By Bullion Shark LLC ……
By the late 1880s, the public had grown tired of Christian Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty designs that had appeared on silver coinage for half a century since the 1830s. A competition was held by the United States Mint to redesign the nation’s silver dimes, quarters, and half dollars. Yet because only the winner would be compensated, there were no public entries. Instead, Mint Director Edward Owen Leech instructed Charles E. Barber, who originally hailed from England and had designed the Liberty Head nickel that debuted in 1883, to prepare new designs.
At the time, Barber served as Chief Engraver and created the same design for the dimes, quarters, and halves that came to be known as “Barber coinage”. Barber’s design featured a right-facing profile of Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap with laurel and “LIBERTY” inscribed on a band above her forehead. Six stars appear to her right, and seven to her left. The reverse has a Heraldic Eagle that is holding an olive branch and arrows in its talons, symbolizing the desire for peace while being prepared for war.
These coins were issued on an annual basis at branch mints in Philadelphia, Denver, New Orleans, and San Francisco (not at each mint every year) from 1892 through 1916 (except for no halves issued in 1916) and remained in circulation until the 1950s. Unlike Seated Liberty coins that have various subtypes based on small differences in their motifs, silver Barber coinage remained the same. However, the dies for the quarters were modified in 1900 to make them thinner and easier to stack.
Although each denomination has several key and semi-key dates and some real rarities, most Barber silver coinage is not too difficult to locate – with the major exception of the 1894-S dime, of which only 24 examples were struck. Only nine are still known to exist, and even the two heavily worn ones are worth at least $1 million.
Barber Dime Values
Of the three silver Barber denominations, dimes are the most widely collected and have been for a long time – largely because they are the easiest to display and house in albums and folders, but also because even during tough economic times Americans could afford to collect them from change.
Common Barber dimes in lower circulated condition are worth $3-4 each (and available in rolls), while an XF is worth approximately $32, MS60 is worth about $105, MS63 is worth $175, MS65 $400, and the top grade of MS67 is worth much more at $2,400.
The 1895-O, with the lowest mintage at 440,000, is the series key apart from the ultra-rare 1894-S, which is not really collectible given the value and how few exist. There are only about 1,200 1895-Os in circulated grades that even in Good are worth $450. The 1895-O is worth about $2,750 in XF, $4,500 in AU, and $6,000 in MS60. Higher Mint State coins reach all the way to $75,000 for an MS67, the top grade.
Other semi-key dates include 1896-O, 1896-S, 1901-S, 1903-S, and 1904-S. 1896-O and 1896-S both run about $100 in Good, $600 and $475 respectively in XF, and $1,700 and $775 respectively in MS60. In higher grades, the 1896-O reaches $12,000 for MS66, while the 1896-S goes for about $5,000 in that grade.
The 1901-S and 1903-S have similar values through MS60, running about $85 in Good, $350 in Fine, and about $1,200 in MS60. In the top grade of MS67, the coins are worth, respectively, $11,000 and $16,000.
The 1904-S is just $47 in Good, $350 in XF, and $800 in MS60. An MS63 specimen garners about $1,800, while an MS65 gets about $4,200 and an MS67 earns around $17,500.
Barber Quarter Values
A common date circulated Barber quarter runs about $15 and can be purchased in rolls. In better condition it runs $85 in XF, $230 in MS60, $700 in MS65, and $3,000 in MS67.
According to the Barber Coins Collectors’ Society:
“The three key dates are 1896-S, 1913-S, and the King of all regular-issue Barber coinage, the 1901-S. The 1901-S and 1913-S are two of the three lowest mintage dates of 20th-century minor U.S. coins, with just 72,664 and 40,000 minted, respectively.”
1896-S starts at $650 in good and rises to $5,500 in XF, $15,000 in MS60, and $55,000 in MS65. In the top grade of MS66, it is a real condition rarity at $130,000, with only three graded by PCGS to date.
1913-S starts at $1,250 in Good and jumps to $8,950 in XF, $14,500 in MS60, $32,500 in MS66, and reaches $75,000 in the top grade of MS67.
The series key 1901-S (with only 72,664 coins made) begins at $3,750 in Good, $29,000 in XF, $38,500 in MS60, $80,000 in MS65, and $300,000 for MS67. The top grade and the King of Barber coins is the one MS68+ that sold for $550,000 in 1990 but only $327,000 in 2010 as the economic conditions of a decade ago took a toll on the rare coin market.
There are many other quarters that are scarce in higher circulated and Mint State grades.
Barber Half Dollar Values
A common, circulated Barber half runs about $15-20 and is available by the roll, while an XF is worth about $215, an MS60 is worth $525, an MS63 goes for around $750, and an MS65 is worth $1,650. The top grade of MS67 is $10,000 even for the most common issues.
With fewer than 100 coins known to exist, the rarest half is the 1892-O with micro O that runs from $4,500 in Good all the way up to $125,000 in MS67.
There is no single major key to the series, but the 1904-S is the toughest to find in high grades. Despite an original mintage of over 500,000, no more than 2,000 in circulated grades are estimated to exist, and only 25-30 real Mint State coins–partly because there are many resubmissions in the graded census reports for this date. The 1904-S starts out at only $50 in good, then reaches $2,000 in VF-30, $15,000 in MS60, $36,000 in MS65, and $105,000 in MS67. The record price is $138,000 for an MS67 in 2010.
Many other halves from the 1890s with mintmarks are also scarce. There are also a number of condition rarities that reach $50,000 and more in the top grade, like the 1901-O, the 1904, and the 1906-D.
But because it is a long series with many coins that are not that expensive in nice circulated condition, a complete MS60 set of one of each date (not counting mintmarks and variety coins) can be had for $15,000.
If you’re interested in collecting silver Barber coinage, we recommend joining the Barber Coins Collectors’ Society, which costs just $15 a year. They meet at major coin shows, publish a journal, and offer lots of useful resources such as rarity rankings and information on counterfeit detection of coins like 1896-S quarters.