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Long-overlooked Barber gains attention

Most of the time we discuss coins that are more expensive than we would expect based on their mintages. In the case of the 1915 Barber half dollar, we find that the opposite is true.

Most of the time we discuss coins that are more expensive than we would expect based on their mintages. In the case of the 1915 Barber half dollar, we find that the opposite is true.


Normally speaking, you would expect very little from a half dollar produced at Philadelphia in the past century. Because Philadelphia was the main mint of the United States, the assumption was that almost any half dollar produced there would have a relatively high mintage. Moreover, because there would be greater saving around Philadelphia, one would also expect that there would be greater numbers available today in upper grades.

In fact, all those assumptions would turn out to be wrong. We cannot be sure why, but starting in 1910 Philadelphia went though a number of years of low mintages for half dollars. The 1915 saw a total of 138,450.

There probably was some saving with such mintages, but the expectation would be that these Philadelphia dates would be fairly expensive. They were, after all, some of the lowest mintage half dollars of the century. Further, there were enough reasons to suspect that the Barber half dollars such as the 1915 would prove to be even tougher than their mintages suggested.

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The first reason is that very few collectors were attempting to collect half dollars at the time. The denomination’s face value was simply too high for most of the collectors of the day. This means that half dollars were basically allowed to keep circulating.

Even the dealers of the time were not prone to save coins even if they had lower mintages. That was seen the following year when the 52,000 mintage 1916 Standing Liberty quarter appeared. Q. David Bowers could only find evidence that a couple dealers of the time had “working inventories” of the 1916 not because they could not find it but rather because their customers would find a 1916 in circulation or at their local bank if they wanted one. If they did not stock the 1916 quarter with its mintage, there was little reason to stock a date like the 1915 half dollar.

Circulating for years certainly did not help the condition of surviving halves. There is no doubt that, even decades after being released, the 1915 would still be circulating. For many years there would have been few who would have cared, for those who did collect half dollars were more likely to assemble sets of the more recent Walking Liberty half dollars.

It is really only in recent years that we have seen some movement in the price of the 1915. Back in 1998 it was at $20 in G-4 and today that price has increased to $112. That is a very strong price increase for a G-4 coin.

In MS-60 the 1915 had a price of $945 back in 1998, and today the MS-60 price is $1,350. This is a good increase, although not as impressive as the G-4 gain. In MS-65 the 1915 was at a price of $4,550 back in 1998 and today it lists for $6,650, which is a good gain as well.

The current prices in Mint State are supported by grading service totals that show the 1915 is not an available date but not a key date, either. What we see today is that the 1915 has posted some solid gains and more may be on the way as it has been overlooked for too long. It’s not the best Barber half dollar but it is a good one and people are starting to realize it.

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