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Why Collect 1878-P VAMs?

For the silver dollar variety specialist, 1878 coinage is to VAM collecting what Beethoven is to music or Picasso is to the art world. All represent the absolute pinnacle of their respective fields! Fast forward into today's culture, any kid with a basketball and size 15 sneakers knows that Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of the 1990's were the best of the best! And so it is in numismatics with Morgan dollars dated 1878-P!

No area of VAM collecting receives as much fanatical devotion from variety enthusiasts as 1878-P Morgans. And there's good reason. They have rarity, desirability, and lots of history, not to mention some of the most dramatic variety features found on any date in ANY U.S. coin series. The right 78-P's are worth big premiums. And even the wrong ones, that is, the few that can be considered common, tend to be highly liquid in the marketplace. Today, 1878-P's are what investment market traders would call a "hot commodity"!

Now, having entered a new millenium, it seems that everybody is hoarding 1878-P dollars. Prices have escalated to the point that key varieties are now worth multiples of what they were worth just three years ago. And the supply has all but dried up. Don't believe me? Then try to fill even the simplest "want list" at the shop of a local dealer or at a major coin show. An entire day spent searching through dealer inventories may not produce even one significant 1878-P variety. Why? Dealer's stocks have often been picked clean by a virtual army of VAM specialists who congregate at coin shops or assemble on the first day of the convention, and fan out over the bourse floor. In either case, their mission is to cherry-pick every available 1878-P Morgan. And the result is that the competition for these first-year cartwheels is intense.

There are a number of reasons why 1878 dated silver dollars enjoy the enormous popularity that they currently do. The first involves the large number of different die pairs used at the Philadelphia Mint in 1878. Consider this: 41 different 8-TF varieties are now known. Add to that the 16 7/8-TF VAMs and the more than 75 different 7-TF varieties catalogued in the VAM book, and it's clear that a exceedingly large number of die pairs were employed. And more varieties are being discovered all the time. And each one represents a prime target on the "Hit Lists" of thousands of VAM collectors!

Furthermore, it's not just the large numbers of dies that cause the VAM enthusiast's heart to pound and his blood to race. In early 1878 the actual number of coins struck from each die was among the lowest of the entire Morgan dollar series! Indeed, the Philadelphia Mint was having such a difficult time ramping up to the huge production of silver dollars mandated by the Bland-Allison Act that it's safe to say that just about everything that could go wrong, did. Yes, Murphy's Law was in full effect even back in 1878!

Beginning with the first month of production, Mint personnel were under pressure to produce $2 million per month in silver dollars. This was an almost unreachable production goal, when one considers the fact that in the preceding regular silver dollar series, the Liberty Seated type of 1840 to 1873, the greatest mintage for any one entire year was slightly over one million. This amounted to about two weeks of work under the new regime! Complicating the matter, dies unexpectedly broke after only minimal use in the coin presses, and equipment became notorious for malfunctioning. Mix in the fact that the Morgan dollar was an entirely new design that initially had unknown striking characteristics, and the result was extraordinarily low production figures for many of the dies. How low? In some cases production from a given die may have numbered less than a thousand! In other cases, twenty thousand Morgan dollars were struck from a single die pair. This compares with the fifty to one hundred thousand normally expected! Is it any wonder why so many different dies had to be used in 1878?

The Quest for VAMs

What are VAM collectors looking for in 1878-P coinage? For most specialists, doubled images (more properly known as "doubled dies") are at the top of the list! In fact, it is a rarity to find ANY 1878-P dollar that doesn't exhibit significant doubling of the design. It seems that to expedite the manufacture of the dies in 1878, it was necessary to piece together the design features on the individual hubs that were ultimately used to transfer the images onto the dies. The result was that the designs on 1878 coinage show more extreme doubling than any other year of U.S. Mint production. True, it may have been discouraging for Mint personnel in early 1878, but the results are pure joy to collectors, today!

Adding to this allure is the actual beauty of these pieces. Because the 8-TF varieties were struck in somewhat higher relief than later mintages, the detail of Morgan's design is better showcased. Hence, the "look" of a high-grade 8-TF coin can takes one breath away. And since the dies tended to last such a short time in the coin presses, "early strikes" are frequently encountered. Want proof-likes? The brief production run for many of the 8-TF insured that there would be an abundance of proof-like specimens. For connosieurs in the hobby, such proof-likes represent the absolute epitome of the engraver's art!

Many collectors find the quest for VAMs leading them down the trail of 1878-P varieties. Their beauty, history and desirability, as well as the spectacular die features they exhibit, are without equal in the Morgan dollar series. In short, they are fascinating to collect and exciting to find. And if true rarity is the spark that fans the flame of your interest in the coin hobby, there are numerous 1878-P varieties that fit the bill. Did you know that at least half of the forty-one known 8-TF VAMs are rare or ultra-rare! The famous "King of VAMs" is a rare tripled die 1878 7/8-TF variety (VAM 44). And the 1878 7-TF ranks are liberally sprinkled with unappreciated rarities. Looking for excitement? Finding even one 8-TF ultra-rarity is a hallmark event and a cause for celebration. And as time goes by, more and more collectors who enjoy the thrill of the hunt will join the quest for 1878-P Morgan dollars!

Written by: Jeff Oxman .. Last Revision: June 2005 .. All Rights Reserved .. Used by Permission