Reverse Die b
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Reverse die b has the common characteristic of a doubling of the mint mark in a manner that always produces the doubling toward the bottom of the oval.
(You can see the coins in our collection by clicking on the VAM link below.)
VAMs Featuring Die b
2 - O/O Low
2A - O/O Low, Spike in 8
2B - O/O Low, Pitted NE-D
Reverse Die b
Reverse Die b makes an appearance only with VAMs 2, 2A, and 2B. Logically it appears on all three and the die cracks confirm the die use. But another question is "Which came first, second, and third?". In most cases you will need to click on the coin image below to fully appreciate the die cracks. Also, with all three VAMs the dies show signs of softening toward the denticles, so all three may be related to other VAMs where the same die was used and then "touched up" for reuse.
VAM 2 - O/O Low
07206343 Mint State 64
The above coin is a VAM 2 - O/O Low and it exhibits die cracks primarily around the perimeter of the coin. We have seven examples of VAM 2 in December 2017 and more than half are mint state. The area that most clearly demonstrates the differences in the three VAMs is the lower left quadrant.
VAM 2A - O/O Low, Spike in 8
20783114 Mint State 64
The above coin is a VAM 2A - O/O Low, Spike in 8. We have eight examples as of December 2017 and all but one is mint state. So there is plenty of inventory for comparison. As the VAM title implies, the differentiation for the VAM designation is on the obverse die with the familiar Spike in 8 feature for the 1881-O series.
When forming VAM 2A the Reverse Die b exhibits many more die cracks than for VAM 2. This would indicate a more advanced state of die deterioration, but may not be the final use of the die. The cracks appear all around the perimeter of the die, and also get into the wreaths, and through the mint mark.
VAM 2B - O/O Low. Pitted NE-D
02210437 Mint State 62
The above coin is a VAM 2B - O/O Low, Pitted NE-D and it shows very minor die cracks below the wreaths in just minor areas of the legend.
We have only two examples of VAM 2B, but they are both mint state coins and good study examples.
Which Came First?
Usually you might think that the use and deterioration of the die can be determined only by the progression of the die cracks, or the appearance of clashing. But in this case there are more clues. All of the VAMs (2, 2A, and 2B) are clashed so that offers little clue.
But dies were often pulled from service, repolished, and then put back in service. Sometimes they were paired with the same physical obverse die, and sometimes not. All of the obverse dies for the VAMs are designated as Die 1, but they all have slightly different traits.
When we look at Reverse Die b in these pairings we can see the progression of the polishing in the right wing area.
Also, the beard under the eagle's neck also appears to become weaker as you go through this progression.
The Likely Scenario
If we believe that die polishing and loss of detail tells a story about sequence of use then the likely sequence would have been 2B, 2, and the 2A. This means that the die developed some minor cracks in the lower Legend and some minor pitting near the bottom rim while creating VAM 2B. It was pulled from service and then reused to create VAM 2, where it developed the same cracks. These cracks lengthened and caused the die to be polished again.
In VAM 2A, this final use of the die caused the cracks to reappear, and this time severely enough that the die may have been retired.
But that leads to another question and that is progression outside of the VAM 2 sequence. The Eagle's wing on VAM 2B is already softened a little, and while this could be the earliest use of Reverse Die b, it seems unlikely to us.
Perhaps there are additional clues on the die about connections to others.
This illustration is from coin 28723496, a Mint State 64 VAM 2A.