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The Best of the Worst - An Introduction to Lowball Collecting

Andrew C. Kolbert, Ph.D, M.T.M.


“Buy the best you can afford” a mantra often repeated to new collectors implies the ultimate collection should consist of extremely high grade coins. In fact, the PCGS Registry was created to encourage and acknowledge the highest grade collections in every conceivable category, resulting in high competition for uncommonly high grades which can bump a set holder up on the list. Other collectors have opted for a different approach. 


Lowball collecting is the search for the lowest grade attainable of coins in your chosen set. Obviously it is possible to wear a coin to an unrecognizable slug, so some rules needed to be established for the endeavor. 


First, the wear needs to have been natural. With increasing prices for potential P-01 candidates, there have been attempts to artificially accelerate wear. It is however possible to determine if the wear on a coin is natural and the third party graders are expert at determining this. 


It is however considered legitimate to keep a coin as a pocket piece and wear it down over time to achieve the desired grade and this is certainly how some of the modern lowball silver Eagles or Sacagewea dollars were made as these barely, if ever circulated.

Figure 1: 1964 Kennedy Half PCGS P-01, discernable due to the 90% silver composition, Courtesy of PCGS Trueview.

Second, the coin must be assignable as to type, date, and mintmark. This PCGS graded P-01 Morgan dollar may be close to the lowest grade 1886-O Morgan dollar, as much more wear and it would not be assignable as 1886. 



Figure 2: 1886-O Morgan dollar, PCGS P-01 Stacks Bowers, July 2017 Collector’s Choice US Coin AuctionHowever, this even lower grade Morgan dollar may be identified as an 1878 due to the 7 Tail Feather, parallel arrow reverse, despite the date being gone. 

Figure 3: 1878 Morgan dollar P-01, Collecting Friends Lowball Collecting, Steve Roach and Dennis Tucker, ANA Blog (2022).


Third, there is a segment of the lowball community that insists the coins straight grade as most coins in the P-01 range have suffered some significant abuse apart from honest wear.  Although not technically a requirement for a lowball set, it is required for the set to be included on the PCGS Registry.


The PCGS Registry currently recognizes 61 Lowball type sets as well as 5 Indian Head Cents sets with varieties

24 Liberty Nickels sets

26 Buffalo Nickel sets9 Barber Dime set

16 Mercury Dimes sets

3 Liberty Seated Quarter sets

17 Barber quarter sets

15 Standing Liberty quarter sets

8 Liberty Seated Half sets

29 Barber Half sets

34 Walking Liberty Half sets

95 Franklin Half sets23 Kennedy Half sets

319 Morgan Dollar sets

148 Carson City Morgan Dollar sets107 Peace dollar sets


Among others.


The value of coins generally tends to go down with decreasing grade, particularly for coins that are commonly found in all grades, however a  coin that is rarely found in lower grades may actually see a price increase once the coin is a possible contender for a lowball set.  Dave LeBlanc, a lowball collector, presented at a coin club a few years back and showed the club an MS-65 Huguenot Commemorative Half worth $200 or so, for which there are about 1700 in the PCGS database. He then asked the club if money were no object, would they prefer an MS-68 Huguenot Commemorative Half for $25K -$32K, for which 4 are known?  All agreed. He then asked how about this FR-02 (3 known) or this P-01 (1 known), of comparable rarity to the MS-68, but closer in price to the MS-65 coin (Lowdown on Lowball Coins, Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez, PCGS news (2022)). There were at least a couple of new lowball collectors after the meeting. 


Lowball collecting is an affordable yet challenging aspect of collecting and one that deserves serious consideration. 

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