VOL. XXIII, NO. 2
Top 10 of the Top 100
By Michael S. Fey, Ph.D.
Part 2 of 10
This is the second installment of a 10-part series to present the
Top 10 of the Top 100 Morgan dollar varieties.
There are 16 different generally accepted varieties of the so-called 1878 7/8–TF varieties. These include varieties listed in the Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan & Peace Dollars by Leroy C. Van Allen and A. George Mallis as VAMs 30-45. These are more extensively documented and fully illustrated in Jeff Oxman and Les Harnett’s Society of Silver Collectors book, The 1878 Morgan Dollar 7/8-TF Attribution Guide.
Although several new sub-varieties have appeared over the last year (i.e. various die states with evidence of die clashing), there have been no new discoveries of 7/8-TF varieties since the 1970’s. Morgan dollar specialists used this market abnormality to their advantage, as several of the “weak” designated 7/8-TF varieties were far rarer than even VAM 41, the strongest of the strong, with 7 extra tailfeathers showing.
In the past, grading services designated these varieties as “weak” or “strong” on the basis of how many extra tailfeathers protruded from the bottom portion of the Eagle’s normal tailfeathers. The “weak” designations often brought less of a premium than the “strong” designations.
One such rare “weak” variety worthy of mention is the Top 100 1878 7/3-TF VAM 32, with 3 extra tail feathers extending off-center to the viewer’s right. With less than 100 specimens known in all grades, this variety is typically found with prooflike (PL) or deep mirror prooflike (DMPL) surfaces and is very rarely found in circulated grades.
However, the 7/8-TF variety that has captured the imagination of the advanced Morgan dollar community, the one that has often been called “The King” of Morgan dollar varieties, is the “weak” 7/3-TF VAM 44.
This variety displays strong tripling on the obverse, particularly in Ms. Liberty’s cotton blossoms and leaves, and strong doubling on the reverse with the Eagle having not two, but four legs! With fewer than a dozen Mint State specimens known, and perhaps about 50 circulated specimens, this variety is the stopper to completing an MS set of 7/8-TFs, and is a key to the Top 100 in any grade.
The 1878 7/3 TF VAM 44 is most often seen with PL or DMPL surfaces, many of which have a radial die crack extending from the rim above the “E” of E PLURIBUS UNUM. This crack becomes a “Y” in the field across from Ms. Liberty’s eyeball and is usually accompanied by strong die clashes, a sure sign that the obverse die failed early in the striking process as a result of strongly clashed dies.
The reverse die of the VAM 44 didn’t seem to be as adversely affected, as the “weak” designated 1878 7/3 TF VAM 33 with doubled legs then paired with another obverse and is now known as one of the most common of the 7/8-TF varieties.
Should you encounter a specimen of the 1878 7/3 TF VAM 44 with tripled cotton blossoms and leaves and doubled legs reverse, please have it certified by one of the grading services, and contact me at [email protected].
In the next issue, we will explore the third of the Top 10 of the Top 100, the rare 1878s B (long center nock of the arrow shaft) varieties.
Knowledge is King!