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HomeCollecting StrategiesClassic U.S. Coins for Less than $500 Each, Part 24: Barber Dimes

Classic U.S. Coins for Less than $500 Each, Part 24: Barber Dimes

Analysis regarding scarce coins, markets, and coin collecting #353

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds …..
The theme here is completing a set of Barber dimes in Very Fine to Almost Uncirculated grades, without spending as much as $500 on any one coin. Naturally toned and pleasant representatives of one or two of the scarcest dates may not be found in VF to AU grades for less than $500 USD each, and thus one or two coins that grade less than Very Fine may need to be included to complete a set. Generally, though, a really neat and appealing set of clearly gradable and naturally toned, business strike Barber dimes may be truly completed while spending from $50 to $400 per coin.

What are Barber Dimes?

Barber dimes, quarters and half dollars were first minted in 1892. All Barber types were designed by Charles Barber. In addition, he was the designer of Liberty Head nickels (1883-1913), which are sometimes called “V” (vee) nickels. Charles Barber also designed many patterns, and a few commemoratives.

In each year from 1892 to 1916, Barber dimes were struck at the Philadelphia Mint and at the San Francisco Mint. Philadelphia Mint Barber coins do not have mint marks. Those struck in San Francisco each have an “S” mintmark on the reverse (back of the coin).

From 1892 to 1909, but not in 1904, Barber dimes were struck in New Orleans, with an “O” mintmark on the reverse. Why were 1904-O dimes not produced?

Barber dimes struck at the Branch U.S. Mint in Denver each have a “D” mintmark: 1906-D, ’07-D, ’08-D, ’09-D, ’10-D, ’11-D, ’12-D and ’14-D. Why are there no ’13-D or ’15-D dimes? There are ’13-D and ’15-D Barber quarters and half dollars.

1892obarberBarber dimes follow Liberty Seated dimes, which had a long lifespan (1837-1891). In 1916, both Barber dimes and Mercury dimes were minted, though only Mercs were struck at the Denver Mint in 1916.

In 1946, Mercury dimes were replaced by Roosevelt dimes after Franklin D. Roosevelt died in 1945, while he was president of the United States. The last silver dimes minted for circulation are dated 1964. Circulating dimes dated from 1965 to the present are of a copper-nickel ‘clad’ alloy. Beginning in 1992, silver Roosevelt dimes have been produced again, for collectors.

Buy Certified Coins When Practical

When seeking Barber dimes that cost from $300 to $500 each, it is usually a good idea to consider only coins that are PCGS- or NGC-certified. But as with any coin purchase, be sure to “buy the coin, not the holder”.

Indeed, one should become aware of the value and importance of PCGS and NGC certifications without taking the certified grades too seriously. Many (not all) of the classic U.S. coins that are not so certified were rejected at PCGS or NGC because they have serious problems, or were never submitted in the first place because they have serious problems. On average, certified coins will be better and more salable than non-certified coins that are purported to be equivalent to corresponding certified coins.

It is also true that coins that have been very apparently dipped, coins that have obviously been immersed in acidic solutions, can sometimes get past the graders. I suggest that collectors seek silver coins that are not bright white. Originality, however, is not of paramount importance to all collectors.

An important point is that buying PCGS- or NGC-graded coins involves much less risk than alternatives. It is impossible to eliminate all risk in regard to purchases. In the realm of classic U.S. coins, however, circulated Barber dimes are not particularly risky. There is not all that much to worry about.

Common Dates

In August 2016, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded “MS-65+” 1913 for $493.50. In March 2016, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned three PCGS-graded MS-65 1911 dimes for $513, $486 and $405, respectively. The $513 coin had a CAC sticker.

PCGS- or NGC-graded MS-65 dimes of many of the least scarce, “common” dates could be purchased for less than $500 each. In the context of Barber dimes for less than $500 each, it might make more sense to acquire an AU grade coin of each of the “common dates” for less than $100 each so that an overall set would be better matched and more consistent than if MS-65 and MS-64 grade coins were included.

It can be awkward for MS-65 grade and VF-20 grade coins to be in the same set of a specific series. For semi-key Barber dimes, MS-65 or even MS-63 grade coins may cost far more than $500, yet attractive, circulated representatives of these semi-keys are obtainable for modest prices.

