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First Read: Two Morgan Dollar Books

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek….

First Read, a CoinWeek continuing series of essays about classic and contemporary works of numismatic literature…. 

Carson City Morgan Dollars: Featuring the Coins of the GSA Hoard, by Adam Crum, Selby Ungar & Jeff Oxman (3rd Edition) © 2014 Whitman Publishing, LLC. 130 pages, full color, hardback. $24.95 ($28.95 Canada)

Whitman’s Carson City Morgan Dollars: Featuring the Coins of the GSA Hoard, written by Adam Crum, Selby Ungar and Jeff Oxman, has recently been released in a third edition.

New for this edition is updated price information, an introduction by Q. David Bowers, and two appendices, one of which is the coin checklist that appeared on page iv of the second edition, and the other is a population report of the coins referenced in this volume found in Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) holders. No mention is made of Carson City Mint Morgan dollars graded by PCGS.

Sharp-eyed readers may notice that six images from the previous edition have been swapped out (the page layout remains identical), and an image of a CC-Mint dollar in a GSA soft pack has been added to fill the whitespace found at the bottom of page 33. Outside of these revisions, everything from the previous editions carries over to the third.

Full-color illustrations of coins in GSA holders graded by NGC entice collectors to complete the CC-Mint set.

Crum, Ungar & Oxman’s book reflects the Whitman treatment. The archival photographs and full-color pictures invite the reader in. More an entrée into the field of Carson City Morgan dollars than a “bible” book, the tome’s 130-pages are divided into three parts: a 30-page history of silver dollar production at the Carson City Mint, a four-page collector’s guide, and 86 pages dedicated to each individual date offered during the GSA Sales of 1972-1980. In addition, 17 VAMs* known to reside in GSA holders are included.

Each coin’s description is well written and informative. It’s more than enough to whet the potential collector’s appetite.

Some might consider Carson City Morgan Dollars  as a sales pitch as much as it is a guide. Don’t get us wrong; an effective sales pitch often focuses on the exciting aspects of what’s being sold. In this instance, the authors make the case that Carson City Morgan dollars and their respective varieties are a worthwhile and interesting niche. We agree, which is why we feel that Crum, Ungar & Oxman’s book serves as a tasty first bite of what could be a deeply satisfying (numismatic) meal.

For those interested in the entire Morgan Dollar series, however, we could also recommend Q. David Bowers’ current edition of A Guide Book of Morgan Dollars, also available from Whitman.

Though in large part a repackaging of earlier work, Bowers provides a more in-depth retelling of the Morgan dollar story, complete with a year-by-year, mint-by-mint breakdown of the entire series (not just Carson City). Bowers’ coverage of the GSA coins is on a par with what’s published in Carson City Morgan Dollars, but he doesn’t include the enticing photos of Morgan dollars in GSA packaging (graded by NGC, of course). His book also omits the VAMs.


WOW!: An Introduction to Sixty of the Most Fascinating Morgan Dollar Die Varieties Currently Known, by Robert M. Franklin © 2014 Robert M. Franklin (self-published) 68 pages, full-color, coil bound. $25.00 (Introductory Price).

Die variety expert John Roberts, in the forward of Robert M. Franklin’s Wow!: An Introduction to Sixty of the Most Fascinating Morgan Dollar Die Varieties Currently Known, relates that the term “Wow!” has special meaning for Morgan dollar die variety collectors and researchers. Series pioneer Leroy Van Allen writes the word on occasion when a collector sends him an exceptionally thrilling new discovery. “While the word may be whispered in quiet isolation, “ Roberts writes, “it is intended to be spoken loudly to attract the attention of others.”

It’s the thrill of the hunt and the excitement of discovery that compelled Franklin to reach out to fellow Morgan dollar variety specialists for help in his search for a catalog of visually dramatic VAMs to attract new collectors to the series.

Wow! Collects sixty notable Morgan VAMs and provides information to help collectors identify them.

Franklin’s Wow! was also born out of a sense of frustration, a frustration he felt when he first became interested in collecting Morgan dollar varieties in 2009. “I was pretty overwhelmed by all the ‘stuff’ there is to know,” Franklin was quoted as saying in the VAM e-Zine The View in March. Being fairly familiar with the constantly growing VAM catalog, which has grown to well over a thousand coins and been repackaged and sub-divided into numerous collectible VAM subsets that operate in loose confederation with each other, we know the feeling.

