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1897-S quarter hidden behind giants

It is very easy to overlook good Barber quarters simply because a few of them are so good. After all, you have the 1901-S with its mintage of 72,664 and poor survival rate, and the 1913-S with a mintage of just 40,000. With dates like that, it is hard for any other Barber quarter to get much attention. The 1914-S gets a little notice because it had the same mintage as the 1916-D Mercury dime, yet the 1897-S barely gets any, even though it is generally considered a better coin than the 1914-S.

It helps to consider the 1897 situation. There were a number of collectors at the time, but not many collected quarters. The quarter was just too expensive for most, and the odds are good that few of them would have been saving quarters by date and mintmark.

Under normal circumstances, if a coin is not saved at the time it is made, later generations of collectors come along and pull examples from circulation. That, however, did not really apply in the case of the 1897-S. Once placed in circulation, 1897-S quarters most likely circulated until they were worn out, retired and destroyed. Even if the 1897-S had been a high mintage, the numbers today would not be large.

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We find proof of the situation in the New York Subway Hoard, which was purchased by the Littleton Coin Company back in the 1990s. The hoard was begun in the 1940s, roughly 45 years after the 1897-S was produced. The 1897-S does not appear to have been included in the hoard, most likely because it was too common, yet it included several examples of the 1901-S and the 1913-S.

There were significant losses but in the case of the 1897-S, starting with a mintage of 542,229, the losses must not have been too heavy, otherwise there would not be any supply for the collectors of today.

That may explain the current $75 price of the 1897-S in G-4. It is just as bad if not worse in Mint State where the 1897-S lists for $900 in MS-60 and $7,000 in MS-65.

At the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, they have seen a total of 39 examples of the 1897-S in MS-65 or better. At the Professional Coin Grading Service, the total for the 1897-S in MS-65 or better stands at 33 pieces.

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The numbers, while not ridiculously low, are still low enough that there is no doubt that if there was additional demand, the Mint State totals would not be large enough to keep all potential buyers happy.

That may well be the situation in all grades for the 1897-S Barber quarter. With the current low demand, there is no pressure. Whether in G-4 or MS-65, however, that can change and if it does, look for the low mintage 1897-S to rise dramatically in demand and price.

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