VOL. XXIV, NO. 1
Top 10 of the Top 100
By Michael S. Fey, Ph.D.
Part 4 of 10
This is the fourth installment of a 10-part series
to present the Top 10 of the Top 100 Morgan dollar varieties.
The fourth Top 10 of the Top 100 that we will consider is a “classic” Redbook variety, the 1879-S Reverse of 1878. This too is considered as a “class of variety” as there are 16 different die pairs known.
This class of variety can easily be identified as having a “parallel” top arrow feather reverse as compared to the normal “slanted” top arrow feather of Morgan dollars minted from 1879 to 1904.
It wasn’t until publication of Dave Wang’s book, A Guide to the 1879-S Reverse of 1878 Morgan Silver Dollars in 2001, that we really had a better idea about the 16 different varieties that were confirmed to exist. The VAM Encyclopedia previously listed 21 varieties, but most variety collectors could not differentiate the minor differences of one from another by the descriptions and illustrations in the book. This created much confusion in attribution among collectors.
Collaboration among experts led by Wang found that there was likely variety duplication in the VAM listings. Wang’s book cleared up the controversy and has now become a valuable reference for every advanced Morgan silver dollar collector.
The currently known varieties include VAMs: 4, 6, 9, 23, 25, 34, 34A, 35, 39, 42, 43, 46, 50, 51, 52 and the recently discovered VAM 34B.
Some of these varieties are proving to be rare and elusive. Indeed, premiums for some of the rarer varieties (23, 25, 34A & 34B) now command substantial premiums over and above the existing premium for any specimen of this class of variety.
To date, there is only one complete set known of all the 1879-S reverse of 1878 varieties with some pieces only known in circulated grades. This set is owned by veteran dealer, Larry Briggs, and was displayed at a Society of Silver Dollar Collector meeting at the 2004 ANA convention in Pittsburgh.
Walter Breen estimated that fewer than 1% of the surviving Mint State specimens of 1879-S are the reverse of 1878 (also known as the second reverse). Population reports indicate a 3% survival rate. From my experience, circulated specimens are at least as difficult to find. For those who have Wang’s book, the hunt for the rarer varieties can be quite rewarding. A circulated VAM 34B traded in excess of $500.
In the next issue, we will explore the fifth of the Top 10 of the Top 100, ‘Over Mintmarks and Overdates.”
Knowledge is King!