The Barber Dime, minted from 1879 to 1917, is named for its designer, Charles E. Barber.
The Barber dime is a classic U.S. coin type with a mildly enthusiastic following. But amongst the various Barber dimes, struck at the Philadelphia, New Orleans and San Francisco mints from 1892 to 1916, there is one mega-superstar. More on that later, though if you’ve been in the collecting game for a while, you probably know what that superstar is.
Based on the designs, it puzzles many new collectors as to why these Liberty head coins are called, “Barbers.” It’s not such a puzzle when you learn that these coins were designed by one Charles E. Barber. So considering how many different times and ways Miss Liberty has appeared on U.S. coinage, sometimes it’s necessary to find a new way to distinguish a NEW type of coin with a Miss Liberty design!
In 1892, there was an overhaul in the design types of the U.S. silver coins, save for the silver dollar. That year, the dime, quarter and half dollar all appeared with an obverse design featuring a laurel-wreath-adorned liberty head, facing right. This new obverse replaced the long-running Seated Liberty design type, featured on all silver U.S. coins from 1837 to 91 (save for the silver Seated Liberty dollar which ran only until 1873). These new liberty head silver coins of 1892 became known as the Barber dime, Barber quarter, and Barber half dollar. The Barber quarter and half dollar shared a reverse design featuring an eagle, wings spread and shield on its breast. But the Barber dime featured a simple reverse design showing a wreath, within which were the words, “One Dime”.
The Barber dime was struck at the Philadelphia and San Francisco mints for the duration of the series. Barber dimes struck at the New Orleans mint, however, only were produced until 1909, as that was the last year of operation for the New Orleans mint. When you check the mintages for the Barber dime series, some things become pretty clear. One, the high mintages pretty much all come from the Philadelphia mint. In fact, a typical Barber dime mintage from Philadelphia runs in the tens of millions. There is pretty big dropoff when you compare mintages of Barber dimes from New Orleans: a typical mintage from 1892 to 1909 was around 2 to 5 million. But it’s the San Francisco mint that REALLY had low mintages of Barber dimes! A typical S-mint Barber dime has a mintage of around 1 to 2 million.
Scarce dates in the Barber dime series include the following: 1892-S, 1894-O, 1895, 1895-O, 1896-S, 1897-O, 1901-S, 1903-S, and 1913-S. Of these listed, the 1913-S is the cheapest, retailing $45 in Very Good and $100 in Fine. Still, many experts consider the 1913-S a bargain when you take into account its VERY low mintage of 510,000, which is actually the third lowest mintage in the series! But I’ve left one particular Barber dime off the above “scarce” list. That’s because this “superstar” coin is not merely scarce. It’s out and out RARE!
The 1894-S Barber dime. Most numismatists consider it to be one of the top three or four great rarities of U.S. coinage. This classic coin is distinguished from the OTHER rarities in the Top Three tier (the 1913 V-nickel and 1804 dollar) by virtue of this important characteristic: the 1894-s dime is the only U.S. coin of this rarity to be listed under official mintage records. That’s right—look in any coin catalogue, and you’ll see the 1894-s dime listed with an official mintage of 24!
One may question why the San Francisco mint even bothered to strike 24 Barber dimes in 1894. An early theory was that the dimes were struck to make up a mint silver discrepancy of a couple of dollars. This theory has since proved to be full of holes. The most accepted theory is traced back to a prominent San Francisco mint Superintedent who used his influence to have the 1894 dimes struck—all in Proof condition—as presentation gifts to seven influential bankers who were visiting him. Each of those seven men received three 1894-S dimes, while our prominent San Francisco mint Superintendent kept the remaining three and gave them to his daughters. Allegedly, one of the daughters used an 1894-S dime to buy ice cream—perhaps the most expensive ice cream purchase ever!
Today, just 10 of the 24 1894-S Barber dimes are accounted for. If you happen to have one, be advised that it’s worth approximately $1.5 million! In other words, if you have any Barber dimes lying around, check the dates and mintmarks carefully!
Happily for Barber dime collectors, Barber dimes are far more readily available and affordable in better grades (Fine and above) than are Barber quarters and half dollars. A common date Barber dime retails only around $7 in Very Fine condition and $22 to $35 in Extra Fine. A common date Barber dime in Uncirculated condition will cost around $110, but for an About Uncirculated piece, one that still shows some mint luster, the price should only be around $65! In my opinion, those are GREAT prices for a century old silver coin in nice detailed condition!
The better-grade Barber dimes will have facial detail on the Liberty bust, as well as some hair detail, full laurel wreath, and “LIBERTY” readable in the headband. On the reverse, you’ll see detail in the wreath—for instance you’ll see some detail in the corn stalks, which wouldn’t be visible if the wreath was worn down. A Barber dime in Extra Fine condition might even have a little mint luster left.