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Denver mintmark appears on late Barbers

Nobody seems to ever give the Barber dimes, quarters and half dollars produced at Denver a second thought. It is in part natural as there are no great rarities among them and people tend to focus on the rarities and key dates from Philadelphia, San Francisco and New Orleans.

Overlooking the Denver issues is to miss part of the story of the three different sets. It is also missing the story of the Denver Mint as at the time of the Barber production the Denver facility was just opening and establishing its reputation. With the important role of Denver in coin production today, learning about some of these first coins from the facility is a good idea as it helps to trace the story of a very important institution.

The story of the Denver Mint started a long time before there were Barber dimes, quarters and half dollars. In the late 1850s there had been a gold rush to the Colorado region with thousands of fortune seekers with “Pikes Peak or Bust” signs on their covered wagons making their way to Denver. It in some respects proved that Americans of all generations have been especially gifted when it comes to geography, as heading for Denver while expecting to also be at Pikes Peak is going to be disappointing as the two are about 75 miles apart.

Maybe it was to be expected as these were in most part gold seekers who had not had the best of luck in California in 1849. Having panned a little gold myself and the emphasis is on “little,” it is not an easy activity and it does not take long to realize you have to have that unusual combination of both skill and luck.

Moreover, the situation in Denver or Pikes Peak or wherever these fortune seekers ended up was not precisely like California. There was a lot of gold there, but certainly not as much as in California.

That said, all the fuss caused Congress on April 21, 1862, to pass a bill authorizing $25,000 to purchase the private Clark, Gruber minting facility in Denver. It was thought that this would be the Denver Mint and $75,000 was authorized for operating expenses as it was expected the facility would produce gold coins.

In some respects it looks like Denver was seen as a replacement for Dahlonega, Ga., and Charlotte, N.C., the two southern facilities that had produced gold coins prior to being seized in 1861 during the early days of the Civil War.

In fact, Denver really did not replace those two facilities or New Orleans, which had also been seized, or anything else as it operated as an assay office, refinery and storage depot but not much else for decades.
In the 1890s, still without a working mint, Colorado was the scene of another gold claim. This time it was at Cripple Creek. In fact it was a district of sorts with a road connecting the communities of Cripple Creek, Anaconda, Victor and Altman along with various small groups of buildings without official status.

Mines grew up in the area and this new flurry of excitement got Congress into the act again. It is worth noting that in 1895 when the Congress took action for a second time, the Carson City facility had just ceased coin production and the case could probably have been made that New Orleans was just hanging on as well.

It was decided to finally get serious about a Denver facility and additional money was authorized on March 2, 1895. The following year the real estate was purchased with the new building not being ready to be occupied until 1904. Then the machinery had to be installed and by the time the Denver Mint was ready to strike anything. It was November 1, 1905, when the facility struck some brass souvenirs. The governor was present as well as a number of other special guests.

It would take until Feb. 1, 1906, before the Denver Mint would strike its first official coin of the United States. It might be said it was in the nick of time as Denver from the start would be thrown into heavy coin production and not just of gold issues.

Just a couple months after it opened, the San Francisco facility would be put out of service for a time because of the San Francisco earthquake and fire. The Carson City facility had ceased coin production back in 1893 and without San Francisco, that left only the main facility in Philadelphia and an aging New Orleans.

San Francisco would be back on line fairly quickly considering the circumstances, but from the start Denver was seen as an important facility in terms of the nation’s coinage needs. That role would expand even further with the elimination of the prohibition on facilities other than Philadelphia making lower denominations containing no gold or silver, so by 1912 both San Francisco and Denver would also be making nickels and cents in addition to gold and silver coins.

Denver would very quickly move to the production of Barber dimes, quarters and half dollars. Certainly any of the three would be historically significant. The question is whether there were really many, if any collectors in the area who really cared.

A few things have to be remembered about the situation back in 1906. The first is that there was not a great deal of collecting both by date and mint. By 1900 Augustus Heaton’s Mint Marks booklet was making the rounds, but realistically the bulk of the nation’s collectors were collecting cents and nickels, which at the time were produced only at Philadelphia.

