Introduced to replace the long-lived Liberty seated design which had been in production since the 1830s, the Barber Dime was struck from 1892 until 1916. While not the most popular dime series to collect, like the quarter and half dollar with the same design by Charles E. Barber, it still has a strong collector base from well-circulated examples to pristine gem uncirculated coins. Perhaps the most-well known date is the 1894-S; a classic rarity of which reportedly a mere 24 pieces were struck. Due to other scarce dates of the series even a set which does not include the 1894-S (since it is generally considered to be a proof striking a circulation-strike set can easily exclude this issue) is not all that easy to put together in any grade.
We’ll start our discussion with the most famous Barber dime of all, and one of the classic rarities in American numismatists. While both the 1892-S and 1893-S issues are relative low-mintage issues that become difficult in gem uncirculated condition, no dimes were struck at all for circulation at the San Francisco Mint in 1894. Mint reports, however, do indicate that a total of 24 dimes were struck during the calendar year. Of this original mintage there are only nine presently known to exist, including a number of well-circulated pieces. As for the reason of their existence, there are several theories. In the early 20th century well-known numismatist Farran Zerbe came up with a theory that the pieces were struck to close-out the books. This theory has now been refuted by most people as it would be unlikely that the Mint would specifically strike a mere 24 dimes (of which dies had to be prepared) in proof quality (that would require extra work) to close-out the books. Another theory is that the pieces were given as special gifts to visitors to the San Francisco Mint in 1894, but this seems unlikely as well, as a more obvious choice would be a silver dollar or a gold coin. Whatever the true reason is the issue is a famous rarity that has sold for well over one million dollars at public auction.
Besides the 1894-S, there are few dates which would be considered rare, although the 1895-O dime comes close. The mintage, 440,000 pieces, is the lowest of the series and the date is difficult to find in any grade and becomes scarce in grades above Fine. In uncirculated condition it is a very difficult issue that requires a number of years of searching to acquire a nice, problem-free specimen in uncirculated condition. Such a coin, at auction, will set the serious collector back five figures. Most pieces went into circulation and stayed there for several decades, and very few pieces were set aside by either collectors or the general public as souvenirs or mementos, resulting in a very scarce issue that is considered the key-date to the circulation-strike Barber dime series.
The 1896-S has the second lowest circulation-strike mintage in the series at 575,056 pieces. Somewhat surprisingly, however, it is not as scarce as the 1901-S that has a slightly higher mintage. Even though the dime is not as scarce as the quarter of the same year and Mint, it is still an issue which is difficult to find in the higher circulated grades and becomes very scarce in uncirculated condition.
The 1901-S has the third lowest mintage of the series at a total of 593,022 pieces produced. Once again it is not as scarce as the quarter of the same date but even well-circulated coins are not all that easy to acquire. Amazingly a number of pieces have been graded at levels above MS-65, including a single specimen that has been graded by NGC in MS-68, a virtually pristine coin that sold for a record-breaking $23,000 at auction back in 2005.
Finishing a run of very scarce branch-mint Barber dimes that started in the mint 1890s, both the 1903-S and 1904-S Barber Dimes are both scarce issues that are not all that easy to find in uncirculated condition. Of these the 1903-S is a tad more difficult to find, having a mintage of 613,300 pieces. While not extremely difficult to find in circulated condition, the date is surprisingly difficult in gem uncirculated condition. In any grade above that (such as MS-67) the date rarely comes available for auction and usually sees spirited bidding between collectors of registry sets.
Once again this Barber dime is not as rare as the quarter of the same date and mint. Yet the 1913-S Barber Dime can still be considered a semi-key date with a mintage of 510,000 pieces, hardly generous. Collectors often forget that most Barber dimes had relatively low mintage of just a few million, miniscule to mintages of some Mercury and most Roosevelt Dimes produced later in the 20th century. The 1913-S is not all that difficult to find in uncirculated condition (perhaps a larger number were saved from circulation) but still commands higher prices because of the low mintage.
Other Scarce Dates
These are not the only Barber Dimes that are scarcer, but they are among the more difficult ones to find regardless of condition. Other issues with mintages below one million are the 1892-S, 1894-O, 1895, 1896-O, 1897-O, 1909-D and 1915-S. Perhaps another date that should be included in that list is the 1909-S, a coin which had a mintage of exactly one million pieces struck for circulation. The other dates range from common to somewhat more difficult.
The Barber dime series is collected in all grades, ranging from well-circulated to gem uncirculated. Finding pieces in some grades can be surprisingly difficult, such as fully original VF/XF pieces, with many pieces in that grade cleaned or dipped or otherwise impaired. As a result, fully original pieces of even common dates are surprisingly difficult to find and often sell for well over published prices. Of final note is a problem often encountered with the branch Mint coins, in particular those of the New Orleans Mint, which often come weakly struck. This is usually best noted in the upper leaves, where definition can be weak as a result of too widely spaced dies. Well-struck specimens of some dates are rare and worth looking out for.