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What is a VAM?

There are two answers to this question...the emotional and the cerebral. We'll start with the emotional answer - the one you need to hear:
What is a VAM? - EMOTIONAL answer
VAMs are special silver dollars. They captivate us. They inspire us. They beckon us. They are our pride and our weakness. We cannot get enough of them. We cannot tell people enough about them. They own us, and we don’t care.
Each of us remembers our “gateway VAM” and the story behind it. At one time, we VAMnuts were normal collectors. Then someone showed each of us a VAM. We thought that the VAM was interesting. We were enchanted by its rarity. Then we learned that we could cherry pick VAMs and possess something scarce, alluring, and beautiful which brings a joy that exponentially exceeds the costs. We thus became hooked.
So, here we are building a web site. We want to share our joy, or our sickness, with you. So dive in with us! Enjoy!
What is a VAM? - CEREBRAL answer
Silver dollars are created by striking metal blanks with hardened dies containing the mirror image of the desired pattern. Through careful study, slight differences can be used to identify specific dies that created the coins. Sometimes these differences occur during the creation of the dies, while other times they are caused by the maintenance or use of the dies.
Extensive research on the variations in the dies used to strike silver dollars was published 44 years ago by Leroy C. Van Allen and A. George Mallis. Their work centers on Morgan dollars that were minted by the United States Mint from 1878 through 1904 and the resumed again in 1921 and Peace Dollars issued from 1921 through 1935. The term VAM is an acronym for "Van Allen - Mallis."
The goal of the VAM system is to number and catalog every known die variety by date and mint mark. To this end, every Morgan dollar in existence is either already a VAM or should be a VAM. This is a continuous process, and new varieties are continually discovered and added to the list.
VAM-1 is always the normal die state for a specific date/mint and has no distinguishing characteristics. Die varieties that can be distinguished from each date/mint's VAM-1 are subsequently numbered incrementally (VAM-2, VAM-3, etc.) Sometimes a letter follows the number, i.e. VAM-1A. A "lettered" VAM represents a later stage of the numbered die that has a die gouge, major die crack, pitting, die clash, or any other result of a post-die-production occurence that can be shown to have changed the die. Like VAM numbers, letters are also assigned in a one-up fashion.
Keep in mind that VAM numbers for a specific date and mint mark are exclusive to that date and mint mark. There is no crossover. For example, an 1880-O VAM-2 does not have the same distinguishing characteristics as a 1882-S VAM-2. To know the die features that each VAM designation (number) shows, it is thus essential to have the appropriate reference books.
In 1996 Michael S. Fey, Ph.D. and Jeff Oxman published the Top 100 VAM Keys. This pocket reference book pinpointed the most highly sought Morgan dollar die varieties. The popularity of the book created a boom in interest in Morgan dollar die varieties that is still expanding today, eighteen years later. The VAM craze has fostered a concurrent increase in the discovery and cataloguing of new die varieties. In addition, new lists of desirable varieties (Hot 50 Morgans, Peace Dollar Top 50) and research manuals of specific dates/varieties (1878 eight tailfeathers, 1878 7/8 tailfeathers, 1921-D die breaks) have been created to satisfy the seemingly unquenchable thirst of VAM enthusiasts.
Please click this link for the full definitions page.