President Theodore Roosevelt called the series of dimes, quarters and halves designed by Charles E. Barber “artistically of atrocious hideousness,” but that’s not stopping determined Barber coin collectors.
“I think that the market is nice and strong right now,” Glenn Holsonbake, owner of Holsonbake Numismatics, Folsom, Calif., said. “The upper Mint State area has had some really strong results. Below Mint State has been quiet, but has picked up recently.”
Values vary based on the denomination though, said the specialist on Barber coinage.
“In a five-year slice of time, the market for Barber halves and quarters has come up some,” he said. “Dimes have been softer, but have come up in the past six months.”
The challenge facing both collectors and dealers is finding nice, quality coins, he said.
“Finding Barbers that have not been cleaned or damaged is difficult,” he said. “It’s not a set you can put together in a single day at a coin show like a short set of Walking Liberty half dollars.
“These were workhorses. These coins were used as money and circulated widely. They were worn down in circulation, many down to basal state.
“The branch mint coins were hardly ever saved. The Philadelphia coins were saved in better numbers, but there are some really low mintages from Philadelphia there too.”
The fact that Barber coins were widely used back then creates grade rarities today, he said.
“Even very fine (VF), extremely fine (XF), and about uncirculated (AU) graded Barber coins are harder to find than Mint State examples because they were either saved uncirculated or circulated down to low grades,” Holsonbake said.
Ben Todd, senior numismatist at Sarasota Numismatics, Sarasota, Fla., said that because so many Barber coins circulated, the market is difficult to figure out.
“Barbers are a very thin market with only so many nice coins available from a very limited potential supply,” he said. “Anything nice generally is picked up almost immediately, and what is left over is the stuff no one wants.
“This material is then thrown in an auction to try and get rid of it. This creates huge variations in auction prices realized.
“Just looking at a common date like a 1916 Barber quarter in PCGS MS-66, you will see an auction range of $1,293 to $2,585. Quality coins will bring good, strong numbers but the ‘stuff’ will go very cheap.
“Generally, most Barbers of value will be certified at this point. If the coin has not been graded, you should look closely to figure out why.”
With a lot of Barber coins on the market but few quality examples, collectors have to know what they’re looking for, he said.
“I tend to have customers that fall in two categories, either nice XF to AU pieces or MS-64 and up,” Todd said. “Type collectors could fall anywhere along the line.”
David Khan, owner of David Khan Rare Coins, Olney, Md., said the scarcity with Barber coinage can keep collectors waiting for a while.
“I was dealing with a Barber collector who is very demanding and knows what he wants,” he said. “It’s been six months since I found a coin he wanted and, just last week, was able to sell him a Barber coin he needed.
“With coins like an AU-58 1897-O Barber half, there are a number where the price won’t be the issue but the opportunity to own one can.
“Like the 1909-O Barber quarter in XF to AU, they are not around and the collector has to be ready to pounce when one comes up for sale.”
Even Barber dimes have their share of difficulties, he said.
“As for the dimes, you won’t be able to find the 1894-S,” he said. “Some people don’t care, though, and collect the series anyway.”
Other Barber dimes offer a challenge, but can be found, he said.
“The dimes are the most difficult to find without damage or cleaning in XF or AU,” he said. “AU Barber dimes slabbed can easily make $50 to $70.”
Like the dimes, Holsonbake said Barber quarters have their share of hurdles.
“With the Barber quarters, there are three dates that are very difficult: the 1896-S, the 1901-S and the 1913-S,” he said. “A lot of collectors just skip these coins and buy the rest of the set.
“There are also two to three dates like the 1909-O in Mint State that are getting difficult to find and purchase.
“In the past couple of years, the 1909-O quarter has really come of age. I think what is fascinating is how laggy price guides have been on this coin. There’s been some auctions recently for Mint State examples that have not reflected those prices.”
Barber halves are the easiest of the three to collect, he said.
“For the half dollars, there are no show stoppers in the series,” he said. “The halves are popular to collect because they are an easy series.”
“Barber halves to watch out for include the 1904-S, the 1905-O and the 1907-S.
“The 1904-S has nearly caught up to its value as dealers are realizing what they can get for them.”
And, although, the market is much smaller, there are collectors for Barber proof coins, he said.
“The really great opportunity is for someone looking to put together a proof series of Barber coins,” he said. “The mintages are very low to begin with.”
“Many more have become impaired, polished or cleaned, so you’re talking about some low mintages. I like proof Barber coins as a collection with investment value.”
With a market of scarce, high-grade Barber dimes, quarter, halves and their proofs, the future for the series looks good, he said.
“You have a limited supply of collectible Barber coins,” Holsonbake said. “If you look at the supply and demand equation, it doesn’t take a lot of movement in the demand to really bring the prices up.
“In the next five to 15 years, if I were putting together a series collection for some reselling opportunities, I’d look at Barbers.”
Todd said that Barber coinage has a lot to offer both collectors and dealers in the future.
“Barber coinage’s strength is also the series’ weakness: rarity,” he said. “The limited availability of even the ‘common coins’ precludes it from being a heavily marketed series.
“Barbers have a strong collector base that should continue to develop as people start to focus on the real rarity of this series.”
[Author's Note: Collectors interested in learning more about Barber coin collecting or are working on a set of Barber coins are encourage to join the Barber Coin Collectors' Society. Their website can be found here: http://www.barbercoins.org/.]
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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