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1895 - A Magic Year for Morgan Dollar Collectors

The year "1895" holds a particular fascination for silver dollar enthusiasts. First and foremost, the whereabouts of all twelve thousand business strikes produced at the Philadelphia Mint remains shrouded in mystery. Yes, rumors of circulated specimens are occasionally heard, but none has ever been confirmed. So what happened? Speculation centers around the possibility that all twelve bags of 1895-P dollars, along with about 270,000,000 other silver dollars, were melted under the auspices of the Pittman Act in 1918. But whatever the case, the bottom line is that collectors who seek an 1895-P specimen to complete their Morgan dollar collections must now look to the limited number of 1895 Proofs that have survived from the original mintage of 880. Fortunately for variety specialists, all the Proofs were struck from the same die, so there's no demand from VAM collectors for Proof specimens. Whew!

It's much the same story for the 1895-O. The 1895 New Orleans product, with an original mintage of only 450,000, has long been considered a major rarity, especially in high Mint State grades. It was one of the featured highlights in the legendary Wayne Miller collection, which was auctioned by Superior Galleries way back in 1986 in what seems like the Pliocene age of coin collecting. Talk about incredible! This "wonder coin" fetched $70,000 and is still a vivid memory to the collectors who viewed it. Yet, few 1895-O die varieties are known to exist. Less than five pairs of dies where required to strike the entire 1895-O mintage, and only one minor variety, a repunched date, is worth noting. This variety, which features doubling across the top of the "5" in the date, is commonly encountered, and currently does not carry a premium.

But the story changes when we get to the 1895-S. The San Francisco counterpart to the 1895-O is also considered a "key" date in terms of rarity and value, and boasts an even smaller mintage - a mere 400,000. Again, four or five die pairs were used, but here, two very significant repunched mintmark varieties were produced - the "S/S" VAM 3 and the "S/Horizontal S" VAM 4. The 1895-S VAM 3 exhibits one of the largest shifts of an "S" mintmark in the entire Morgan dollar series, and as such, is of great interest to specialists. In fact, it was recently designated as part of the SSDC "Hot 50", a list of fifty Morgan dollar VAMs that represent the most exciting and desirable varieties not originally included in the ground-breaking "Top 100". And the VAM 3 "S/S" was at the top of this new list! How rare is it? To begin with, the 1895-S as a date is so infrequently encountered by most collectors that by any standards, even the most common 1895-S variety would be considered rare. But the fact is this -- the "S/S" VAM 3 seldom comes to light, even among 1895-S specimens! Six or seven Mint State specimens are known, with the finest grading only MS62. And as far as we know, there have been no proof-like specimens reported.

The second 1895-S variety, the "S/Horizontal S" VAM 4, was a stunning discovery in 1979, when it was first realized that the markings around the "S" mintmark were actually the remains of another "S", inadvertently struck sideways into the die. How could this happen? Your guess is as good as the experts! But the attempt to efface the original "S" mintmark from the die face was only partially successful, much to the delight of modern-day specialists. Adding to its allure, the 1895-S VAM 4 is the only known example of a repunched "S/Horizontal S" mintmark in any U.S. silver dollar series.

Mintmark blunders of varying kinds and degrees were almost commonplace in the Morgan dollar series, as a consequence of the huge production quotas mandated by the Bland-Allison Act. It is probable, for example, that dramatic repunched mintmarks were originally created by engravers in numbers far greater than is presently known, but most were corrected so that little or no evidence remained on the die. After all, considering the sheer numbers of dies involved, as well as the difficulty in positioning a tiny mintmark on the face of the die, mintmark errors would not be unexpected. However, the "S/Horizontal S" variety is a highly unusual case. Punching a mintmark into the die exactly 90 degrees from its intended upright position would not be a common occurrence. And the fact that a few tell-tale marks remained as clues to the blunder, itself, would be even less likely for an error this dramatic.

Most prominent of the diagnostic features used to identify the VAM 4 is a triangle of raised metal visible above and to the left of the "S" mintmark. This triangular shape is thought to be the tip of the "S" facing upwards. There is also a thin diagonal line running through the center of the "S", which represents the center crossbar of the horizontally positioned "S". Also worth mentioning is the repunched "9" in the date, where the top left inside of the upper loop is doubled. This obverse feature is important for diagnostic reasons, as it serves to distinguish the VAM 4 from other 1895-S varieties. In terms of value, the VAM 4 is a heavy premium variety in all grades. But because 1895-S coins are so expensive as a date, it's natural that nice XF and AU specimens are in the greatest demand. A word to the wise…

Presently, few mainstream silver dollar collectors are aware of either the 1895-S/S or the 1895-S/Horizontal S varieties. In particular the 1895-S/S VAM 3 is currently considered one of the top VAM "sleepers" of the series! But all that may change with the anticipated release of a book later this year, entitled The "Hot 50" Morgan Dollar Attribution Guide, which will showcase the 1895-S/S VAM 3. It's been said that it's always best to get on board before the train leaves the station, and for the astute collector, that's precisely what makes the 1895-S/S variety such a worthwhile target for cherry-picking…now!

Editor's Note: This article was used by permission from the Society of Silver Dollar Collectors. P.O. Box 2123, North Hills, CA 91393. Written by: Jeff Oxman. Last Revision: December 1999