Buying VAMs Online
Buying VAMs Online – The Dos and the Don’ts
The internet is often a fine market through which to buy or sell VAMs. Since the VAM segment is very specialized, often an online venue is the best place to put a VAM in front of enough enthusiasts to fetch the price the coin deserves.
There are many articles detailing the perils of buying coins in cyberspace. We all want to dodge shady dealers, overgraded and problem coins, and buyers and sellers with feedback issues. You do not need to be fearful of buying VAMs online, just don't proceed haphazardly.
These guidelines and red flags are only meant to help the reader, and by no means are any of them a guarantee of a good buy or a bad buy. Other VAMworld contributors can feel free to add their own tips.
Don’t assume that all sellers attribute their VAMs accurately. This may be the biggest peril in online VAMming. Many sellers exclusively use the Top 100 book to attribute VAMs, and if anything in the photo resembles their coin, they think they have a Top 100 VAM.
For example, some sellers, either willfully or negligently, assign a VAM number to their coin based on either the obverse or reverse photo in the book. As we know, sometimes both are required to create the rare VAM.
The best example is the King 1878-P VAM-44. If you find a 7/8 TF Morgan with the reverse of the 1878-P VAM-44, there is a very very slim chance the coin is the 1878-P VAM-44. Most likely it is the 1878-P VAM-33, which is quite common for a 7/8 TF. Of course, you have to have the tripled blossom obverse. Be sure to make sure that the “Kingslinger” indeed has matched both sides of his coin to the photo. But even if he thinks he has done so, he still may have made a mistake.
The 1878-P VAM-15 shows doubled obverse Liberty. However, many other 8tf VAMs have some degree of doubling of LIBERTY. The exact 1878-P VAM-15 obverse (with the exact type of LIBERTY doubling) and exact 1878-P VAM-15 reverse must be matched, not just the obverse or reverse individually.
A good indicator that a seller has the attribution correct is to check his or her feedback or other stock. If this person is trading a lot of VAMs, they may likely know what they are doing. This of course is not a guarantee, nor does it mean that lack of VAM trading means a bad attribution. It is merely a potential indicator.
All in all, if you have any doubts, proceed with caution, and you would be wise to learn if the seller is reputable and/or will accept a return for a misattribution.
Don’t assume that all slabbing companies attribute their VAMs accurately. Most of the established and well-respected grading companies do a great job, but even they can make mistakes. There are a few VAMs that are more commonly misattributed than others. Some companies guarantee VAM attribution, while others do not. This author will list VAMs that he has seen or heard of (reliably) as being misattributed very occasionally by slabbing companies:
1878-P VAM-20 (a tougher 8tf to pinpoint. Can be mistaken for VAM-18, VAM-19, or VAM-21 if the attributor is not careful)
1921-D VAM-1B (sometimes confused with the similar 1921-D VAM-8A, which is not a Hot 50 VAM)
Sometimes the slabbing company will not recognize all of the suffixes/die states of a VAM and will label all later die states under the heading of the main VAM number. Some examples of this phenomenon occur with the 1878-P VAM-41 7/8tf, which includes -A, -B, and -C varieties. 1900-O/CC VAM-8 varieties include -A and -B, with the -B having great clashing. There are a handful of others.
Also, some companies do not keep up with changes in VAM numbers, so you may have to know your VAM number history. This sometimes happens with Top 100 VAMs. Some of the Top 100 VAMs that have changed VAM number since the original publication are:
1880-O VAM-48 Hangnail Eagle (used to be VAM-1A)
1880-O VAM-49 Hangnail with overdate (used to be VAM-6B)
1886-P VAM-21 (used to be VAM-1B)
1889-P Barwing VAMs (VAM-5A used to be used)
1892-O VAM-5 (used to be VAM-7)
1921-P VAM-41 Pitted Reverse (used to be VAM-1A and is now 1921-P VAM-41A & 1921-P VAM-41B) The revised VAM-41 is not a Top 100 pitted reverse.
As with every other entry on this page...know your seller's return policies and the slabbing service's level of attribution guarantee.
