1879-O VAM-4 O/Horizontal O Mint mark
Discovered by A.G. Heins, April 1967.
This coin is a Top 100 Morgan VAM.
4(revised) III2 4 • C3c (O/O Horizontal, Doubled 9 and Left Reverse) (176) I-3 R-5
Obverse III2 4 – Upper loop of 9 in date strongly doubled on left outside.
Reverse C3c – Medium II O centered mint mark over horizontal O with horizontal bars at top and bottom inside. Possibly triple O with first two punches high and low. Hub doubling of left reverse same as 1878 P C3b reverse with doubling of UNITED STATES bottom inside (strong doubling on inside of U), I of In at top, top right edge of eagle’s right wing and left edge of some leaves in left wreath.
1. This reverse shared with VAM-4 and VAM-28.
2. Note this article originally appeared in VAMview Magazine _ by Rob Joyce
In 1879, the New Orleans mint struck Morgan dollars with an unusual mintmark feature, making this particular coin highly desirable and collectable today. The working dies used to create these dollars had the mintmarks hand stamped into them before the final hardening process. This manual creation process led to the formation of many interesting varieties. Some Morgans have their mintmarks set high. Other mintmarks are set low or tilted. In the instance of this 1879-O variety, the mintmark was punched over another version of the mintmark creating an interesting underlying marker [Figure 1].
LVA Plate Photos:
One theory is that the first mint mark was punched in the correct position on the reverse, but was stamped horizontally instead of vertically. When the engraver realized this sideways error, they apparently repunched another O over the first one, this time orienting it correctly. If this is indeed a horizontal mint mark example, this variety is the only known O/Horizontal O reverse in the Morgan dollar series. The only other mintmark known to have been oriented horizontally is the 1895-S VAM-4. Both of these rotated mintmark coins were chosen by Fey and Oxman to be part of the Top 100 VAM Keys and are highly sought after for their uniqueness and rarity.
[Figure 2] illustrates the orientation of the horizontal mint mark theory. The two mintmarks are shown as they overlap each other. Highlighted with red inside the vertical mintmark are the remains of the horizontal O as it was intersected by the second punch. It is an amazing feature that draws the attention of VAM specialists.
An alternate theory is that the final mint mark was actually placed over two other mint marks, one punched too low and another punched too high. If you examine [Figure 1] you can notice that the underlying marks actually have a curvature like the bottom or the top of an O. The author considers this O over O over O explanation [Figure 3] the most likely justification for the artifacts inside the mint mark.
In April 1967 A.G. Heins discovered this peculiar mint mark and VAM-4 was assigned as an O over horizontal O variety (sometimes referred to as O/O). The unique feature is enough of an oddity to make the coin desirable but in 1997, a sharp-eyed Kyle Aber examined the obverse of an 1879 O/O and noticed it was different from others he had seen, identifying an even more sought after variety. It turns out the repunched mint mark reverse die was mated with two different obverses over its lifetime. Leroy Van Allen assigned VAM-28 to the new obverse. The VAM-28, in addition to the repunched O, has doubling of the middle digits of the date. The 8 is doubled on lower outside of the lower loop and the 7 is strongly doubled on entire right side of vertical stem [Figure 4].
In 2004, Jack Lee also noted that on VAM-4 the last digit of the date, a 9, is doubled on the upper left side outside of the loop [Figure 5] and there is a die chip under the upper crossbar of the 1 [Figure 6].
Sometimes looking for the doubling can be difficult, so faint die cracks can also be used as fingerprints to differentiate the two dies. VAM-4 has a die crack that runs from the first left star through the neck and over the date [Figure 7].
VAM-28 has a die crack running through the date and a chip on the 9 [Figure 8].
On some specimens, the VAM-28 die crack is very faint, seen only near the left side of the 7, if at all. In terms of relative rarity, VAM-28 is much, much tougher to locate than the already hard-to-find VAM-4. For example as of May 2005, NGC had certified thirty-five 1879 O/O VAM-4s, while only three 1879 O/O VAM-28 coins had been slabbed. At ANACS in October 2004, forty-six VAM-4 examples were holdered and only two VAM-28 varieties were attributed. Both coins are rare, with a population smaller than the number of VAM collectors in the market! It does appear that the VAM-28 die paring is at least ten or twenty times rarer than coins with the VAM-4 die paring. This is one tough coin to cherry pick or even purchase. Check your VAM collection. Since the popular Top-100 VAM Keys book was written before the VAM-28 discovery, the identification page only shows the reverse mint-mark feature. VAM-28s have been discovered labeled or even certified as VAM-4s. Given that many of the VAM-4s have been rechecked for VAM-28 features and that a VAM-28 is more likely to be certified and included in the population report due to its known scarcity, the relative rarity estimates between the two varieties is probably a reasonable approximation. Pricing: The VAM-28 is extraordinarily more difficulty to find than the VAM-4. The market reflects this and in public sales of these coins, the price skyrockets. There also appears to be a larger AU population than mint state example coins in both VAMs. Notice in the price history below uncertified AU VAM-28 coin sold for less than half the certified example. This is probably due to the concern that the coin was not attributed properly or had problems that would keep it from being certified.
Now that you have the facts, go out and cherry pick yourself an ultra-rare VAM-28!
VAM-4 and VAM-28 have different Obverses.
VAM-4 has the 9 doubled in upper loop on left side outside of loop.
VAM-28 - Doubled 87 in date; 8 doubled on lower outside, right side of 7 strongly doubled on entire right side of stem.
Full Coin Photos
Large Full Coin Copyrighted© VAM-4 Images on loan to VAMworld courtesy ©[Heritage Auctions] ATTRIBUTED BY John Roberts at ANACS
- The Top 100 Morgan Dollar Varieties: The VAM Keys Copyright 2009 RCI. With permission from the authors Michael S. Fey, Ph.D., [http://www.rcicoins.com], and Jeff Oxman, [http://www.vamlink.com]