HomeUS Coins1892 Barber Quarter : A Collector's Guide

1892 Barber Quarter : A Collector’s Guide

1892 Barber Quarter. Image: Heritage Auctions / Adobe Stock / CoinWeek.
1892 Barber Quarter. Image: Heritage Auctions / Adobe Stock / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

Generations of Americans living through the second half of the 19th century had known only the Seated Liberty coinage. The motif was ubiquitous, entering circulation in 1837 and adorning the half dime, dime, twenty-cent piece, quarter dollar, half dollar, and silver dollar denominations. The half dime and twenty-cent piece came and went, but Seated Liberty soldiered on.

Citing the “inartistic quality” of the long-running coin motif, United States Mint Director James Putnam Kimball called for a redesign of America’s coinage in 1887.

Three years later, Congress passed the Act of September 26th, 1890, allowing the Director of the Mint, Edward O. Leech, Kimball’s successor, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, to change the design of any coin after 25 years of circulation. Leech was committed to changing the design and attempted to set up a competition between 10 outside artists without consulting the Mint’s engraving department. Leech also wanted to do it on the cheap. Rejecting the demands for financial remuneration on the part of the artists he initially approached, the director publicized a nationwide competition on April 4, 1891.

This drew considerable interest, and despite collecting hundreds of designs in a public competition, the panel of judges consisting of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Boston engraver Henry Mitchell, and the Chief Engraver of the Mint Charles E. Barber were unable to select suitable designs.

In an attempt to set the director straight, the three joined to write the following letter:

Dear Sir:

We would respectfully report that in conformity with your written request we have opened in the presence of the director of the Mint the new designs or models submitted for the silver coins of the United States, under Department circular of April 4, 1891, and have carefully examined the same.

We are of the opinion that none of the designs or models submitted are such a decided improvement upon the present designs of the silver coins of the United States as to be worthy of adoption by the government.

We would respectfully recommend that the services of one or more artists distinguished for work in designing for relief be engaged at a suitable compensation to prepare for the consideration of the Department new designs for the coins of the United States.

Very respectfully,

Henry Mitchell
Augustus St. Gaudens
Chas. E. Barber

Stymied but not dissuaded, Leech traveled to Philadelphia to meet with the Mint’s engraving department. He asked Barber and assistants George T. Morgan and William Key to submit designs. Wanting a uniform obverse across the three circulating denominations that were up for a refresh (the dime, the quarter dollar, and the half dollar), Leech instructed the engravers to base their models on the coin designs of French engraver Eugène-André Oudiné.

He also had specific instructions regarding the reverse of the designs. The director wanted an adaptation of the Heraldic Eagle from the Great Seal of the United States for the quarter and the half dollar. The dime, he figured, could retain the cereal wreath.

In due course, Barber’s designs were selected, but tension developed between the two men as Leech insisted on several design changes in the following months. On October 1, 1891, Leech provided Philadelphia Mint Superintendent Oliver C. Bosbyshell with a list of changes that he wanted to see carried out. The next day, Barber and Bosbyshell wrote back, asking the director to refrain from criticizing the design at such a late stage.

Bureaucrats love being told no, and on October 5, Leech wrote back to inform both Barber and Bosbyshell that he had the authority to request changes until the designs were finalized. It was an authority he intended to use. The Philadelphia Mint relented, and over the next two months, the tug-of-war continued as plasters were prepared, changes were requested, alterations were made, patterns were struck, and finally, in November, the Mint was given the go-ahead to proceed with preparations for a new coinage.

Barber Quarter Coinage Gets Underway

On January 2, 1892, the Barber coinage commenced.

Released to mixed reviews, Barber coinage represented a new period of American coin design. As is often the case in the first year of a coin’s release, minor tweaks had to be made for the benefit of the Mint and its customers, merchants, and banks.

As it pertained to the Barber quarter, the relief of the coin upon release impacted people’s ability to stack the coins. To adjust, Barber revised the reverse hub, slightly lowering the relief.

The Type I reverse is distinguished by the stars and the eagle’s right wingtip (viewer’s left), which terminates between the E and the D in UNITED and covers up the right leg serif of the E. After receiving complaints that the new design did not stack properly, Barber made a few minor adjustments and repositioned the wingtip to cover more than 50% of the letter E, including the crossbar.

On the Type II, the middle crossbar is obscured by the wingtip.

Philadelphia, New Orleans, and San Francisco struck both types in 1892. As the first-year issuance, the Philadelphia facility struck 8,236,000 coins, the ninth-largest mintage of the series. While the Type I is somewhat scarcer than the Type II 1892 Barber quarter, they tended to be collected at a slightly higher rate due to Type I coins being released first. As a result, there is no significant price difference between the two varieties.

How Much Is the 1892 Barber Quarter Worth?

While 1892 Type II Barber quarters can bring fantastic sums in ultra-high grade, most collectors can acquire the important first-year issue for under $200 USD. Low circulated grades, such as Good to Fine grades, sell for as little as $10 and as much as $50, depending on the condition and the seller. In XF 40 to VF 30, grades commonly found at local coin shows, examples sell for $60 to $70. From AU 53 to XF 45, these coins sell regularly for $140 to $150. About Uncirculated examples still retain significant numismatic value and AU55 – 58s sell for an average of $185, with some examples recorded as high as $350 and as low as $90.

