Weth Die study page
Summary as of 28 August 2013:
I believe that there are only three die pairs used in the production of business strike 1899 P dollars, being the VAM 2, VAM 5, and VAM 6. The late post-clash, post-polishing stage of VAM 2 removed the doubling over the second nine, and is considered both VAM 2A and for legacy reasons also VAM 1 die 1. The latter stage of VAM 6 had some die degradation on the lower reverse and is designated VAM 6A. Presented with an example of the 1899 O VAM 30, LVA decided the original 1899 P VAM 4 was actually an 1899 O VAM 30 with the mintmark removed:
I continue to solicit for an example of a clashed, unpolished VAM 2, or any other example that doesn’t appear to conform to the die characteristics noted. Thank you for any assistance that you can provide! The story of my original search toward the current state of affairs is below
27 March 2013
My initial interest in the 1899p as a newbie Morgan collector was entirely due to their rarity; with a reported mintage of only 330,000 coins, it’s close to the lowest mintage of all of the Morgan dollar business strikes. Clearly several bags must have escaped the Pittman melt, lurking in some vault somewhere, though, as nice uncirculated examples aren’t all that scare. Still, there is allure in owning a nice yet affordable Morgan with a mintage so low.
As my interest in VAMs grew, I started to look at the 1899p examples I had to see what variety they might be. Since all of the six VAM designations pertain to the date, this is the only area of the coin photographed in the book and used for attribution. As the doubling of the digits was somewhat slight and, depending on the strike, the difference between an open an closed 9 subtle, I did a lot of “look at the coin, look at the photos in the book, look at the coin, look at the photos in the book, wonder why there were no photos of VAM 1 or VAM 3, look at the coin, decide to set the coin aside and look at it later.”
To a large degree, the 1899p die varieties suffer from simplicity and similarity. Simplicity, in that other than the minor doubling variations in the date, there is no discernable doubling, die cracking, gouges, or other prominent features to speak of on any of the dies. Similarity, in that other than the date description, all of the coins could be listed as “no significant doubling on either obverse or reverse, die polishing lines in LIBERTY, around cotton bolls, in lower hair and on neck; reverse die polishing lines next to eagle’s neck-wing gap, in tail feathers, and around wreath”. If it weren’t from a little bit of reverse die damage late in the VAM 6, perhaps the whole series would be a bust. As it is, a VAMmer could be forgiven if their 1899p prospecting strategy was to look at the reverse and if there wasn’t any damage around the DO of DOLLAR, set the coin down and move on.
After a time, though, I got better at consistently identifying the VAM 2, VAM 5, and VAM 6. More recently I decided to really pursue the study of these varieties and codify pertinent identification points on the dies. Did any of the dies other than VAM 6 age or evolve in any appreciable way? What about VAMs 1, 3, and 4?
Other than the date area, a prominent area of differentiation turned out to be the die scratches in LIBERTY. All three VAMs had clearly differentiated patterns of these filing lines:
VAM 2 has a pronounced die filing line running down the right side of the T, also a set of gouges going from the top of B to above the E:
VAM 5 has a pronounced die filing line on the left side of the Y:
VAM 6 has a set of parallel lines at the very base of the Y:
Also, the patterns of die filing lines in the central hair whorl were distinctive:
VAM 2 has two lines forming a V to the left side of the recess:
VAM 5 has a cross-hatch of lines, forming something resembling an M in the recess:
VAM 6 has vertical filing lines across the entire recess:
5 April 2013
In checking out any and all 1899p examples I can find, I keep coming across VAMs 2, 5, and 6, in roughly 2:1:4 proportions, the VAM 6 most common, VAM 5 least. Finally, I come across what must be a VAM 1! Both 9s are clearly open (so it’s not a VAM 6), and it doesn’t show any appreciable doubling of the date as is normal for both the VAM 2 and VAM 5:
But wait – there’s a gouge above the E in LIBERTY:
…and there’s that V set to the left in the hair whorl:
What’s going on here? Other than the date, all of the markers match the VAM 2. The telling, critical difference is at the neck:
Aha, a faint clash mark! And the fields are prooflike. Perhaps the dies clashed and were polished, and in the process the doubling of the second 9 was removed. So it’s not just the VAM 6 that has an interesting late die state, the VAM 2 does as well. I have yet to find an unpolished, clashed VAM 2, but remain on the hunt. The clash looks weak enough that even without polishing, there is likely any chance of letter transfer.
It’s somewhat easy to dismiss both VAM 1 and VAM 3 as possibly being other dies; I find it telling that Mr. Van Allen didn’t include any plate photos in the encyclopedia for either of these two. The original VAM 1 specimen might have actually been a late die VAM 2, and the original VAM 3 might have been a poorly struck VAM 6. It’s much less easy to dismiss the VAM 4, though, given that there’s a plate photo staring back from the encyclopedia. What’s suspicious about it, though, is that there is a die crack leading up to the left side of the 1 in the date. As noted above, there just weren’t any die cracks in any of the 1899p dies. What’s going on here?
I begin to consider the possibility that perhaps the 1899p VAM 4 wasn’t actually an 1899p. Due to its scarcity, the 1899p has always had a premium over more common strikes such as the, say, 1899o. Whereas the addition or alteration of a mintmark takes some skill, the removal of a mintmark might be an easier and attractive option for lucrative deception. Or perhaps, to be more generous, one notes that the mint does often have strike-through errors, such that the mintmark may have been occluded in the minting process. Either way, might there be an identified 1899o that matches the photo of the 1899p VAM 4?
Turns out there is – the 1899o VAM 30 has the doubling in both the 8 and first 9, as well as a die crack running into the date:
Much thanks to Metalencephalon for his help in locating a physical example that closely matches that of the 1899p VAM 4 photo! The 1899o VAM 30 die also progressed such that the crack in the date grew and expanded further than is shown above.
11 April 2013
Having presented my case to Mr. Van Allen, I’m pleased to report that he has established the following plate photos as additional die markers for VAMs 2, 5 and 6, for both obverse and reverse:
Again, I would very, very much appreciate the opportunity to examine a clashed, unpolished VAM 2, or any other 1899-P you might have that doesn’t appear to conform to these noted attribution points. Thank you! - weth