The least scarce Barber dimes are often called “common dates”: 1892, ’97, ’98, ’99, 1900, ’01, ’02, ’05, ’07, ’08, ’08-D, ’09, ’10, ’11, ’11-D, ’12, ’12-D, ’13, ’14, ’14-D, ’15, and ’16. Coins of these dates in circulated (sub-60) grades are often not certified, as the costs of certification would amount to a substantial percentage of the value of each coin. Nevertheless, more than a few have been certified, partly because some sellers will only offer certified coins.

Better Dates

A “better date” is scarcer and/or has a higher market value than a “common date” of equivalent quality and eye appeal. It would not be practical to discuss all “better dates” here, especially since they are not difficult to find. So, I cite a few examples.

In November 2013, the firm called GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded AU-58 1892-O for $104.50. AU-50 to -55 grade 1892-O dimes, most of which have not been certified, generally cost less than $85 each.

1892sbarberIn August 2016, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-55 1892-S for $305.50. In February 2014, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded AU-58 1892-S, with colorful toning, for $430.10.

The 1893/2 overdate is too subtle for it be collected as a date distinct from the 1893 and the 1892. In order for an overdate to be classified as a distinct date that is needed by those who collect “by date” (and not by die variety), an overdate has to be very much apparent without magnification. The 1893/2 is not so clear. It is of interest to those who specialize in die varieties, not usually to someone assembling a set “by date”.

The 1893-O is definitely a “better date”. In August 2016, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-58 1893-O for $223.25.

The 1893-S is a “better date”, too. An AU grade 1893-S could certainly be obtained for less than $300. GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded VF-25 1893-S in February 2016, for $45.

The 1906-O is a slight “better date”. In February 2015, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded MS-64 1906-O for $499.38. In May 2016, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded AU-55 1906-O for $108.90.

The Key

The 1895-O is really the only key date in the series of business strike Barber dimes. The 1894-S is definitely not a business strike. Most relevant experts regard 1894-S dimes as Proofs.

Although they are different from Philadelphia Mint Proofs of the same time period, their physical characteristics are such that it is accurate to refer to all 1894-S dimes as Proofs or as borderline Proofs. They were made much differently from 1893-S or 1895-S dimes. One is thus not needed for a complete set of business strikes.

For collectors who will not be spending more than $500 per coin, the 1895-O is the only Barber dime for which a low grade or non-gradable coin must be accepted. Even so, a collector may be selective, as relatively inexpensive 1895-O dimes appear fairly frequently.

In March 2015, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded VG-08 1895-O for $428.88. In August 2016, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded Good-06 1895-O for $399.50. Heritage sold a NGC-graded Good-04 coin for $270.25 in June 2016 and a NGC-graded Fair-02 1895-O for $176.25 in January 2015.

Among certified 1895-O dimes in the Poor-01 to Fine-12 grade range, surface quality varies considerably. A lower grade 1895-O may sometimes be much more desirable than a higher grade 1895-O.

Semi-Key Dates

The six semi-keys, in order of market values, are 1896-O, 1903-S, 1894-O, 1901-S, 1897-O, and 1895, which is the only Philadelphia Mint issue of the group. Arguably, the 1896-S and the 1904-S could be classified as semi-keys as well. They are almost in the same category as the six dates just mentioned.

Usually, the semi-keys may each be purchased in VF-20 to EF-40 grades for less than $500, sometimes for much less than $250. I suggest searching for coins that lack hairlines and feature pleasant natural toning. Russet, green-gray, and tan hues often gradually form on circulated Barber dimes, as do orange-brown-russet blends. Small patches of blue are seen on a minority of Barber dimes, and should be carefully inspected.

In November 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded EF-40 1896-O for $460. This was nearly four years ago, however, and a collector cannot count upon purchasing an Extremely Fine grade 1896-O for less than $500.

In April 2014, Heritage auctioned a NGC-graded VF-25 1896-O for $411.25. A year earlier, the same firm sold a NGC-graded VF-35 1896-O for the exact same price. It should not be difficult to find Fine-12 to VF-20 grade 1896-O dimes for prices in the range of $190 to $360.

The 1903-S dime is unusually scarce for a U.S. coin from this year. Indeed, its relative rarity is not widely recognized. VF to EF grade 1903-S dimes are certainly elusive.

Back in 2011, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded VF-35 1903-S for $471.50. At the Summer FUN convention in 2013, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-graded VF-25 1903-S for $470. In February 2015, a NGC-graded Fine-12 1903-S brought $254.98. Barber dime collectors with minimal collecting budgets may like to know that GreatCollections sold a NGC-graded AG-03 1903-S in December 2015 for $30.36.

