YoloBagels's Blog

13 Dec 2019

Lowball Coins | A strangely unique field in numismatics

Coins | YoloBagels

Hello everyone.

Many collectors specialize in certain areas in numismatics. For some, it may be US coins, world coins, ancients, errors, cobs/milled Spanish reales, or tokens. While all of these have many different “guidelines” on how they are to be collected, it is generally accepted that the better the condition of a coin, the greater the value/price will be for the said coin. However, lowball collectors look for one specific thing: coins that are so heavily worn down that they usually have only a basic design left.

Now, this is certainly a strange way to collect, and why would anyone pay significantly more for a slick coin in a PO-01 slab than an example of the same date in an MS64 slab you may ask? Well, that would be up to personal choice. Some lowball collectors collect them because of a lowball coin’s very authentic ties to history. It would get one to think the age-old question “what has this 300-year-old coin been through?”

Another strange reason for lowball collecting would be because some people find “slicked-out” coins oddly attractive. Have you ever seen an Ike dollar in PO-01? Or even a silver eagle that hasn’t existed for more than ten years? There’s something unexplainably beautiful about modern designs in low grade, mainly because it’s something we never really get to see since coins like Ike dollars or ASEs aren’t part of general circulation.

Now, one has to understand that just because a coin is heavily worn down does not mean that it is worth a lot. It really depends on what the coin is. For example, there is an overwhelming supply of barber dimes in PO-01 grade; but the same cannot be said for Susan B. Anthony dollars. With this scenario in mind, the laws of supply and demand are prevalent.

By this point, it should be obvious that most modern lowball specimens were not circulated naturally. Most people will not just get an Ike dollar in change and spend it like a one-dollar bill. This is where the term “pocket piece” comes in. A pocket piece is a coin that someone carries in their pocket primarily to wear down (although sometimes it can be used for conversational reasons, such as an UNC morgan dollar in an air-tite) its surfaces and get it to a slick PO-01 grade for the reasons discussed above.

Lowball coins are certainly very interesting. Next time you see a coin in low condition, think of what its been through! Do you have your own pocket piece? Let me know in the comments please!



Level 4

I don' t know if I have ever seen any gold coins in that low of a grade. Thanks great blog.


Level 6

A lot of people collect these type of coins. Kinda cool looking. Amazing low grades for sure. Enjoyed your blog!


Level 5

Truth be told, I absolutely love collecting lowball coins! I've been called crazy right to my face for this, but I feel there's certainly more history tied to a lowball, than some silver dollar that just languished in a bag with thousands of others in a vault and is in unbelievably amazing condition and worth tens of thousands of dollars (yay. wow. it sat in a vault for over a century and was never used as real money and has no real physical connection to anyone. yeah, whata story; how exciting. - Ah sarcasm!) I carry a few pocket pieces with me all the time, and two of the coins are Ike dollars; one clad and one 40% silver, along with the first Morgan dollar I ever received when I was 10 years old - an 1896 that started off as a super nice AU; got it down to about an XF now. I hope to wear them all down to almost nothing by the time I'm gone; we'll see what happens first, I guess! Keep in mind that one big challenge for lowball collectors is to find coins that are not just incredibly worn, but also problem-free, without any horrible rim dings or scratches - Best of luck to all of us lowball collectors! -Sam Gelberd, ANA Numismatic Educator


Level 4

I never even knew about the Poor grade until a year ago. I believe there was an article in the Numismatist about low ball coins written recently.

I like seeing lowball classic commemoratives because they tell of hard times for then-collectors. Gary has a point about modern coins being resistant to wear. Add to that the use of debit cards instead of coins in someones pocket and we may never see something below VF. I have a 1937 Buffalo nickel on a key chain that I've carried since 1979, and find myself rubbing my thumb over it when bored. It's barely legible but has been everywhere I've been. The most lowballed design I find are the Barber coins.


Level 6

I believe only PCGS has a Registry Set for these. I agree that they are very cool. Thanks.

Prodigy Coins

Level 4

coinsbygary and Just Mokie, you are so right. No modern coin will get down to PO-01 without being artificially circulated.


Level 7

Totally agree coins by Gary and Mokie spell it out. They stole my thunder. Thanks though keep it going.


Level 5

You're right about lowball modern coins having been through "something". Just what is pure speculation. However, we can say not from "normal" circulation. Copper-nickel coins such as nickels, dimes, and quarters are very hard. I've seen these coins from normal circulation look a whole lot better than the scarcely circulated Ike dollars and Kenedy halves like the ones you picture. People who collect coins like these will want them certified for a registry set. The third-party grading companies should detail grade them, "poor details, artificially circulated." The gold coins you picture could very likely be pocket pieces. It makes you wonder who carried them and what type of person they were. Oh, the tales coins could tell!

It's Mokie

Level 6

I would have to believe a modern, say 1950 and younger, coin would only become PO due to artificially induced wear, like being a pocket piece for many years or being ground down and then put in a tumbler or something similar to remove the grinding evidence and give it a slick feel. PO wear on a Ike, not possible unless artificially induced.

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