Both Fey and Oxman have been active in several local, state and national numismatic organizations for many years, where they have consistently spread the good word about coin collecting in general, and variety collecting, in particular.
A $1,000 AWARD
In an effort to spur even more interest in VAM collecting, the authors have offered (through the Society of Silver Dollar Collectors) a $1,000 award to the first new member of the SSDC who completes a set of the Top 100 VAMs in any grade by the year 2000! In my opinion, this offer guarantees that the VAM market will undergo sustained growth in the coming months ahead. (At ANACS, we already are experiencing a substantial increase in the number of dollars submitted for VAM attributions because of the impact of this book. Needless to say, each ANACS grader has a copy of this book on his desk!)
Are you looking for a collecting goal that is less challenging than the Top 100? The authors suggest alternatives, such as completing a set of the so-called 1878 7/8 tailfeather dollars (total of 17 VAMs), a set of Morgan micro O mintmark dollars, or, a set of 1878 Morgan 8 tailfeather VAMs. Other possibilities include completing a set of 1900-O over CC varieties (seven VAMs) or, perhaps, the three different 1882-O over S VAMs. To their credit, the authors suggest several collecting concepts suited for both the wealthy collector and the collector working on a small budget. VAM collecting is NOT just a rich man’s hobby!
The listing and presentation of the Top 100 VAMs is done in a format that is easy to read and easy to understand. Blown-up photos (even better than those in the Van Allen-Mallis book) of the distinctive areas of each VAM makes identification very easy. A descriptive text of each variety accompanies the photographs.
Additionally, the authors compare the market price of the particular Top 100 VAM to a common VAM of the same date. Thus, beginners can garner an understanding of the premium value of each of the scarce varieties covered in this book. For example, the very first of the Top 100 VAMs is the 1878 8 tailfeathers, VAM-5. In XF-40, Oxman and Fey give it an estimated value of $75 (versus $15 for a common variety of the same date) and, in MS-63, it’s estimated at $500 (versus $60 for a common 8 tailfeathers variety in the same grade). As the authors suggest, there’s lots of money to be made by those who are able to “cherrypick” these scarce VAMs for the price of a common variety of the same date!
The authors offer another interesting tidbit of information for each of the Top 100. At the bottom of each page, a condition census of the particular VAM is included. The authors list the five finest known examples, and they also indicate if it is uncertified (raw) or certified, and the name of the service that certifies the VAM. This is the kind of information that collectors of Bust halves and certain early copper coins have had access to for years. Now, thanks to Oxman and Fey, this kind of information is available to VAM dollar collectors, too!
Many collectors and dealers are familiar with famous varieties such as the 1888-O “Hot Lips” or the 1890-CC “Tailbar”. But how many collectors are familiar with the 1880 “Knobbed 8” (worth $250 in AU), the 1880-O “Scarface” (worth $225 in MS-60) or the 1887 “Donkey Tail” (worth $350 in AU-50)? Those who buy The Top 100 VAMs will become familiar with these and other significant VAM varieties as they page through Oxman and Fey’s outstanding new book. I consider it to be a bargain at the suggested retail price of $24.95.
Those seeking more information about the book or the Society of Silver Dollar Collectors are urged to write Jeff Oxman at: SSDC, P.O. Box 2123, North Hills, California 91393.