Ok. Package has arrived. Grab a drink and buckle up this will take a while. Guess what year and mint from 1878-1904 produced the most Morgan Dollars? Answer: 1889 and it was the Philadelphia Mint. Mintage for that year was 21,726,000 and Mint records show 57 Obverse dies and 50 Reverse dies were used. When you do the math that equals an average of 381,158 coins struck with an Obverse die and 434,520 coins struck with a Reverse die. Monthly mintage totals were at least 1,350,000, with six months out of the year being 2,000,000 or more. Only in July of that year was the mintage below 1,000,000 and that was 800,000 which was due to the mint closing down for Fiscal year end. These stats are very important.
As I have already stated in this post, the Improper hardening of dies was nothing new. Back in 1878, the Mint Director was very concerned about this as a Philadelphia employee was specially trained in the hardening and tempering of dies and this employee was transferred to the San Francisco Mint.
In addition to the concern of improper hardening of dies, daily coinage records were required for each press. The records consisted of obverse die number, reverse die number and the amount of coinage struck for each. At the end of the month, a monthly report was prepared and sent to the Director of the Mint. This report contained the Obverse and Reverse die number, the amount of coinage struck for each Obverse/Reverse die, total number of Obverse/Reverse dies used and what the average number of coinage struck for Obverse/Reverse die. In addition to the monthly report, an annual report (Die Life and Usage Report) was sent to the Director of the Mint in January of the following year. The point I am making is that die usage was closely monitored at all the mints.
To be fair, over the years from 1878-1900, there were many complaints from the branch mints about the dies. In 1900 at the New Orleans Mint, the dies were failing so fast that they had a standing monthly order of 10 Morgan Dollar die pairs (this is a lot). Beside the failing dies, both the San Francisco and New Orleans branch mints (in 1900) proposed changes to the dies (cylinder & neck only). This was quickly shot down by Charles Barber. Time and time again, Charles Barber proved the problem was not with the die, but with the annealing process of the planchets. See photos 1-3 below and note what Charles Barber had to say about the steel in the dies (see page 2 ), and also note there is no mention of problems at the Philadelphia Mint. The problem at the New Orleans Mint was resolved when a gas furnace was installed, and the employees were properly trained. One must keep in mind the first gas furnace was installed in the New Orleans mint in 1900 and until then the furnaces were run by wood or coal.
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Shortly after I found my VAM-23A, one of the first things I did was look at the VAM listing for VAM-23. I thought it would be cool if it could acquire the complete set. However, when I got to VAM-23C I knew there was a problem. The LVA plate photo showed a clashed VAM-23C, but it did not have the damage to the neck. I knew right then that the die progression was wrong. Keep this in mind, because later on in this post I will come back to this. This really peaked my interest and I decided to do my own study. The first thing I did was determine the proper starting point and that would be VAM-23 not VAM-23A. Next, I set out to see how hard it would be to acquire a VAM-23 as this would give me an idea on the possible mintage. I quickly found out it was not hard at all. I purchased one from E-bay and found one at my local coin gallery. Based on the availability of VAM-23 I settled on a possible mintage of 170,000 coins. JR, JB and Chris if we stop right here and think about this for a moment if this figure is even close it shoots a fatal blow to the possibility of a soft die being used to create a VAM-23A. Next, I started to look for VAM-23B. No problem here as I have six of them. When looking at a clashed VAM-23B one notices right away that there were two severe clashing events which resulted in a chunk of the jaw missing and very impressive clashing around the lips. Turn the reverse over and all you see is the faint clash N to IN from VAM-23A (same reverse die). Something is wrong here unless you consider the reverse die was switched out before the severe clashing events. Your first thought might be what? This, however, was a common practice. One must keep in mind that each mint only had a set number of dies to work with. To help back this up, just look at the photo below of the 1900-S Die Life and usage report. The first thing that jumps out at you is that most time there is no direct correspondence or 1 to 1 of each obverse die and each reverse die. They change all the time.
1900-S Die Life and Usage Report
On my VAM-23A post on page number four, Andy added two links of photos, one for the 1889-P VAM-23B and one for what turned out to become an 1889-P VAM-7A. Andy’s photos are excellent and are second to none. After I looked at the photos, I made the comment that the photos just blew the door off the hinges. It truly did because JR, JB and Chris this is another point that you missed. There is a problem with the VAM-7A and VAM-7B listing. Each of you missed a very important die marker. What you missed is the die marker for the polishing lines in the lower cap. This die marker is the same as the one for VAM-60. In short, the VAM-7B is the same as VAM-60. They are duplications and have been since 2014. Click on the photo above to confirm this. The first set of links is a LVA attributed VAM-7B the second set of links is a LVA attributed VAM-7A. LVA will soon be receiving a package to bring this to his attention
1889-P VAM-7B Obverse
1889-P VAM-7B Reverse
1889-P VAM-7A Obverse
1889-P VAM-7A Reverse
Finally, when one considers all the facts (lack of die cracks and mintage) in the VAM-23 series, a soft die would not have survived the VAM-23 mintage of 170,000 (or more), let alone two severe clashing events on VAM-23A and two severe clashing events of VAM-23B (total of 4 severe clashing events). In short, JR’s, JB’s and Chris’s theory is not backed up with factional information.