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1898-S Barber quarter tough in top grades

 Fewer 1898-S Barber quarters are available in top grades than might be thought based on mintage.

Fewer 1898-S Barber quarters are available in top grades than might be thought based on mintage.

Finding a coin everyone has overlooked is fun. It does not happen often, because coin prices tend to be a very accurate reflection of the availability of most issues. When you factor in demand to explain the few cases where a coin seems too cheap or too expensive, prices are almost never wrong. If there is one case within a set where a price seems wrong, that is unusual.

Barber quarter prices seem to be upgraded regularly. Over the past several years, we have seen the 1896-S pass the 1913-S in price in Mint State. That is no small matter, since the 1913-S (with a mintage of just 40,000) was naturally seen as better than the 1896-S (mintage 188,039). However, grading service totals were conclusive that the 1896-S was seen less often than the 1913-S.

Originally, no other Barber quarters were considered in the same class as the 1896-S, 1901-S, and 1913-S key dates. In some grades, that is still the case. But the 1898-S is one of those surprise dates that makes every price look suspect. It had a mintage of 1,020,592, which is certainly not similar to the 1896-S or 1913-S. But it is not a high total, either.

There were not a lot of collectors and dealers back in the 1890s who would have saved extra examples of a seemingly better date. In fact, there is little evidence of anyone saving extra examples of any silver issues, not even in 1916, when the Standing Liberty quarter was introduced with a mintage of 52,000. Collectors got the new dates they needed from circulation, so dealers did not save an extra roll of a new issue.

That may explain why the 1896-S Barber quarter is so tough in top grades. But why is the 1898-S even tougher? Mintage would have made little difference in the saving of Mint State examples. It was a slow time for collecting, and chances are that the number of collectors would have decreased in that two-year period.

The proof of that suggestion may be found in the numbers today. An MS-60 example of the 1896-S currently lists for $9,750, while the 1898-S is just $395. Moving ahead to MS-65 condition, the prices are $50,000 and $7,950, respectively. Based on the big mintage difference between them, that might seem fair.

What becomes surprising are the grading service totals. The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has seen the 1896-S Barber quarter in Mint State a total of 34 times, while the 1898-S has been seen 39 times. At the Professional Coin Grading Service, the 1896-S has been seen in Mint State 33 times, while the 1898-S has appeared 39 times.

In fairness, the numbers are not conclusive. The 1896-S could potentially still be tougher, with perhaps more examples of the 1898-S yet to be sent in for grading. That is possible, considering the lower 1898-S prices. But the two dates currently appear to be very close in numbers available, and that is surprising based on their large price differences.

Actually, the whole situation is not all that surprising. These two Barber quarter dates were produced just two years apart at the same facility. It is natural that the number saved at the time would be similar. Today, lower-mintage date might be hoarded, but that was not the case in 1890s San Francisco.

There is certainly no certainty that the 1898-S Barber quarter will suddenly jump in price. But if you are looking for a good deal on a sleeper, it might just be the perfect coin for you.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

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