One of the most overlooked varieties is the 1888-O “Hot Lips” Morgan dollar, which should be readily apparent just by a closeup of Lady Liberty’s lips. Here’s an example, compliments of PCGS CoinFacts:
But the issue with online auctions, once again, is subpar photography. Recently I bid $260 on this coin, as it appeared on HiBid.com:
I just couldn’t tell by the photo. Nevertheless, I have worked with this seller before and trusted him. So I bid low, $260, for what would have been a $1,000+ coin in what looked like an Uncirculated or, perhaps, an Almost Uncirculated toned coin.
When I won the lot, I was still wary. It didn’t look like the coveted Vam 4 (Van Allen-Mallis destinations). But again, I needed to see the coin in my hand with a lupe before I could be sure.
When I received the coin, I knew it was an Almost Uncirculated regular business strike.
Here is a closeup of the lips:
Now compare that with how it should have appeared in the earlier example from PCGS CoinFacts.
As you can see, my coin is not Hot Lips.
Typically on HiBid and other online platforms, such as Proxibid and Live Auctioneers, buyers are responsible, no matter how the consignor describes a coin. But as I only patronize auctioneers whom I trust, I contacted the company and asked for a refund.
It was granted within 24 hours, no questions asked, after the seller inspected the coin and verified my complaint.
Here is our email exchange:
I probably should not have bid on this coin without a clearer photograph. Varieties are difficult to identify without crisp photos.
This is not to say that other, more obvious misidentifications occur online. Here is one that makes two mistakes, identifying an 1891 Morgan as the Vam 4 Hot Lips variety when the lips aren’t doubled:
I notified the eBay seller, who immediately apologized and changed the designation to the common 1891 VF 1891 Morgan.
The lesson here, which I continue to learn, is to refrain from bidding if the photos aren’t clear enough to make a distinction and to only bid with sellers whom you trust.
I lucked out. You may not. Learn from my experience.