If you want to find the better Barber half dollars, do not get hung up with mintages. Yes, a mintage can be a good indication of how tough some coins will be, but mintages are not always reliable. The 1896-S Barber half dollar is proof.
With a mintage of 1,140,948, the 1896-S was not going to impress anyone at the time. A mintage of more than 1 million was not low. The Philadelphia issues of 1913, 1914 and 1915 were all below 200,000, and they are not seen as especially rare.
Very few collected the Barber half dollar, and virtually no one had a collection by date and mint. In fact, it was just about this time that collecting by date and mint was gaining popularity. However, it was not widespread.
The Barber dime, quarter and half didn?t generate much collector interest. Historically, the three denominations have never been popular. The higher-denominatiton half dollar wasn?t popular because it cost a lot for many people at the time.The national economy was not good and collecting was not doing well. In 1896 there were less than 2,000 proof sets sold, which was the first time in a long time that had happened. In the 1880s the total had sometimes been more than double 1896?s total.
Under the circumstances there were few, if any, to save the 1896-S when it was released. The numbers did not improve in the years it was circulating.
Collecting would increase in popularity with the arrival of the Lincoln cent, but it was a big step to go from being a beginning cent collector to starting a Barber half dollar collection. Few made that step. In fact, the Barber coins simply circulated. This explains why when the ?New York Subway Hoard? began in the 1940s, it was possible to complete 24 sets of Barber half dollars from it.
By the time the ?New York Subway Hoard? began, the 1896-S Barber half dollar had been in circulation for roughly 45 years. Over such a period silver coins get worn to the point of being retired and destroyed. That goes a long way toward explaining why today the 1896-S in G-4 is priced at $92.50.
The 1896-S gets really tough in Mint State. Today it lists for $1,400 in MS-60, and there are few Barber half dollars over $1,000 in this grade. In MS-65 it is listed at $11,750. It is one of the few Barber half dollars to top the $10,000 mark in MS-65.
The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation had a total of 10 appearances of the 1896-S in MS-65. Professional Coin Grading Service had a total of 14 examples in MS-65 or better.
The totals tell the story since there are $80,000 coins with no more appearances. The deciding factor in price, however, is the historic lack of demand. If that ever were to change, the 1896-S would suddenly be much more expensive and better known.