At $165 in G-4 today, the 1893-S Barber half dollar is more expensive than many other Barber half dollars. But the question might well be why it is not even more expensive as the 1893-S is definitely a better date and one which if there was greater demand might well be even more expensive.
There were a lot of factors working against the saving of the 1893-S at the time. The 1893-S, with a mintage of 740,000, was not especially common, but there were others with lower mintages. There was just much less saving of the 1893-S.
There were a number of factors at the time that would work against the saving of the 1893-S. The first was simply the denomination. There were not many half dollar collectors back in 1893. A half dollar could buy a lot at the time and it is fair to assume that most of the collectors of the day were collecting lower denominations.
It was just about the time that the 1893-S was placed into circulation when Augustus Heaton’s book gave some added exposure to the idea of branch mint issues and how they were interesting and tough coins to add to a set.
Of course, by the time many read the Heaton work, it was already too late to save a nice 1893-S. There were other factors as well. The Barber dime, quarter and half dollar were never terribly popular with the collectors of the day. It is easy to blame that on the design, but we really cannot be sure that was the reason. We simply know there was not heavy collecting of Barbers and realistically, if you check the proof sales of the time, you find that proof totals were dropping. This is a suggestion that coin collecting in general may have been experiencing a slow period.
Once in circulation, many things could have happened to an 1893-S half dollar and none of them were particularly good. The number of half dollar collectors did not grow substantially so there were not significant numbers saved in years that followed and we see that in that the 1893-S is a much tougher coin in a grade like VF-20 and above.
Today the 1893-S is at $1,275 in MS-60 and $25,000 in MS-65. Those prices should not be taken lightly; in a grade like MS-65 the 1893-S is extremely tough. At NGC, out of 62 examples of the 1893-S they have graded, only three were called MS-65 or better. At PCGS they have graded 68 examples of the 1893-S. Of that total, four were called MS-65 and a single coin was called MS-66. That makes the $25,000 a very reasonable price, since a lot of coins with higher prices have higher total numbers in MS-65.
It might be a good buy in any grade, but before you think there is a lot of money to be made, remember the Barber half dollar still lacks a large collector base. It has been that way since 1893 and until that changes it is hard to say that the 1893-S will post big price increases.