VOL. XXIII, NO. 3
Top 10 of the Top 100
By Michael S. Fey, Ph.D.
Part 3 of 10
This is the third installment of a 10-part series to present
the Top 10 of the Top 100 Morgan dollar varieties.
Instead of classifying just one coin into the Top 10 of the Top 100 category, I decided that it was best to make the whole class of ultra rare 1878-S B reverses one of the Top 10.
This variety feature is what specialists call the B reverse. It can be identified by a long center arrow shaft (a long nock) on the center reverse arrow of a Morgan silver dollar (photo). Long nocks occur on 1878 7 Tailfeather, 1878 CC dollars and on no less than 9 different VAM varieties of 1878 S mint marked coins. All coins minted after 1878, except a few later dates having 1878 reverses, have a normal long center arrow shaft and are referred to as “Reverse of 1879.” They also have a slanted top arrow feather as opposed to the parallel top arrow feather of the reverse of 1878.
The 3rd edition of the VAM book (1991) listed only VAMs 26, 27, and 56 as having the long nock feature. However, in the past decade, VAMs 57, 58, 59, 60, 62, and 72 with the long nock have been discovered.
Although there are now 9 different varieties known of the 1878 S B reverses, don’t let that fool you into thinking that any would be easy to find. To date, perhaps less than 250 specimens are known in all grades, with only three specimens known in Mint State. Finding even a VG specimen can be a difficult feat as well as a numismatic prize.
The average number of coins currently known per die is about 30. A recently discovered specimen, VAM 72, is known only in VG.
An account of the striking of the first 1878 S silver dollars was given in the April 18th, 1878 newspaper, the New Alta California. “Nearly one thousand coins were struck off, when the die cracked, and the press was stopped.”
The Philadelphia mint sent several of its earlier made long nock reverse dies to San Francisco for the first striking ceremony but apparently none of these dies lasted very long.
From the Bowers & Merena Eliasberg sale (1997), we learned that the very first 1878 S B reverse variety, engraved as “One of the First 10 Coined April 17th, 1878 from J. Gus Burt” was VAM 60. If the die was discarded after it cracked as was normal practice at the mint, this would make this particular variety even rarer than 1871 CC Seated Dollar in which only 1376 coins were minted.
A G to VG specimen of the 1878 S B reverse currently trades for a bargain price of about $100. Mint State specimens have traded in excess of $5000. If you’re real lucky, you may be able to cherry pick one in a dealer’s junk box.
In the next issue, we will explore the fourth of the Top 10 of the Top 100, the 1879s Reverse of 1878 varieties.
Knowledge is King!