21 S Thornhead overview
1921-S VAM-1B Thorn Head Series of VAMs VAM-1B1 through VAM-1B7
Discovered by Martin Field, October 1978. (PCGS MS # 134060 -- specific ones for each variety too)
These coins are Hit List 40 and a WOW! Morgan VAM.
1- Leroy Van Allen wrote an excellent article entitled "An Amazing Dollar Die" telling the story about the 1921-S VAM-1B dollar that has 5 distinct die states known as gouges appear and are polished off in multiple places! This story of these dies was unusual enough to warrant publication in the June 2003 edition of the ANA Numismatist Magazine (page 43). Since that article appeared, FIVE more die states have been found for a total of TEN unique states for this one die pair, with the most recent discovery being made in March 2011!
1- The obverse die of the 1921 S Morgan silver dollar variety VAM 1B, Thorn Head series underwent an amazing number of changes... At some point during this obverse die lifetime, it received two large die gouges at the top and back of the Phrygian cap plus two small die gouges. But that was just the beginning of a series of damages on this obverse die at the San Francisco Mint. Subsequent damage of the die added six more deep and large die gouges in the fields plus two more in the denticles. There are now nine known distinct die gouge states of this obverse die with various number and strengths of the twelve die gouges. And to cap it off, the reverse die also shows two significant die gouges with the last three obverse die gouge states!
2- All the VAM-1B coins share the same characteristic die gouge between the leaf and the cap. It is visible with the naked eye and is useful when checking a lot of coins while cherry-picking.
Click below for pictures of the specific VAM-1B stages:
1921-S VAM-1B Pre-Thornhead: (before the dies became gouged)
1921-S VAM-1B1: Die Gouge in Cap and back of cap, wheat leaf intact
1921-S VAM-1B2: Die Gouge in Cap, wheat leaf intact, back of cap gouge gone
1921-S VAM-1B3: Die gouge out of cap top extending right
1921-S VAM-1B3A: Wheat leaf polished away, gouge in cap
1921-S VAM-1B4: Wheat leaf polished away, gouge in cap, gouges in IB and NU
1921-S VAM-1B4a: Same as 1B4 but gouges polished down
1921-S VAM-1B4b: Same as 1B4a but new gouges in denticles at forth left and second right stars.
1921-S VAM-1B5: Gouge back of cap lower than 1B1, new above BU of PLURIBUS, gouge by 4th left star, VAM-1B4a gouges
1921-S VAM-1B6: Cap gouge only (most common die state)
1921-S VAM-1B7: Die gouge Y of LIBERTY
This is a diagram of the emission sequence of the Thornhead varieties, as well as those that can be traced back to die pairs that precede it.
LVA Plate Photos
There may exist an initial die stage of this VAM that has no gouges. If so, it might be best confirmed by scribbling scratches. Images of the scribbles on 1b4 and 1b4a examples are below: Note Initial Die state now known.
Rarity_ Popularity: PCGS recognized the thornhead series for its unique attributes and popularity and recognize it as one of the few non-top 100 / hot 50 coins they will attribute on the holder. They will not, however, recognize the individual die states. In terms of rarity, VAM-1B6 is the most common of the die states but still a hard coin to locate. After looking at thousands of coins, I think the 1B4 is the 2nd most common of the die stages after VAM-1B6. VAM-1B4a looks to be a close third in terms of availability (or perhaps second, my sample is too small). All other stages are REALLY tough. Two years ago I finally got a VAM-1B3, the actual thornhead, year after 3+ years of hunting. Two years later, it is till the only true thornhead I've found. NOTE PCGS now recognizes and will attribute all stages of the Thornhead series. They also have added a specialty set listing for Thornheads.
Since the June 2003 Numismatist article "An Amazing Dollar Die" few Thornheads have been authenicated.
The totals are as follows: