Low Ball Morgan Dollar collecting concentrates on obtaining the lowest possible grade for a given coin with identifiable date and mintmark (in most cases). This collecting theme is still in it's infancy, yet it makes perfect sense to me as a collecting pursuit. I appreciate the worn look of a Morgan almost as much as a blazing, white Gem or a mark free DMPL the more I look at and study "low ball" coins. Instead of collecting a Morgan Gem that sat in a Treasury vault only to be released 75 years later to a collecting public, these "low balls" have really "lived" and served their purpose to the to the nth degree as coins to have obtained such copious, natural wear.
Perhaps these low balls served as someone's lucky charm carried in a pocket for years....and then probably passed down through generations.... Or perhaps their time was spent lighting up slot machines or being tossed across poker tables or hitting cash register bottoms. Who knows how many people have handled these coins over the years. Where and how these coins served have served people is pure history, and I appreciate that history... Kinda makes a Mint State Morgan seem, well, uninspired.....
PCGS online guide to condition
The charm of low ball Morgans combined with their reasonable cost and fairly limited supply, makes this a collecting theme that is here to stay and values should increase over the next decade as this theme is more accepted.
While it is easy to obtain common Morgans in "About Good" condition at bullion price just about anywhere, "Fair" condition coins are starting to find premiums in the market, but are still readily available on eBay. However, finding clean "Poor" condition Morgans is more difficult then you would imagine that have identifiable date and mintmark (required to be certified), and of course when you factor in key dates, a low ball set is a challenge. We need to assume that a great majority of all lower grade Morgans, especially "Poor" condition coins, have been melted over the last 90 years, especially given the silver market we are currently experiencing and the one in 1979/1980. Up until recently, coins in Fair or Poor condition got no respect from the hobby and would be treated as "scrap,"culls," "melt."
While "About Good" conditioned Morgans can have a nice, smooth look to them with just broad details remaining all over the coin, it's really Fair and Poor condition coins that collectors are seeking and having certified. Fair condition Morgans have significant wear to them, however, the obverse will typically still show deep details in the hair, LIBERTY will be mostly or fully readable and the ear canal remains. The reverse will be well worn with the rim and most if not all of the edge markings (United States of America and One Dollar ) worn away.
Certified, Fair graded coins are trading in the $ 45-75 range for common issues, while Poor condition coins can be priced considerably higher depending on eye appeal. wear pattern, other damage to coin, and of course date and mintmark. Poor coins will show very little detail except for the general outline of Ms. Morgan on the obverse and the general outline of the Eagle on the reverse, but should display date and mintmark. I must say its a bit ironic that PCGS photoguide shows a Poor condition coin (above) that doesn't look like it has an identifiable date. I think PCGS is still in the process of establishing the finer points of a Poor vs Fair, but in general, the Poor condition coin will have just barely visible details, whereas the Fair coin will have heavy wear, but still posses varying degrees of detail (ear canal will remain, for example).
The smoother and more symmetrical the wear of the coin adds greatly to the eye appeal of low ball coins. There are many Poor and Fair coins that show uneven wear, rim dings and dents, stains and streaking that make them far less desirable as a collectible low ball.
While most certified, Poor condition coins fetch $ 75-200, one noted PCGS graded "Poor" 1897-S fetched $ 565 on eBay recently. See here for more discussion around this coin.
While it is still quite possible to find raw, Poor condition Morgans on ebay and dealer bins for scrap value, its getting harder and harder, especially examples that are free from other defects, have an identifiable date/mintmark and have eye appeal. Enjoy the hunt !
Here is a "perfect" Poor condition Morgan Dollar. Note the smoothness of wear over the entire coin. Also, note the abscence of marks, stains, dings, dents...just a good 'ol fashioned worn dollar. Sold for $ 99 by an online dealer recently.