The 1894-O is not nearly as scarce as the 1903-S, though is notably scarce. Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded EF-45 1894-O for $381.88 in August 2013, a PCGS-graded EF-40 1894-O for $446.50 in March 2016, and a PCGS-graded VF-25 1894-O for $276 in March 2012.

The 1901-S is another date that is scarcer than many interested collectors and dealers believe it to be. In VF-25 to AU-50 grades, the 1901-S dime is scarcer than the 1894-O. In August 2014, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-graded VF-30 1901-S for $470. In April of that year, a NGC-graded VF-25 1901-S went for $440.63. On October 25, 2015, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded Good-06 1901-S for $77.

crystal_ball_barberThe 1897-O is somewhat famous, though not one of the scarcer semi-keys. In August 2016, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-50 1897-O for $446.50. In January 2012, the same firm sold a PCGS-graded VF-35 1897-O for more, $477.25.

My hunch is that the PCGS-graded VF-35 1897-O scores higher in the category of originality than the just-cited PCGS-graded AU-50 1897-O dime. It would not make sense, though, to fully evaluate coins by interpreting pictures.

In May 2016, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded EF-40 1897-O for $313.50. In May 2013, Stack’s-Bowers sold a NGC-graded Fine-12 1897-O for $271.43. In the $200 to $400 price range, there are quite a few 1897-O dimes around.

The 1895 is the scarcest Philadelphia Mint Barber dime. While an EF-40 grade 1895 could very well be obtainable for less than $500, the Extremely Fine grade 1895 dimes that I have seen are mediocre at best. I suggest searching for naturally toned and technically strong, Fine-12 to VF-30 grade 1895 dimes.

In June 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded VF-35 1895 for $276.13. This seemingly low price might possibly be explained by noticeable imperfections. A short time later, in August 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded Fine-12 1895 for more, $306.68. It is very important to examine coins in actuality, rather than draw conclusions from images and certified grades.

Concluding Remarks

As already mentioned, the 1893/2 overdate is subtle and may logically be omitted from a set assembled “by date”. The 1905 “Micro O” is a different matter.

The “O” mintmark on some 1905-O dimes is unusually small. “The 1905-O Micro O Barber Dime was created when a die sinker used a mintmark punch intended for a quarter dollar which, ironically, is smaller than that used on the dimes,” states Ron Guth on PCGS CoinFacts.

Should someone building a set “by date” obtain two 1905-O dimes, one with a regular mintmark and one with a “Micro O”? In my opinion, a “Micro O” is a subtle die variety; the mintmark is not that much smaller. For those collectors who wish to include one in their respective sets, a 1905 “Micro O” in a VF grade could certainly be acquired for an amount well under $500.

In January 2016, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded VF-25, and CAC-approved, 1905-“Micro O” for $329. On July 25, 2016, the firm of David Lawrence Rare Coins sold a PCGS-graded VF-30 1905-“Micro O” for $200.50.

In the respective series of business strike Liberty Seated dimes and Barber quarters, there are expensive rarities that could not possibly be acquired for less than $500 each. It would be difficult, perhaps impossible, for a collector to buy a pleasant 1916-D Mercury dime in Good-04 or higher grade for less than $500.

It is very important that a truly complete set of business strike Barber dimes may be assembled without spending as much as $500 on any one coin. If all coins were purchased in the near future, or before price levels markedly rise, it would be realistic to expect every single coin in the set (except the key-date 1895-O) to grade above Fine-15, and to be relatively pleasing.

Coins from both the 19th century and the 20th century are included in a set of business strike Barber dimes, as are many coins from each of four U.S. Mints. Besides, it is fun and satisfying to truly complete a set.

© 2016 Greg Reynolds

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Recent Articles in This Series on Classic U.S. Coins for Less Than $500 Each:

Proof Shield Nickels | Braided Hair Half Cents | Matron Head Large Cents | Classic Head Half Cents | Draped Bust Half Cents | Classic Head Large Cents | Gem Early Lincoln Cents | Indian Head Half Eagles | Two Cent Pieces | Three Cent Nickels | Indian Head Quarter Eagles | Copper-Nickel Indian Cents | Standing Liberty Quarters | Walking Liberty Half Dollars

Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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