Normally people don’t get very excited about issues from Philadelphia, especially those from the past century. Their mintages were routinely higher than either Denver or San Francisco, so they tend to be more available.
However, Barber half dollars tend to be an exception to that rule. Exactly why they had lower mintages is hard to say, although my best guess is that the use of large silver coins was greater in the West. As a result, the San Francisco mintages in particular were frequently higher than those of Philadelphia.
The best known lower-mintage Barber half dates from Philadelphia are probably the 1913, 1914 and 1915, all of which were under 200,000. Another example is the 1910, which was under 500,000.
With so many low-mintage dates, it was hard for any one coin to stand out. That was the case with the 1905, even though it had the lowest mintage for Philadelphia Barber halves at the time it was produced, with 662,727 struck.
That number simply did not attract much attention back in 1905. While it was much lower than the San Francisco total, which was nearly 2.5 million, it was still higher than that for the 1905-O, which stood at just 505,000.
Another fact in play was that the Barber half dollar never had many collectors. The denomination was simply too high for most people collecting at the time.
The few who were collecting half dollars probably would have assembled date sets rather than sets including all dates from all mints, as that sort of comprehensive collecting was still relatively new. Odds were pretty good for acquiring a Philadelphia 1905, but it would probably have been a proof and not a business strike.
Generally speaking, the average 1905 Barber half dollar released into circulation would have stayed in circulation for decades. Over the years, there were very few new Barber half dollar collectors to start sets. As a result, it is possible that some examples of the 1905 became so worn they were retired and destroyed.
We see proof of the long period of circulation for Barber half dollars in the “New York Subway Hoard.” Begun in the 1940s, it had 24 complete sets, and all of those coins would have been in circulation for decades.
Its low mintage certainly accounts for the 1905 Barber half dollar’s $16 price in G-4 condition today. Mint State coins are another matter, with examples listed at $700 in MS-60 and $4,700 in MS-65. A Prf-65, however, is just $1,990.
The only way to explain such prices is the grading service populations, which can show whether proofs (which had an estimated mintage of 727 pieces) are really that much more available than MS-65s.
Numismatic Guaranty Corporation reports 57 examples of the 1905 Barber half in Mint State, but only 13 were graded MS-65 or better. For proofs, there are 88 examples in Prf-65 or better and 125 more in lower proof grades. The Professional Coin Grading Service reports 103 examples in Mint State, with 27 being MS-65 or better. Proofs total 304, with 103 being Prf-65 or better.
The evidence clearly shows that proofs are more available than MS-65s and that the 1905 Barber half dollar is not readily available in top grades. Keeping prices lower is a lack of demand. For now, collectors can take advantage of this fact and obtain a very nice example of the low-mintage coin at a very good price.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.
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• The Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1901-2000 is your guide to images, prices and information on coinage of the 1900s.
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