Skip to main content

Morgan dollar varieties have colorful names

 (Image courtesy

(Image courtesy

Is there a Morgan dollar variety known as ‘scarface?’

The 1888-O VAM 1B variety is known as “scarface.” The coin has a deep Frankenstein-esque late stage die break that appears as an ugly gash across Liberty’s cheek, jowl and neck.

What can you tell me about an Alcoholics Anonymous one-year token I recently acquired?

Sister Ignatia, a nun who helped found the hospitalization program at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio, is credited with introducing these sobriety recognition medals in 1939. Earlier sacred heart medals issued by the Father Matthew Temperance Movement began in the 1840s, and by the Irish Temperance Movement in the 1890s.

Is there any such thing as a 1950 small 0. I have one cent that the 0 looks smaller than the normal 0. It reminds me of the 1960 large and small date cents.

The 0 in the date of the 1950 Lincoln cent is somewhat smaller than the other digits normally. It is possible you have a previously unrecorded variety, however you may have a late die state strike lacking detail or a coin in which some foreign material got into the die momentarily. Without seeing the coin these are the only suggestions I can make.

I was just offered an 1878 8-Tail Feathers “Wild Eye Spikes” Morgan silver dollar. Can you explain this variety for me?

The VAM 14.11 (Leroy C. Van Allen and A. George Mallis “Morgan and Peace Dollar Varieties”) or ‘Wild Eye Spikes’ variety silver dollar has an eyelid doubled as a short, thick and blunt spike below the eyelid. This is a rare and Top 100 variety. For that reason ensure the coin is certified to be this variety before purchasing it.

What is the difference between luster and cartwheel luster?

Light reflection resulting from metal flow lines created when a coin is first struck is what we refer to as luster. For a coin to have cartwheel luster the metal flow lines need to radiate in a way that is visually analogous to the metal spokes of a wheel reflecting light when the coin is turned in various directions.

Can you explain what is meant by a coin having offset misalignment?

Offset misalignment or III-G-1 misalignment occurs when a coin is struck in the collar with the obverse die set in an incorrect direction from the center of the reverse die. The obverse die is set in the upper or hammer and the reverse in the lower or anvil setting in the coinage press.

What about vertical misalignment?

Vertical misalignment or III-G-2 occurs when a coin is struck within a collar, however the die is tilted to one side of the vertical axis. This results in a wedge-shaped coin.

Why weren’t $5 half eagle gold coins struck after 1916 other than during 1929?

Half eagle coin production was suspended during World War I. Production didn’t resume until 1929, but was halted a second and final time due to the Great Depression. It would appear there wasn’t much demand for the denomination even in 1929, since most of the half eagles of that year were melted rather than released into circulation. It was only four years later the United States went off the gold standard.

More and more today you see coin dealers advertise and sell substandard coins that are cleaned, scratched, weathered and dark. Is there any industry standards or rules that are used to determine how these defective coins are priced and valued as compared to full value coin price lists? For example, are the price and value reduced by 10 percent, 20 percent, etc.?

The sight-unseen market has always been dangerous for this reason, but people don’t always understand even a certified coin has only been assigned a specific grade. Unless that certification has been qualified by some additional remarks such as “cleaned, appearance of XX [grade]” the certified grade doesn’t take defects into consideration. While there is a pricing publication that recently announced it has an algorithm it will use to calculate a reasonable markup for retail sales, this algorithm is not going to be foolproof. In answer to your question – no, there is no industry standard or rule. Judge every coin on its individual merits.

Does the 1970 United Nations UNESCO law impact any U.S. coins?

The Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property only mentions the word “coin” once. The convention is aimed at ancient antiquities including coins being looted from archaeological sites, not at modern coins. The United States has since agreed to Memoranda of Understanding with individual foreign countries regarding “cultural patrimony” of these nations. This could, theoretically, force perhaps a hoard of Spanish colonial American coins to be repatriated to Spain, but it doesn’t really impact U.S. coins.

How does maritime law impact ownership of coins encountered on a shipwreck?

The Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987 says, “the U.S. government and state governments have the right to claim any abandoned shipwreck that is embedded in ground and submerged in U.S. waters up to three nautical miles from the U.S. coastline, as well as any abandoned shipwrecks found in interior navigable waters in the U.S. and its possessions.” If the find is made via a salvage operation the salvager is to present the find to its rightful owner for compensation in return. If the find is made through a treasure hunt there may be no owner to claim the find, however the country of origin may still argue its rights to the find.

E-mail inquiries only. Do not send letters in the mail. Send to Because of space limitations, we are unable to publish all questions.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

More Collecting Resources

• The Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1901-2000 is your guide to images, prices and information on coinage of the 1900s.

• With nearly 24,000 listings and over 14,000 illustrations, the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, Modern Issues is your go-to guide for modern bank notes.