VAMs - What are VAMs?

1890-CC Morgan Silver Dollar Illustrating the Tail Bar Die Gouge VAM-4 [4 III2 3 C3d (Far Date, Tailbar Die gouge) (178) I-5 R-5]
1890-CC Morgan Silver Dollar Illustrating the Tail Bar Die Gouge VAM-4. Image Courtesy of: Heritage Auction Galleries,

Definition of VAM

A VAM is a Peace or Morgan silver dollar die variety that has been identified in an important book called The Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan and Peace Dollars by Leroy C. Van Allen and A. George Mallis. The term VAM derives from the first initials of Van Allen's and Mallis' last names. These two researchers noticed  small differences between coins produced in the same year at the same mint.

They began to  photograph and catalog  these differences in an effort to identify the different die varieties in the Morgan and Peace silver dollar series.

The great popularity of noting the many die varieties found, especially on Morgan Dollars, has led to the term VAM being used to describe practically any deviation from a "normal" Morgan or Peace silver dollar for that year and mint, such that people talk about having found a "VAM" when the variety they note hasn't even been assigned a VAM Number.

How Are VAMs Created?

Coins are created by striking a blank or planchet between two hard and metal coin dies. Due to the tremendous pressure and stress on the coin dies from each strike, the coin dies have a limited working life. Therefore, each mint facility uses multiple coin dies every year to produce the coins.

Die varieties can happen at two different times during the minting process. The first opportunity for a die variety is during the production process of the coin die.

Each coin die is manufactured from a coin hub that has an exact image of the coin. The coin hub is used to produce a coin die that is a mirror image of the coin design. Although the United States Mint strives to produce every coin perfectly, some minor errors or imperfections occur. These can be slight differences in the design or imperfections on the coin die itself.

The second opportunity to produce a die variety is during the maintenance of the coin die. During the production process mistakes can result in abnormal wear or slight damage to the coin die such as scratches or die cracks. Mint workers will try to prolong the life of the die by removing the error or damage through tooling or polishing the die before it is returned to production. 

Cataloging VAMs

Van Allen and Mallis' goal was to catalog every die variety of Morgan and Peace Silver dollars. In order to do this they created a cataloging system for each date and mintmark combination. Each die variety is numbered sequentially as it is discovered by coin collectors and researchers.

"VAM-1" is always assigned to the normal die state for a particular year and mint mark combination. As die varieties are discovered the number is increased sequentially. For example, VAM-2, VAM-3, etc. You may also notice  that letters are added to the end of the VAM designation  to indicate various die states. For example, a VAM may have been created in the production of the coin die which resulted in it being cataloged as VAM-5.

Subsequently a mint employee may have removed the die to perform maintenance on it and added another unique identifier to it. This would then be cataloged as VAM-5A for that particular year and mint mark combination.

Collecting VAM's

Coin collectors are sometimes driven by the "thrill of the hunt." VAM collectors strive to complete their collection with as many different die varieties as possible. Additionally, they may crave the recognition of discovering a new VAM.

See also

Example Usage

I love hunting for overlooked VAMs when I'm searching through the trays and boxes of Morgans at a coin show.

Edited by: James Bucki