Certified coins tend to bring higher prices as collectors know they are purchasing a genuine coin that is typically problem-free. A certified coin in Choice Mint State (MS63) commands a price of between $320 and $350. In Gem grades, the prices rise dramatically, and at this level, there can be wide disparities in prices realized based on eye appeal and strike Legend Rare Coin Auctions, a well-known boutique seller of high-eye-appeal certified coins, got two dramatically different results for Gem Barber quarters that were just one year apart. In 2021, a pleasantly toned example graded PCGS MS65 sold for $616.88. A year later, another pleasantly toned (perhaps slightly more pleasantly) example, graded PCGS MS65 CAC, sold for $1,057.50.

The auction record for this year, held by a stunningly toned MS 68 Type II, was set in September 2022 by Legend, with a hammer price of $35,250. This is slightly higher than the average price of $30,725 for MS 68s.

So whether you have a budget of $200 or $1,000 or more, there is a nice Barber quarter for you to buy. Be patient and get the best one that suits your budget.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

The population of 1892 Barber quarters at the MS68 level has remained surprisingly stable over the past 18 years, with just three additional grading events recorded at both services combined since Heritage Auctions sold a colorfully toned NGC example for $13,800 in 2005.

Proof Top Population: PCGS MS68+ (1, 4/2024). NGC MS68 (7, 4/2024). CAC MS68 (5:0 stickered:graded, 4/2024).

  • PCGS MS68 CAC #38855593: (as PCGS MS68 #22054228), Heritage Auctions, February 2006, Lot 962 – $20,125; “The D. Brent Pogue Collection, Part VII,” Stack’s Bowers, March 20, 2020, Lot 7066 – $25,200. Type I Reverse. Pogue custom insert. Exquisite rainbow toning on reverse. Obverse rainbow toning is but a notch less impressive. 
  • NGC MS68* #3017539-001: Heritage Auctions, January 8, 2015, Lot 4641 – $7,050; Heritage Auctions, July 9, 2015, Lot 3105 – $7,050; Dark rainbow toning on the obverse and reverse. Second MS68* graded by NGC.
  • NGC MS68 #194203-002: Superior Auctions, August 2004, Lot 329; Heritage Auctions, June 23, 2014, Lot #30417 – $12,925; Heritage Auctions, October 9, 2014, Lot 4725 – $11,456.25; Heritage Auctions, January 8, 2015, Lot 4642 – $9,987.50. Type Two Reverse. Distinctive blue and russet toning on obverse and reverse. 
  • NGC MS68* #668924-001: “Bob Simpson Collection”, Heritage Auctions, August 11, 2010, Lot 3118 – $14,950. Type II Reverse. Simpson on the label. first MS68* graded by NGC.
  • NGC MS68 #641499-003: Heritage Auctions, January 12, 2005, Lot 4100 – $13,800. Type I Reverse. Rainbow-toned obverse and reverse.
  • PCGS MS67 CAC: ex: Pogue, beautifully-toned. sold by Stack’s Bowers, 8/2020, lot 1190, $9,000.

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Design

Obverse:

First issued in 1892, the obverse of Charles Barber’s new quarter was dominated by an updated and elegant Liberty Head motif. Lady Liberty faces left and wears a Phrygian cap, symbolizing freedom, that is adorned with a laurel wreath. The word LIBERTY can be seen on a small band above Liberty’s forehead. The motto IN GOD WE TRUST appears above Lady Liberty and the date 1892 below. These are connected on the left by six stars and on the right by seven stars. This coin’s obverse design, which would later be called the “Barber quarter” after its designer, was also used on three of the major denominations for several decades: the half dollar, the quarter dollar, and the dime.

Reverse:

For the Reverse, Barber adapted the Great Seal of the United States. This includes a heraldic eagle with outstretched wings that is holding an olive branch and arrows, in its left and right talons respectively. The eagle is holding a fluttering banner that reads E PLURIBUS UNUM (“Out Of Many, One”). Above this banner are 13 stars representing the 13 original colonies. These stars were rearranged slightly for the new Type II examples. Surrounding the main device is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the denomination QUARTER DOLLAR. The eagles’ wings overlap the legend at the E in both UNITED and AMERICA. On the Type II 1892 Barber quarter, the eagle’s right wingtip covers almost all of the letter E in UNITED, while on the earlier hub the letter is only slightly obscured. Overall, the two types are very similar, with only slight variations in design.

Edge:

The edge of the 1892 Barber quarter is reeded.

Designer

Charles Edward Barber was born in London in 1840. He was the son of William Barber, the fifth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, under whom he worked as an assistant engraver. Upon his father’s death in 1879, Charles Barber became the Mint’s sixth chief engraver. The coins he designed during his tenure are collectively known as “Barber coinage” and include the dime, the quarter, and the half dollar. His Liberty “V” nickel is also well-known, as is his alleged feud with engraver George T. Morgan.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1892
Denomination: Quarter Dollar (25 Cents USD)
Mint Mark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: 8,236,000
Alloy: 90% Silver, 10% copper
Weight: 6.30 g
Diameter: 24.30 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Charles E. Barber
REV Designer: Charles E. Barber
Quality: Business Strike

 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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