Barber coinage has never been the most popular series to collect. The design featuring the mannish-looking Liberty has never been considered to be among the most beautiful. The quarters feature three scarce coins, and the dimes, one major rarity. And hardly anyone even considers the half dollars.
A collector who doesn’t jump on bandwagons and follows fads would do well to collect Barber coinage. Each series presents its own challenges. Grading is not as difficult as it is with some other series, but finding coins in middle-grade circulated condition can be quite an undertaking.
Barber dimes and quarters were minted from 1892-1916. The halves ended in 1915. That makes a quarter-century of silver coins. The Barbers are overshadowed by the vast array of Seated Liberty coinage before, and the lovely new designs of 1916 after, but Barbers are lovely in their own way and can keep a collector busy and interested for many years.
Barber coins aren’t that hard to grade. Just look at the inscription “Liberty” on the headband. Coins in fine or better condition have a full, readable “Liberty.” The coins wore well, showing Liberty’s head and the wreath or eagle on the reverse. Coins in higher grade showing more details on the head, wreath or eagle are attractive in their own way. Proofs, especially those with the cameo or frosted effect, can be quite beautiful. Many Barber coins show pretty toning in a rainbow of colors.
The Barber dime was first struck in 1892. The reverse features a cereal wreath and the words, “one dime.” Barber dimes were struck at Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco and New Orleans. The mintmark is found under the wreath.
Many Barber dimes are common, with relatively large mintages, but there are a few with mintages below one million. The 1907-P had the highest total, over 22 million, and except for the mysterious 1894-S issue, the lowest figure goes to the 1895-O. Barber dimes were struck in proof every year except the final year, 1916.
The 1895-O has long been recognized as a key date and is the only regular issue Barber dime with a really high price. Other scarce issues include the 1892-S, 1896-O and “S,” and some San Francisco issues of the early 20th century, notably the 1903-S. The 1909-D is hard to find in higher grades. This was an unheralded coin that did the job it was created to do – get out and circulate.
One special rarity is contained in the Barber dime series – the 1894-S. Only 24 were struck, all in proof. Less than half that number are known to exist, with two heavily circulated. One, in good condition, was found in circulation in 1957 and purchased over the counter by Gimbels in New York. Another is in about good condition. This coin is one of the few branch mint proofs listed in the Red Book.
The toughest set of the three Barber series is the quarter, with three scarce coins – all minted at San Francisco. The 1901-S is perhaps the rarest silver coin of the 20th century. Only 72,664 were minted, by far the lowest total for any date in the series. Many are circulated and found in good or about good, but still sell for thousands of dollars even in low grades. The top price paid for any United States quarter was paid for a 1901-S in Mint State-68.
Two other scarce coins are the 1896-S and 1913-S, not as rare as the 1901-S, but both are expensive even in lower grades.
Other key coins in the Barber quarter set include the 1896-O, 1897-O, 1897-S, 1901-O, 1909-O and 1914-S. This set is a challenge for any collector and even more so if coins in very fine are desired. Just as with the dimes and half dollars, coins in the middle circulated grades are hard to find, while heavily worn coins and Mint State coins are easier to find.
I once purchased a set of 50 different Barber quarters as a quick way to building a set. This was a great buy, as this hoard did not contain only the 50 most common coins. Most were in good-very good condition. The Barber quarter with the highest mintage was the 1899-P, with over 12 million produced.