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Item of the Week: 1894-O Barber Dime

Despite its life of circulating and largely being ignored by collectors, the 1894-O Barber dime is surprisingly affordable in Mint State grades. (Images courtesy usacoinbook.com)

Despite its life of circulating and largely being ignored by collectors, the 1894-O Barber dime is surprisingly affordable in Mint State grades. (Images courtesy usacoinbook.com)

The 1894-O Barber dime is priced like a better date Barber dime but, in reality it is probably a little better than it is priced.

This dime was a classic case of a coin that was not saved at the time and increased little in popularity over the years while it circulated. Of course that neglect has made the 1894-O even better today.

The Barber dime back in 1894 was beginning its third year of production. Barber dimes, quarters and half dollars had very few collectors. The few who did collect things like Barber dimes tended to get them in proof sets, and that is why you often see that the Prf-65 price of a Barber dime, quarter or half dollar is many times similar or even lower than the MS-65 price of the same date.

Back in 1894 a lot of people did not care where a Barber dime was produced. Their collections were just of dates. That would begin to change and the 1894 was actually an important year in that process: in June there was growing interest in mintmarks thanks to the publication of the work of Augustus Heaton on mintmarks.

The Heaton work came along too late to make a difference for the 1894-O. Most collectors who wanted the date would have opted for the 1894 and probably a proof, allowing the 720,000 mintage 1894-O to simply drift off into circulation.

Once the 1894-O reached circulation, there were almost no collectors at the time – or for decades – to pull it out and save it. There were tough economic times in 1894, and by the time coin collecting began to increase in popularity it was 15 years later. Most new collectors started with the cent, not the dime. By the time they even showed vague interest in dimes, there was already the new Mercury dime. Barber dimes were out of favor, assuming there had actually been a period when they were in favor.

There is some proof of just how long a date like the 1894-O might circulate. The famous New York Subway Hoard was begun in the 1940s, almost 50 years after the 1894-O was released. In that hoard were a total of 45 complete sets of Barber dimes, which would have included the 1894-O some 50 years after it was made.

Fifty years in circulation does very little to help the condition of any coin. We can rightly suspect that many examples of the 1894-O were worn out and retired from circulation, then destroyed.

There may be a legitimate question as to how good the supplies of the 1894-O really are in a grade like G-4, where it currently lists for $70. It seems very possible that the current lack of demand allows the 1894-O to be at $1,850 in MS-60 and $1,300 in MS-65. At the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, they have seen 22 examples of the 1894-O that were called Mint State and of that small total, a mere three were called MS-65 or better.

The situation is similar at the Professional Coin Grading Service where they have seen 33 examples of the 1894-O that were called Mint State and of that total, six were MS-65 or better.

Just consider for a minute that the 1894-O is at $1,850 in MS-60 yet the two largest grading services, in the millions of coins they have graded, can barely come up with a combined total equal to one roll. Moreover, in MS-65 or better the total is below 10 pieces, and some of the reported examples might be repeat submissions.

It certainly argues strongly that the 1894-O is a great deal in Mint State if you can find one at today’s prices. ◆