Those collecting denominations from dimes to double eagles, while having the possibility of collecting by date and mint,  were in many cases not doing so. Such collecting raised the cost of a collection and realistically there were no albums or holders to house collections that would have holes for each date and mint. As a result, many hobbyists were simply content with a coin of each date.

There was an additional factor that was that dimes, quarters and half dollars were thought to be in the minds of many people relatively high denominations. As a result, they had lower collector interest. Once again even if you did collect dimes or half dollars at the time, the odds were you simply cared about having an example of each date and that could be accomplished with a higher mintage coin from Philadelphia.

As a result of those factors it is reasonable to question precisely how many persons did save the historic first 1906-D Barber dime. We will never be precisely sure, but we know that the 1906-D is as available as might be expected for a coin with a mintage of 4,060,000.

The 1906-D is priced today at a slight premium in circulated grades as it is $2.75 in G-4 with an MS-60 price of $175, which is above an available date, which would be $105. At $1,650 in MS-65, the 1906-D also is safely above the available date price of $695.

The PCGS totals support the premiums as the 1906-D has been graded just 15 times in MS-65 or better and only 79 times in Mint State. Those totals are low enough to rule out any significant saving of the historic first dime from Denver.

In fact, the 1907-D and its availability today does suggest there may have been some small saving of the 1906-D as the 1907-D had a virtually identical mintage of 4,080,000. The 1907-D, however, is more costly in Mint State, although it is about the same price as the 1906-D in circulated grades. In MS-60 the 1907-D is $2275 while an MS-65 is much higher at $3,950. The PCGS totals suggest it is less available with roughly 38 having been seen in Mint State while the total in MS-65 or better stands at just 10 pieces.

The 1908-D at $990 in MS-65, the 1909-D at $3,150 in MS-65 and the 1910-D at $1,650 would also all be premium dates at least in MS-65.

Of the three, the 1909-D, which is also at $485 in MS-60, would really stand probably because it had a mintage of 954,000, which was the first time that Denver had produced a Barber dime with a mintage of less than 1 million.

In fact the 1909-D does not stand out that much in terms of numbers known. With 47 examples graded by PCGS in Mint State and just a dozen in MS-65 or better, the 1909-D is certainly not common. Whether it is as tough as its price suggests is another matter, but this is a situation where with most not seeing Denver Barber dimes as being especially tough, we may be getting incomplete pictures from the grading services simply because not all examples have been sent in for grading. It is possible that the 1909-D is better, but right now the totals don’t give us a very clear picture.

The remaining Denver Barber dimes would all be seen as basically available dates. Their numbers are higher at the grading services with a date like the 1912-D at around 170 Mint State appearances, with 31 being MS-65 or better.

With a potential incomplete picture because of limited submissions, some dates could ultimately turn out to be better or not as good as we think but for now the dates after the 1912-D are basically seen as available and are priced accordingly .

In the case of quarters, the saving was likely to be even lower than for dimes, but it does appear that like the 1906-D there may have been a small amount of saving of the first 1906-D Barber quarter. The 3,280,000 mintage of the 1906-D was enough to make it an available date in circulated grades, but its Mint State prices of $220 in MS-60 and $2,250 in MS-65 suggest some availability especially in lower Mint State grades where it is barely above an available date in price.

The MS-65 listing is higher as an available date would be about $1,400. We see that it is certainly not common in MS-65 with a PCGS total in top grade of just 23 pieces, making it appear that the 1906-D might have been saved but the coins saved just turned out to be average Mint State examples.

The 1907-D with a mintage of 2,484,000 might be expected to be better based on the mintage, but realistically in circulated grades it is actually slightly less than the 1906-D. Where you see the difference is in Mint State as the 1907-D shows potentially less saving than the first 1906-D with a $240 MS-60 price and a $2,750 listing in MS-65 where the total seen at PCGS is just 11 pieces.

