Sunday, April 26, 2020

Mistakes Happen: VAM Varieties (U.S. Silver Dollars According to Van Allen and Mallis)

This is why coin collectors want electron microscopes. You see, the Mint was forced to strike millions of these, just to consume silver. The price of silver had collapsed because of the Comstock Load of Nevada which brought more new silver into the world than existed at that time. Mining interests found a supporter in U.S. Senator Richard P. "Silver Dick" Bland.

Over on the discussion board, the topic of lenses came up once again. I replied with an allusion to a friend who pursues VAMs. Another regular poster commented on my answer.
Alegandron said: 
Still, our Ancients questions seem to always be answered from the perspective of Modern Coins and their acronyms viewpoints...
(His avatar caption is a tribute to Alexander the Great)

I replied: Yes, my apologies. I thought about that... (If anything, I am an ancients guy. I have not done much with U.S.). You probably googled it. VAM: Van Allen and Mallis for their cataloguing of every Mint error in a useless but big and shiny and (I admit) nicely designed coin. (The Morgan Dollar. The Peace Dollar has a nice obverse, but the Reverse was the botched work of an angry and aged George Morgan.)
Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia
of Morgan and Peace Dollars

by Leroy C Van Allen; and A George Mallis
(many editions 1976 to present)

“As a way to appease miners in the West and other silver supporters, the Bland-Allison Act of 1878 ordered the Treasury to buy $2 million to $4 million in silver from the miners each month. The bill was also a way by some congressmen to return the United States to bimetallism. Twelve years later, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act followed, with similar intent, requiring the United States government to buy an additional 4.5 million ounces of silver bullion every month. However, the government could do so with gold notes, which was driving silver out of circulation.” – “Crime of '73” at the US Mint here:

At that level of production, quality control as we understand it today was impossible. Errors were common. Most of them were simply the result of daily work. If a numeral of a date did not seem sharp enough, the die was repunched to bring it out more. With our magnifiers today, we can tell. Overpunched Mintmarks (O over CC ) were the result of dies intended originally for Carson City being sent to New Orleans. Die clashes happened when a coin blank was not injected into the dies and they struck each other. Subsequent coins would show evidence of the opposing patterns. 

Die doubling is a consequence of how working dies are made from masters. The master is pressed into the working die several times (typically three). The forces required result in hardening of the working die. So, it is annealed (softened) with heat. The master is reapplied. If the master does not re-align with microscopic precision some of the image will be doubled, like a visual “echo” of a line or edge of a device (Eagle’s feather; Miss Liberty’s hair), numeral, or letter. Again, some collectors pursue those with magnifiers, loupes, and microscopes.

In wider numismatics, such detailed examinations can show if dies were transported from one place to another, especially if we have other reasons to believe that they were. In the ancient Greek world c 500-100 BCE, celators (die cutters) were in demand as perhaps a thousand independent cities issued their own coinages. 

American numismatics has a different motive. We have less history. So, many advanced collectors focus on small details within issues. 



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