Fun with Vams
by Stan Klein
Over the course of the last few years there has seen an upsurge in interest in collecting die varieties. Coins such as the 1916/1916 Doubled Die Buffalo Nickel or the 1918/7-S Standing Liberty Quarter have far surpassed the interest, and hence the value, of mere rare date coins in the same series.
Why is there such an interest in die varieties?
For one, coins are manufactured to standards that demand near perfection and uniformity. The ability to achieve this aim is less successful the further one looks back in time. Finding an interesting design flaw in the midst of a morass of mass produced metal is exciting. Also, behind each one these die flaws lies a story and stories sell coins.
What is a die variety?
A variation of the normal design that makes a specific example stand out from normal struck coins. Since the die variety is on the die, the flaw is reproducible on every coin struck from that pair of dies. This is much different than mechanical errors which are unique, and the result of defects in the process of striking a coin.
The term "VAM" refers to the pioneering work by Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis, The Comprehensive Catalogue and Encyclopedia of U.S. Morgan Peace Silver Dollars (out of print as of this writing). This acronym is a combination of the authors' names, and VAM numbers are catalog numbers that are assigned to die varieties of Silver Dollars. Other guides cover die varieties of other U.S. denominations such as the Cherry Pickers' Guide books written by Bill Fivaz and J. T. Stanton.
A few examples of popular die varieties:
Varieties have become big time but it still is a great frontier. New varieties are discovered all the time, and known, rare ones, are often being scooped up by the knowing, from dealer's showcases in stores and at shows. Grade isn't always the top issue here. A rare variety can bring a sizable return even if in a high circulated grade.
The grading services have increased interest, by offering a service that for an additional fee will confirm or attribute varieties and list them on the holder. This has fanned the flames and collectors have responded.
There are hundreds of varieties out there to find. Use the books mentioned here to gain some knowledge that will lead to finding your own variety treasures. Happy hunting!
U.S. Coins Close Up, Tips to Identifying Valuable Types and Varieties