Once again, it could be simply bad luck from the coins saved that few have turned out to be MS-65, but where we see the lessened interest is in the fact that PCGS has seen about 110 Mint State 1906-D quarters and only about 75 of the 1907-D. The numbers are not large but they are large enough to suggest it is much easier to find a Mint State 1906-D than a 1907-D.

The 1908, 1909 and 1910 Denver Barber quarters tend to all be relatively available with solid mintages. The 1910-D is lower at just 1.5 million pieces while the others are over 5 million yet the prices are in a range from $1,750 for the 1908-D in MS-65 to $2,350 for the 1909-D.

What is interesting is that the 1910-D at $375 in MS-60 appears to be a much better date than the other two. That turns out to be true as in Mint State PCGS report under 75 examples of the 1910-D while the others are well over 100. The interesting thing is that in MS-65 the totals are much closer as are the prices, suggesting that the 1910-D, while not heavily saved, apparently was nice or those doing the saving were more selective with the 1910-D.

The remaining Denver Barber quarters would tend to be available dates with one significant exception and that is the 933,600 mintage 1911-D. It was a year that sometimes happens as Denver produced a number of lower mintage dates in 1911.

We cannot be sure of the reason, although it might be noted that 1911 was when Denver for the first time would produce Lincoln cents and the following year it would produce nickels for the first time. Possibly those projects saw a cutback on other mintages, but we cannot be sure.

All we do know is the 1911-D was lower mintage and is more costly in G-4 where it is $9 as well as in MS-60 where it is $700 and MS-65 where it is $6,250.

The PCGS totals suggest it is a good deal even at those levels as it has seen just over 35 examples of the 1911-D in Mint State and that is certainly a low total with only six making MS-65 or better.
The rest of the quarters from Denver were basically available.

There is a pretty good case to be made that there is no such thing as an available Denver Barber half dollar. Actually in MS-65 there is a pretty good case to be made that there is no such thing as an available Barber half dollar from any mint. As it turns out for 1906 Denver halves at $465 in MS-60, that is the available date price.

The 1906 Denver halves at $4,500 in MS-65, are $900 above available date prices, which now are pegged at $3,600.

Looking at the PCGS totals where the 1906-D has a total of less than 20 pieces in MS-65 or better, it is hard to dispute the price as the other dates go above the 20 total and the 1915-D is at 40 pieces.

There is, however, one major exception and that is the 1913-D. The branch mint Barber half dollars of 1913-1915 do not get much attention as for those three years as Philadelphia simply stole the show with half dollar mintages of less than 200,000 each year.

The 1913-D, however, was not exactly high mintage, either, at 534,000 and the 1913-S was just over 600,000. It was simply a low mintage year and when that happens some dates tend to get overlooked. That seems to be the case with the 1913-D, which is currently at $17 in G-4. In MS-60 the 1913-D is $485 with a $5,450 MS-65 price. The fact is it is worth those prices with just over 100 seen in Mint State at PCGS, but of that total a mere 8 coins reached MS-65 or better. With such totals, the 1913-D ranks as the best of the Barber half dollars from Denver but realistically all are probably far better than most suspect.

In fact, you could say much the same about all of the Denver Barber coins. Even when they are quickly dismissed as available, you have to mentally pause and ask yourself: are any Barber issues really available?
That becomes even more true in Mint State where as we see there was sometimes a limited saving, but the grading service breakdowns suggest that many of the coins seen today are not that nice. It is not that surprising as Denver was a new facility at the time and they were probably working out little problems.

It was also a time when the few collectors likely to save a new Denver Barber dime, quarter or half dollar were not likely to examine the coin closely to see that it was a superior example. After all, the idea of MS-65 was decades in the future and even then it would start with early coppers.

The result today is that the Denver Barber coins are tougher than we might expect and the only thing keeping their prices lower is a lack of overall demand from collectors who are chasing more modern issues that they remember spending as kids. If new demand ever surfaces, the Barber issues from Denver could turn out to be in surprisingly short supply.             

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