Baltimore Coin Club

Oldest Continually Operating
Coin Club in Maryland

Presentations from Theme Nights:

BARBER DIMES

1892-1916

by Sandon L. Cohen 

Also, 2 cents and 3 cent silver by Sandon Cohen

These coins are named after their designer, Charles Barber, but are occasionally referred to as Liberty Head dimes. Walter Breen observed that the liberty head that Barber designed for the obverse of this dime and the similar quarters and half dollars resembles that on the Morgan dollar but with most of  most of Miss Liberty's hair cut off, so perhaps the “barber” name for the coins may nevertheless be descriptive of the design as well as the name of the designer.  The reverse design is essentially the same “wreath of cereals” as that introduced in 1860 for legend obverse Liberty Seated Dimes.

 

          These coins were issued over 25 years by as many as 4 different mints per year.  All Philadelphia issues 1897-1916 are relatively common and sell for type coin prices, as do some later Denver mint coins and the 1916-S.  Current retail values per Coin World for the most common dates are $3.50 Good, $5.00 Fine, $8.00 VF,  $25 EF, $65 AU, $110 MS60, $225 MS63, and $650 MS65.  The highest mintage was 1907 with 22,220,000 coined; a number of others had mintages of 10-21 million.

 

          At the other end of the scale is the famous 1894-S of which 24 were reported minted and of which 9 or 10 are known today, 2 of which are well circulated and the others unworn and considered to be branch mint proofs.  It is possible, though unlikely, that one or more specimens unknown to numismatists are among the possessions of some unsuspecting non-collector.  The most recent sale, of a Proof 64 specimen, occurred in the summer of 2013 between 2 dealers at a price reportedly in excess of $2 million.   The traditional story was that these coins were minted shortly before June 30, 1894, the end of the mint's fiscal year, to balance its books and on the assumption that a regular production of dimes would occur later during the calendar year.  More recent research suggests that the San Francisco mint superintendent created an intentional rarity for himself and banker friends, while other even more recent research suggests that the traditional story is closer to the truth. 

 

          Mercifully, the 1894-S isn't considered to be necessary to the completion of a date and mint Barber Dime set.  Such a set consists of 74 coins.  Unlike the earlier dime series, this set is within the budgets of most collectors who don't insist on collecting only uncirculated or high grade circulated coins.  The “key” to the set is the 1895-O, with a mintage of 440,000, and retail list price of $375 in Good.   (By comparison, the 1909-S V.D.B. Lincoln cent with a mintage of 484,000 and many saved starts at $725 in Good, although in Fine or better the 1895-O dime is more expensive.)  The most next expensive dates are the 1895 at $90 and the 1901-S and 1903-S at $85 in Good. Notwithstanding these relatively low prices, I would encourage those collectors who would like a challenge to put together a full set in full rim, undamaged Good or better.  Many of the earlier mint marked pieces and the 1894 and 1895 can be surprisingly difficult to find even in lower grades. Counterfeits are seldom encountered, although NGC recently saw a crude counterfeit 1895-O. Even those on a budget can, like Eliasberg, enjoy “the thrill of the chase”.

 

          Among the most commonly collected varieties are the 1893, 3 over 2 (hard to see and controversial) and the 1905-O micro O.  I succeeded in “cherrypicking” both of these varieties. Other, more obscure, varieties, mainly repunched dates and mint marks, are listed in the late David Lawrence's The Complete Guide to Barber Dimes (1991) and Kevin Flynn's The Authoritative Reference on Barber Dimes (2004).