Where can I get a VAM attributed?
So, you have a Morgan or Peace dollar with an interesting feature and you would like to attribute the variety.
First, from all of us at VAMworld.com...we congratulate and thank you for noticing your coin's feature and taking the time to investigate it. Welcome to our obsession.
Now, you have two choices as to who will attribute your coin's VAM, or lack thereof.
1) Someone else can do it.
2) You can do it.
We recommend you take choice number two, and we hope that the attribution process will enchant you enough to attribute another coin, and then another. First, you need the right tools...
1) Good loupe (at least 10x power)
2) Good light
3) Reference materials
For reference materials, you basically need access to as many lists, descriptions, and photos of die varieties that you can get your hands on. A great starting point is the Comprehensive Encyclopedia by Van Allen and Mallis. If you do not have this volume, known commonly as the "VAM book," it is likely that a coin friend or a local dealer has it. The Comprehensive Encyclopedia lists every cataloged Morgan and Peace dollar die variety up to its date of publication. Now, that said, there have been many VAMs listed since the last publication. Leroy Van Allen produces an annual publication of new varieties, and if you purchase and/or have access to those, you will be up to date.
VAMworld itself is a wonderful resource as well. While information listed on this site for each VAM is not 100% "official", as with the Van Allen listings, VAMworld VAM pages are often very thorough, including multiple photos and VAMmer comments.
There are still additional levels of resources. These include specialty books such as the Top 100 Morgan book, Hot 50 Morgan book, Top 50 Peace varieties book, 1878 8TF Attribution Guide, 1878 7/8 TF Attribution Guide, Super Clashed varieties guide, and 1921-D Morgan book. There is also attribution software available for the 1878 8TF, 1878 7TF, 1879-S Reverse of '78, Top 100 Morgan Dollars, and Hot 50 Morgan Dollars, Hit List 40 Morgan Dollars, and Top 50 Peace Dollars. This software series, known as Attribution Wizards, was developed by Jeff Oxman and John Baumgart. Periodical publications include past issues of VAMview Quarterly and Top 100 Insights, as well as currently published materials, some available to all, and some available to members of the Society of Silver Dollar Collectors (the SSDC). Using these specialized resources will be very "hit and miss" for a first-time attributor, but you will learn a lot in the process and see many interesting varieties.
Still no attribution? No problem. It's now time to get someone else involved. We recommend one of these courses of action:
1) Follow the VAMworld.com guidelines for determining if you have a new variety.
2) Send your coin to a grading service that will attribute any known VAM variety. For a fee, these services will investigate your coin and use all of their resources, including superior viewing equipment, to attribute a VAM number.
3) Send your coin to [Variety Slabbing Service]. For a nominal fee, VSS will attribute any Morgan or Peace dollar VAM, photograph the main pick-up point, and put it in a Coin World slab annotated with the variety number and description, as well as the main pick-up point as it appears on your coin. Coins already in a third-party grading service holder will remain in the holder and have a sticker affixed to the back. Variety Slabbing Service is not a grading service.
One piece of advice regarding grading service VAM attribution...while the better grading services are usually correct with their attributions, they do sometimes make mistakes and misattribute a coin. All of us at VAMworld.com have seen this. Actually, we see many many more misattributions in coin dealer cases and on online auctions, but that is a separate issue.
We hope that your Sherlock Holmes work pays off and that you solve your mystery coin. Since you likely have multiple Morgan or Peace dollars in your portfolio, you may just find a real dandy! If so, you will quickly know the allure of VAMming!