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Die Breaks in the Peace Dollar TOP 50

There’s no question about it. Research has become the fuel that ignites the interest of collectors in our segment of the hobby, today. Behind the scenes, there is considerable research now going on in VAM collecting, and the detailed study of clashed dies is but one example of an old area finding new life (and a lot of excitement!) in today’s market as a result of continuing research.

There is another research-driven opportunity that’s starting to catch fire, and it is the study of die progressions. In particular die break sequences, which have enjoyed only limited popularity since the early days of VAM collecting, have now blossomed into a “red hot” area of numismatics. This is especially so in the case of the Peace dollar series, where much of the attention is focused on die break varieties. Be advised, if you think that such complex research is only for those stalwart few who study astrophysics in their spare time, or worse yet, peruse the U.S. Tax Code as light night-time reading, you’d be wrong! Already the siren’s call has attracted numerous VAM collectors to Peace dollar die breaks. In fact, many of the most expensive VAMs in the Peace dollar TOP 50 are now the die break varieties.

There are a couple of important reasons for studying die break progressions. First, die breaks tend to occur at the end of the life cycle of the die, so that they are most often produced in very limited numbers. And since rarity is the mantra of most collectibles, including numismatic items, die break varieties are generally quite desirable.

Secondly, the rarity of most die breaks also translates into high values in the marketplace. For instance, in the Morgan dollar series the 1888-O VAM 1B die break variety is worth upwards of $2500 in MS62, whereas its non-variety counterpart is readily obtainable for $35. Needless to say, die breaks can be a cherry-picker’s dream!

Well, this fascination for die breaks is even more the case in the Peace dollar series. A 1922-P in MS60 condition might bring about $15, but a 22-P VAM 1F “Field Break” variety in the same grade is listed in the Top 50 Peace dollar Value Guide with a value of $500! Finding such a variety would certainly make your week! So, specialists have a keen appreciation for die break specimens for their tremendous premiums.

But there is also a third reason to study Peace dollar die breaks. If varieties such as the 1922-P VAM 1F are worth thirty or forty times as much as comparable non-variety specimens of the same date, then it is imperative to know at what point in the die progression the die break is strong enough to warrant this kind of premium. And that is precisely the impetus of some new research that’s being conducted by this writer and several others now.

Put another way, the question is this: At what point in the life of a particular die pair is the late die state variety worthy of the spectacular premiums listed in the SSDC Value Guide? Consider for a moment the 1922-P VAM 2E “Wing Break” variety. Thus far it has been possible to isolate six different stages in the life of this die pair. The first stage is the original die state of this obverse and reverse when first used in the coining press. Initially, there are no die cracks, die breaks or other significant variety features. The second stage is identifiable by the horizontal die crack on the obverse and the clashed die feature on the eagle’s wing on the reverse. The third stage shows a tiny die crack at the back of the eagle’s wing with a small displacement of metal at the center. This die crack then becomes a dramatic die break in the fourth stage. And the break continues to expand in the fifth and sixth stages. All are documented. Now, back to our original question: In this continuum, when does the 1922-P VAM 2E die pair become the heavy premium die break variety?

Stage one is unidentifiable, so of course, it has no premium value. Stage two can be identified as this die pair by the diagnostic die crack on the obverse. But the reverse does not show even a hint of a die break, and therefore most would agree that it deserves little or no premium. Indeed, how could it be the “Wing Break” variety with no wing break? The third stage is characterized by a small die break appearing near the center of the die crack on the eagle’s wing. So it may be worth a small to moderate premium. Yet, it is still not the wing break for which this variety is named. That said, the die break on the eagle’s wing in the fourth stage has now developed to the point that there is considerable displacement of metal, creating what we all agree is the “Wing Break” variety.

So, in the case of the 22-P VAM 2E, it might be prudent to buy stages one and two at the non-variety price, and stage three at a small premium. Finally, stages four, five and six would certainly be worthy of the full premium value listed for the VAM 2E.

Such evaluations are important for each of the TOP 50 die break varieties, because we have all seen stage one or stage two specimens offered on Ebay for the full variety price. Yet knowledge is power. The idea here is that members of the SSDC, armed with information as to the various stages of each Peace dollar die break variety, will make informed decisions as to how much to pay for a particular specimen. So, the next time you encounter a Peace dollar die break, consider the stage of the die break, as well as the attribution itself, in coming up with a value. Looking ahead, I believe that such determinations will be increasingly important in the future, particularly when it’s time to sell your collection.

Article written by Jeff Oxman. Last Updated: May 2006 ... All rights Reserved