The Barber-quarter series is one of those American coins that you either love or hate. Many collectors couldn’t care less about the design, which has been heavily criticized ever since it was first put into circulation. Those collectors, if anything, might purchase a single type coin and be done with it.
On the other hand, a very dedicated group of collectors enthusiastically pursue the series, trying to acquire all different dates, including the rare trio from the San Francisco mint—the 1896-S, 1901-S and 1913-S. No matter what side of the divide you’re on, however, this is a series that deserves at least some of your attention, as many of these coins are very difficult to find, even in circulated grades, yet remain relatively affordable. In this series we will take a look at five issues that would be very good buys for a collector on a budget of $100 a coin.
First-year-of-issue coins tend to be very popular with modern-day collectors, but often also have a relatively high mintage, making them good options for people seeking a single representative of the type. The Barber quarter was introduced in 1892, replacing the long-running Liberty Seated design that had been in circulation since 1838. The Philadelphia Mint struck just over 8 million coins that year, while the New Orleans Mint produced 2,640,000 coins. In Extremely Fine condition, both issues trade for about the same, with only a small premium for the New Orleans variety, which can still be found in that grade for right about $100. (An 1892-O example is pictured at the top of this page.)
Spend a Little More: About Uncirculated examples of the New Orleans issue remain relatively affordable, with nice AU-58’s trading for about $200. If you are able to find a completely original coin that looks uncirculated but has just a hint of rub on the highest point that keeps it out of a Mint State holder, then it’s an excellent buy, as MS-63’s trade for a minimum of $400 and go up from there.
None of the Barber quarters of the San Francisco Mint are particularly easy to find, as most entered circulation and stayed there for extended periods of time. Combine this with their relatively low mintages, and it’s not hard to see why most dates are impossible to get for less than $100 regardless of grade. There are, however, some possibilities for the collector on a budget to acquire a Barber quarter from this western mint. The 1893-S had a mintage of 1,454,535 coins, and while higher grades are incredibly scarce, a decent Fine should not cost more than $100. Try to find one with lots of detail in LIBERTY (on the headband of the obverse) remaining, and you’ve got yourself a very decent coin.
Spend a Little More: This date goes up exponentially in value as you get to the higher grades. Accurately graded and fully original VF’s and EF’s are incredibly difficult to find, as is the case for many dates in the series. Still, if you are able to find a nice original VF, it shouldn’t cost much more than about $200—but expect tense competition from Barber-quarter specialists and an extremely limited supply of coins available.
The Denver Mint opened in 1906 and during its first year struck 3,280,000 coins for circulation. While not a particularly scarce coin in VF or even EF, this Barber quarter is one of those coins where the opportunity to purchase a $1,000 coin in MS-65 presents itself more often than the chance to purchase an original EF for $100. This makes the series interesting, as even with a low budget and a lot of patience you should be able to put together a collection of some rare coins that would probably take a long time to find.
Spend a Little More: As stated above, it is actually easier to spend more and get a higher-quality coin, as there are more coins in About Uncirculated and uncirculated grades available at any given time than original and correctly graded VF’s. Still, as higher-graded coins still sell for more money than lower-graded coins that might be rarer (strictly speaking), expect to spend about $200 for an original AU and about $400 for a Choice Uncirculated example.
This was the last year of coin production at the New Orleans Mint. In the field of Barber-quarter specialists the 1909-O is a legendary rarity, especially in circulated grades above Fine. I have personally known dedicated Barber-quarter collectors who have spent years looking for an original AU-50, and when they finally found one proceeded to pay multiple times price-sheet values for that coin. At that grade level the 1909-O rivals the 1901-S in rarity, and some would say the 1909-O is even rarer in AU (although in uncirculated grades the 1901-S is much more difficult and expensive). $100 would only get you a Good or so, but even those coins remain very much in demand.
Spend a Little More: Unless you are or plan to be a dedicated Barber-quarter specialist, you may find it difficult to pay $400+ for a Fine of what should be a relatively common date. Still, examples of this date at that grade level find ready buyers, and if the coin makes claims toward a VF grade expect very strong competition, as even some low-end VF’s sell easily for over $800.
This date had a mintage of just 484,000 coins, the lowest number of any Barber quarter from the Philadelphia Mint and fifth-lowest of the series (after the rare trio from the San Francisco Mint and the 1914-S). Still, it remains relatively easy to find in lower circulated grades, and a decent Fine with full LIBERTY can be acquired for right around $100. Because of the low mintage of this date and popularity of this series in circulated grades, I think such a coin provides excellent value and is a very good buy for the beginning collector of the series.
Spend a Little More: In order not to repeat myself too often, let’s just say that this date is quite difficult to find above VF. Expect to pay around $200 for a VF, while original EF’s easily approach $500. The premium for uncirculated grades goes up a little bit less, as despite the low mintage quite a few uncirculated examples appear to have been set aside at the time of issue. ❑