By Chris Bulfinch – Numismatist, Stack’s Bowers ……
For decades, American consumers were handling a significant numismatic rarity almost certainly without realizing it. Many 1896-S quarters–of which just 188,039 were struck–made their way into circulation, as collecting by mintmark had not yet entered numismatic vogue. The coin’s small mintage, coupled with extensive circulation, renders any Mint State example a real prize; the date in any grade is among a trio of key Barber quarters from the San Francisco Mint that includes the 1901-S and the 1913-S. Stack’s Bowers Galleries is proud to be offering one of the finest-known examples of this key date as lot 3105 in our Spring 2023 Rarities Night Auction.
The paucity of Mint State coins has been known to Barber specialists for decades. In a 1991 article in the Journal of the Barber Coin Collectors Society, a 30-year veteran Barber quarter collector reflected that “In about uncirculated to uncirculated [sic] preservation this date is an established, legitimate rarity, and virtually never for sale. However, some of the grading services have documented some outstanding examples of this coin, although I have never examined them.”
PCGS assigned the 1896-S quarter offered in our upcoming auction an MS-65 grade, one of just seven such grading events in the PCGS Population Report, with just six grading events listed as finer. “Both sides exhibit full satiny mint luster, and the fields are noticeably semi-reflective. Essentially brilliant, only the lightest iridescent tinting is evident along the lower reverse border. The strike was delivered with pinpoint accuracy, calling forth full detail to all design elements. Expertly preserved and pristine in most areas,” writes our cataloger.
Over the last decade, 1896-S Barber quarters in MS-65 have consistently realized five-figure prices, according to auction results recorded on PCGS CoinFacts. Ownership of such an impressive Gem 1896-S quarter is confined to a small number of collectors with deep enough pockets to acquire these exceptional pieces. An opportunity for an advanced Barber collector to join that small circle is fast approaching.