Don’t assume that just because it’s a VAM, it’s rare. Every Morgan and Peace dollar either is a VAM or should be a VAM, regardless of rarity. Sellers who say “hey, this Morgan may be a VAM” might not know much about VAMs.
For example, an 1880-O Micro “o” may be one of many different VAMs, but just having a micro “o” does not itself make the 1880-O coin scarce. It does for the 1896, 1899, 1900, 1901, and 1902 micro “o” ‘s, but not the 1880-O. Some sellers will think there is crossover in micro “o” rarity and value, but that’s just not always the case.
Also, just because a VAM is a Top-100 or Hot-50 doesn’t make it rare or pricey. It may be fun and interesting, but not necessarily uncommon. The best example of this is the 1887-P VAM-12 Alligator Eye. It’s a neat variety, especially the 1887-P VAM-12A with the clashed lettering. But it’s not rare. Thousands have been discovered and slabbed. Only the much higher graded 1887-P VAM-12 examples really need to carry a significant premium at this point in the VAM trading world.
You will sometimes see the more "common" 1878 8 tailfeather varieties advertised as rare as well. This often occurs if they are in a slab that happens to include the VAM number. The seller may assume or simply make a careless (or opportunistic) statement about scarcity. Of course, there are many ultra-rare 8 tail feather VAMs, but many are common, even in higher grades. Be sure to research, or better yet learn your 8tf VAMs so you'll know what you're buying.
In general, before you purchase, check the rarity factor if you are unsure. Consult a few price guides. Even some scarce VAMs are not worth any premium because, frankly, they are not that interesting and demand from VAMmers is quite low.
Here is a list of coins that are often marketed as "rare" that are in general quite common (except perhaps for the highest conditions known, varies by VAM):
1880-O Micro O
1887-P Alligator Eye
1891-CC Spitting Eagle
1921-D Micro D (they are all micro "D")
1921-S Micro S (they are all micro "S")
Don’t take a “value” from any one price guide as the end-all be-all value. Relative to the rest of the popular coin market, not many VAMs exchange hands regularly, and many of those exchanges are not recorded or recognized. There is often great variation in sales prices for VAMs based on raw vs. certified, and then again depending on which company did the slabbing. Understand that any price guide is just a “guide.” It may provide good information, but the more information you have from the more sources, the better armed you will be to make the right purchase at the right price.
Don’t trust all online photos. Very often digital photos online have been shrunk from larger digital photos. In the reduction, something is lost, and the end result may be an image that looks like an interesting VAM, but when you get the coin you find the feature you sought was just a mirage. Of course, sometimes the feature was not a mirage, and you end up with a great VAM at often common price. Just be careful, that’s all.
Do be polite when asking questions to a seller about VAM features. If you cherrypick a rare VAM online from a dealer, please do not taunt them. If a seller emails you a larger photo of a coin at your request, please consider thanking them, regardless of whether you like what you see in the photo.
Many collectors and dealers are wary of VAMmers because they don’t like the idea that they may sell diamonds for peanuts. It’s up to all of us represent our segment of the hobby honorably and courteously. If not, we’ll end up with too many stockblockers, and none of us need that.
Do understand that you will both enjoy victories and suffer defeats. This goes for VAMming and coin collecting as a whole. You will overpay for VAMs sometimes. You will buy “original” coins that arrive with problems. You will auction what you think is a great coin and get much less than the guide says you should.
However – you will also buy scarce VAMs at common prices. You will take a risk (a "VAMble") on a raw coin and sometimes get back a real winner. You will perhaps sell a VAM for which the one person in the world who would at that time pay the most for your VAM happens to find it, and you’ll get more than you expected for it. If you can’t take the defeats with the victories, you probably need to find a more predictable hobby. But without the lows, we would not appreciate the highs.
Do keep in mind that “Knowledge is King.” Seasoned VAMmers recognize this as Michael Fey’s anthem. It’s a good one. Whether online or offline, knowledge and experience will help you minimize your VAMming lows and maximize the highs. You’ll never hit 100% highs, but if VAMming were that easy, everyone would do it and it might lose its luster.