The goal of his book, Franklin said, is to create a beginner’s set that would entice collectors to take an interest in the series.

To do this, Franklin details 60 of the most visually interesting Morgan dollar VAMs, giving each coin the full page treatment. He provides large photographs with key features highlighted and a paragraph describing each variety and its possible permutations. On the side of each page is a table that identifies each variety by date, mint and VAM number, key pick-up points, ease of identification and discovery, and an estimate of each variety’s scarcity in Mint State. At the bottom of each coin is a WOW! catalog number, because… of course, and a brief biographical outline as to the variety’s date of discovery and how many varieties are cataloged for the given year and mint.

The descriptions are easy to follow. For example:

1888-O VAM-1B

The ‘Scarface’ die break has been charted from no break to VERY extreme (as pictured) and has earned 4 separate VAM listings through its progression. The break is thought to have been caused by an extreme clash episode (evident in inset photo and seen on all stages). Later die states are extremely rare, but all stages are desirable. Nearly always found in uncirculated grades.

Here’s how the same variety is described in LeRoy Van Allen & A. George Mallis’ Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan & Peace Dollars:

1888-O VAM-1B: III21 * C3A (Die Break on Face)

Obverse III21 – Large diagonal die break extended from rim between E and P across the Liberty Head nose, cheek, neck and lower curls. Early die states show just a line from denticles to dot.

Two of the varieties listed in Wow! also appear in Crum, Ungar, and Oxman’s Carson City Morgan Dollars: Featuring the Coins of the GSA Hoard. They are the 1878-CC VAM-6 and the 1890-CC VAM-4. Wow!’s 1882-CC VAM-2D/E and 1882-CC VAM-12A are not included in the Whitman Guide.

The 1878-CC VAM-6 is a pronounced doubled die obverse paired with a reverse die that features a mint mark shifted far to the right of its normal placement. According to Crum & company, it’s unknown in GSA packaging, and therefore potentially valuable if so discovered. Franklin asserts that the variety isn’t too hard to find (it rates two out of five in Franklin’s Rarity scale), but makes no mention of where to look or how valuable the coin might be if found. It’s important to note that Wow! does not provide any pricing information.

For this issue, neither book gives an especially clear image detailing what to look for. Whitman’s image is too small, and Franklin’s obverse/reverse composite is too dark.

The second shared variety is the 1890-CC VAM-4. This variety, nicknamed the “tailbar”, is listed in the Red Book professional edition, and is one of the most popular VAMs due to its scarcity and eye-popping visuals. Both books do an adequate job of describing the feature but Whitman includes a clear and bright close-up of the die gouge feature.

And while it’s worth noting that directly comparing a self-published effort to a professionally-published and by now mature effort (3rd Edition) isn’t exactly fair, we find that by doing so we learn more about each author’s approach and what one can expect to take away from it.

Carson City Morgan Dollars: Featuring the Coins of the GSA Hoard reads like an investment guide that focuses on the lucrative nature of finding VAMs hidden among the general population of GSA packaged Morgan dollars. WOW!: An Introduction to Sixty of the Most Fascinating Morgan Dollar Die Varieties Currently Known reads like a “best of” variety checklist written by an enthusiastic Morgan dollar collector for other enthusiasts.

Which type of book you prefer says more about your approach to collecting than anything explicitly stated in either volume.

* If you’re unfamiliar with the series, the term VAM refers to a cataloging system developed by Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis for specific die pairings and die pair types found in the Morgan and Peace dollar series.


charlesmorganCharles Morgan is a member of the American Numismatic Association, the American Numismatic Society, the Numismatic Literary Guild, Central States Numismatic Society, and the Richmond Coin Club. Hubert Walker is a member of the American Numismatic Association and the Numismatic Literary Guild. Together, they have written numerous articles for publication online and in print, including two 2013 NLG award-winning articles for CoinWeek.com.

Want to know what we’re up to? Follow Charles on Twitter.


© March 2014 COINWeek.com, LLC.


Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker
Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker
Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker have been contributing authors on CoinWeek since 2012. They also wrote the monthly "Market Whimsy" column and various feature articles for The Numismatist and the book 100 Greatest Modern World Coins (2020) for Whitman Publishing.

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