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Die Breaks in the Peace Dollar Top 50

NSDR Journal


Spring 2006


Die Breaks in the Peace Dollar Top 50

By Jeff Oxman, NSDR Vice President


There’s no question about it.  For many silver dollar specialists, research is becoming the combustible fuel that’s igniting interest in our segment of the hobby.  And one research-driven opportunity that’s starting to catch fire is the study of die progressions.  In particular die breaks and die break sequences, which have enjoyed only limited popularity since the early days of VAM collecting, have now blossomed into a “red hot” area of numismatics.

This is especially true in the case of the Peace dollar series, where so much attention is currently focused on die break varieties.  Be advised, if you think that such complex research is only for those stalwart few who study astrophysics in their spare time, or worse yet, read the U.S. Tax Code for entertainment, you’d be wrong!  Already the siren’s call has attracted large numbers of VAM collectors to Peace dollar die breaks, and today, many of the most expensive VAMs in the Peace dollar TOP 50 are the die break varieties.

There are a couple of important reasons for studying die break progressions.  First, any die break varieties are simply spectacular.  They possess what we refer to in numismatics as a high “wow factor.”  Take the so-called 1922-P VAM 2A “Ear Ring” variety.  No electron microscope is needed here to be amazed at the raised run of metal that starts near Liberty’s ear and curves down onto her cheek.  Seen for the first time, some of these Peace dollar varieties are just hard to believe.

Secondly, die breaks tend to occur at the end of the life cycle of the die, so that these varieties are most often produced in very limited numbers.  After all, broken dies are generally removed from the coining presses as soon as they are spotted by Mint personnel.  And since rarity is the mantra of every hobbyist, this lack of availability naturally translates into huge premiums in the numismatic marketplace.

The one die break in the Morgan dollar series that’s most sought after is the 1888-O VAM 1B “Scar Face” variety, which is worth upwards of $2500 in MS62 condition, compared to its non-variety counterpart, which is readily obtainable for $35 in the same grade.  Needless to say, die breaks can be a cherry-picker’s dream!  But this variety, although dramatic, shows little or no spectacular displacement of metal like the best of the Peace dollar die break varieties.

In this light die breaks found in the various U.S. silver dollar series could be said to culminate in the Peace dollar series.  A 1922-P in MS60 condition might bring about $15, but a 22-P VAM 1F “Field Break” variety in the same grade is listed in the Peace dollar Top 50 Value Guide at $500!  Finding such a variety would certainly be cause for celebration, and an army of VAM specialists for such die break specimens because of their tremendous premiums.

But there is also a third reason to study, as well as collect, Peace dollar die breaks.  If varieties such as the 1922-P VAM 1F are worth thirty or forty times as much as comparable non-variety specimens of the same date, then it is imperative to know at what point in the die break progression the break is strong enough to warrant this kind of astronomical premium.  And that is precisely the impetus of some new research that’s being conducted by this writer, together with former NSDR President, Mike Faraone.

Put another way, the fundamental question is this:  At what stage in the life of a particular die pair is the die break variety worthy of the full premium listed in the SSDC Value Guide?  Consider for a moment the 1922-P VAM 2E “Wing Break” variety.  Thus far it has been possible to isolate six different stages in the life of this die pair.  Stage I represents the original state of this obverse and reverse die, when first used in the coining press.  Of course, initially there were not die cracks or die break features to distinguish this die pair, but beginning with the second stage, this die pair is identifiable by a horizontal die crack on the obverse and a clashed die feature on the eagle’s wing (even though there is no evidence of a die break).  Stage III shows a tiny die crack at the back of the eagle’s wing with a small displacement of metal at the center.  This less than dramatic die crack then becomes an impressive die break in the fourth stage.  Now stunning to behold, the break develops further in the fifth and sixth stages.  Each of these die stages ahs been documented.  Now, back to our original question:  Where in this continuum does the 1922-P VAM 2E die pair become the heavy premium die break variety?

Stage I is unidentifiable, so of course, it has no premium value.  Stage II can be attributed as this die pair by the diagnostic die crack on the obverse.  But the reverse does not show even a hint of the future die break, and therefore, most would agree that it warrants little or no premium.  Indeed, how could it be the actual “Wing Break” variety with no wing break?

Stage III is characterized by a small die break appearing near the center of the die crack on the eagle’s wing.  True, it may be worth a small to moderate premium, but it is still not the wing break for which this variety is named.  Everything changed in the fourth stage, where the die break in the eagle’s wing develops to the point that there is considerable displacement of metal, creating what we all agree is the “Wing Break” variety.  The die break feature is Stages V and VI then continues its dazzling development.

To conclude, in the case of the 22-P VAM 2E it might be prudent to buy Stages I and II at the non-variety price, and stage III at a small premium.  Finally, Stages IV, V, and VI would all be worthy of the full premium listed in the value guide for this variety.


Example of Die Break Premiums

According to Die Stage





Stage I


Stage II


Stage III


Stage IV


Stage V


Stage VI



Such evaluations may prove important for each of the TOP 50 die break varieties, because we have all seen Stage I or Stage II specimens offered for the full variety price.  Yet knowledge is power.  The idea here is that collectors, armed with information as to the various stages of each Peace dollar die break variety, will make informed decisions as to how much to pay for a particular specimen.  So, the next time you encounter a Peace dollar die break, consider the stage of the die break, as well as the attribution itself, in coming up with a value.  Looking ahead, I believe that such determinations will be increasingly important in the future, particularly when it’s time to sell your collection.



Editor’s Note:  Jeff has indicated that the complete die break research for all the TOP 50 Peace dollars will be available in the next release of the TOP 50 Attribution Guide, which is scheduled for publication in late 2006.

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