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Collector’s Guide to Barber Dime Coins (1892 to 1916)

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I have been interested in coins since I was a young age and enjoy collecting coins and writing about them.

Barber or Liberty Head dimes.

Barber or Liberty Head dimes.

History of the Dime

In 1792, the first United States Coinage Act was passed by Congress, which allowed for the production of coinage. The proposal for a decimal-based coinage system was brought about by the collaborative efforts of Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin. President George Washington appointed the renowned scientist David Rittenhouse as the first director of the mint.

The first United States dimes were minted in 1796 in Philadelphia. They were composed of approximately 89% silver and 11% copper and were larger than today’s dimes. As the price of silver rose over the decades, the mint was forced to shrink the size of the dimes from a diameter of 19 mm to their current size of 17.9 mm. By 1965, a coinage act removed all the silver from dimes, which was replaced by the less valuable copper and nickel.

1912-D Barber or Liberty Head dime coin.

1912-D Barber or Liberty Head dime coin.

Introduction of the Barber Dime

In the early 1890s, the task of designing a new dime, quarter, and half dollar was opened to the public in the form of a contest. Though there were over 300 submissions to the committee in charge of selection, only two were even awarded an honorable mention. Many of the top artists in the country boycotted the design contest due to the short timeframe and the low prize money.

When Edward O. Leech became director of the U.S. Mint, he called the contest “too wretched a failure” ever to be tried again. The director ordered the Chief Engraver at the U.S. Mint, Charles Barber, to prepare the designs. Those who worked with Barber, and some collectors today, speculate that this was what Barber desired all along. Over the years, the coin collectors have given the dimes designed by Charles Barber the name “Barber dimes” in his honor.

Obverse and Reverse

The obverse (front) of the Barber dime features the image of Lady Liberty with a Phrygian cap, a laurel wreath, and the word "LIBERTY" inscribed on her headband. Surrounding her bust is the legend “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and the year the coin was made. The iconic image of Lady Liberty was inspired by French coins and medals with the influence of Greco-Roman sculpture.

The reverse side (back) of the dime depicts a wreath and inscription like that of the Seated Liberty Dime, which was minted from 1837 to 1891.

Mint Mark

Barber dimes were minted at all four of the minting facilities in operation at the time: San Francisco, Denver, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. A mint mark of S, D, or O will appear below the wreath unless the coin was minted in Philadelphia; in this case, there will be no mint mark present. Though the coins did not have the requirement that all of them be minted at a single facility, as is the case for some nickels and other coins, nearly 80% were minted in Philadelphia.

"Barber" Quarters and Half Dollars

The same year that the Barber dime series was introduced, 1892, the quarter and half dollar coins were also redesigned using the same obverse design as the dime. The reverse of the “Barber” quarters and half dollars features a Heraldic Eagle with 13 stars above the eagle, one for each of the original colonies.

1856-S Seated Liberty dime. Note the similarity of the reverse of this coin to the reverse of the Barber dime.

1856-S Seated Liberty dime. Note the similarity of the reverse of this coin to the reverse of the Barber dime.

Rarities of the Series

Below are a few of the dimes with low mintage.

1894-S

The great rarity of the series is the 1894-S (San Francisco) Barber dime. Only twenty-four of these were minted, and, as it stands today, only nine are known to exist. The coins were struck under special direction from the Mint superintendent, J. Daggett, for a group of his banker friends. Each of the eight persons in the group received three of the rare dimes.

Daggett gave his three to his daughter, telling her to put them away until her old age; then, she could sell them for a good price. As the story goes, on her way home from the mint, she spent one of the dimes on ice cream. Following her father’s advice, she sold the other two in 1954 for a large sum of money.

The 1894-S rarely appears for sale on the market, and when one does, it sells for well over one million dollars.

1895-O

The 1895-O dime is the next rarest in the series with only 440,000 minted. These normally sell for $400 to $500 if they are in full Good condition.

Other Dates

Other low-mintage dates include:

  • 1892-S
  • 1894-O
  • 1896-O
  • 1896-S
  • 1901-S
  • 1903-S
  • 1913-S

These dates command a significant premium over the price of a common date dime.

Die Varieties

The Barber dime series doesn’t have a lot of major die varieties when it is compared to other series of coins.

  • The 1893 “3 over 2” has a faint 2 behind the 3 on the date of the coin.
  • There is an 1897 dime with a repunched date. You will need a high-grade coin to clearly determine this variety.
  • One of the least expensive varieties is the 1905-O with a micro O mint mark. The O mint mark is much smaller than the normal sized mint mark. These can be picked up for around $50 each in Good condition. The price rises rapidly with grade.
  • The last significant variety is the 1912-S Double-Die obverse. The doubling is visible in the word “UNITED.”
The 1905-O Micro O mint mark Barber dime.

The 1905-O Micro O mint mark Barber dime.

Values

When it comes to Barber dimes, rarity, collector demand, and the condition or grade determine the coin’s value. Coins graded as “Good” will be worn, with the date and letters plain and LIBERTY completely worn away. Coins in “Fine” condition will have all the letters of LIBERTY visible, though some are weak.

The more details that can be seen on the coin mean the coin will be more valuable. Collectors like coins that are in as close to original condition as possible. Common circulated Barber dimes sell for over their silver melt value at approximately $2.00 to $3.00 each. A fully uncirculated dime will cost around $120. Avoid coins that have been cleaned, as it generally hurts the value.

Proof Barber dimes are available starting around $500 each. Proof coins were specially made by the mint and have very strong detail in the design, and the surfaces are mirror-like. Except for the 1892, all the mintages are below 1000, making any proof Barber dime a rare coin. It is best to have high value dimes professionally graded by one of the services: PCGS, NGC, ANACS, or ICG.

Barber Dime Specifications

Weight: 2.50 grams. Composition 0.900 silver and 0.100 copper by weight. Actual silver content 0.0723 Troy ounces. Diameter 17.9mm with reeded edges. Minted at the Philadelphia, Denver, New Orleans, and San Francisco mints. The mint mark is below the wreath on the reverse.

References

Ambio, Jeff. Collecting & Investing Strategies for Barber Dimes (Strategy Guide Series). Zyrus Press, 2009.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins. New York: Doubleday, 1988

Bressett, Kenneth (editor). Official ANA Grading Standards for United States Coins (Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins). Whitman Publishing, 2013.

West, Doug. Coinage of the United States: A Short History. Missouri: C&D Publications, 2015.

Yeoman, R.S. A Guide Book of United States Coins 2022. 75th edition. Whitman Publishing, 2021.

Comments

Doug West (author) from Missouri on October 23, 2021:

Mary:

Only nine of the original 24 1914-S are known. Who knows what happened to the other 15 rare dimes, maybe more ice cream?

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on October 23, 2021:

Interesting information. I love the story of the girl using the coin to buy ice cream. I wonder if all the others were lost or kept by someone

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