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Did You Know That 1878 VAM-44 is Referred to as the “King of VAMs”?

Thousands of Van Allen and Mallis varieties of Morgan dollars have been identified since collectors started cataloging these varieties of silver dollars in the mid-20th century, as collectors and researchers employed an evolving array of analytical techniques to scrutinize often minute details of the coins. Many varieties are subtle/undramatic enough to be uncollectible, so many collectors confine themselves to the Hot 50 and/or Top 100, some of the most dramatic, sought-after VAM varieties. Within the category of major, dramatic, collectible varieties is the “King of VAMs,” the 1878 VAM-44.

VAMWorld.com, a website dedicated to cataloging and researching VAM varieties, describes the VAM-44’s obverse die, which is cataloged as II/I 37: “LIBERTY doubled slightly w/ BER showing faint shadows on right side. First star on right & number 7 on left doubled. Cotton blossoms & leaves tripled on right side.” Broadly, the variety is categorized as a 7/8 Tailfeathers, Weak variety, further specified as a 7/5 Tailfeathers.

Its reverse, cataloged as B/Ad (4 TF) (180): “The reverse has a 7/8 tailfeather reverse, the long nock on the arrow shaft can be seen along with “weak” tailfeather tips showing, 3 to 5 depending on the strike and how hard you look. There is more dramatic doubling of both of the eagle’s legs. This variety is tremendously sought after by collectors and XF to low-end AU specimens can command several thousand dollars.”

A later die state of the VAM-44 exists, cataloged as VAM-44a; it is clashed. This reverse die is paired with obverse die II/I 7 in the VAM-33 marriage.

Again according to VAMWorld, the obverse die was discovered in 1963 by Francis Klaes, the reverse by Guy Messing in 1974. Estimates suggest that about 70 VAM-44s are known.

PCGS’ Population Report records 100 grading events specifically for VAM-44 varieties without Prooflike or Deep Mirror Prooflike surfaces; four examples are recorded with PL contrast. NGC’s Census, for its part, records 24 without Prooflike or DMPL contrast and two with PL. ANACS records 30 non-Pl/DMPL grading events, nine with PL and three with DMPL.

We auctioned the finest-graded Prooflike example of this variety, graded MS-63 PL by PCGS with CAC’s endorsement, in our August 2023 Global Showcase auction for $14,400, including Buyer’s Premium. Examples in lower Mint State grades or AU grades, with and without PL/DMPL surfaces, regularly sell for thousands.

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