Barber's Silver Coinage: Fun Series to Collect

Barber quarter
 (Photo: Leon Worden; Coin: Jeff Butler/Coins Plus)

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, August 20, 2005

he silver coins minted from 1892 to 1916 were designed by Chief Mint Engraver Charles Barber. His initial "B" appears incused at the base of Liberty's neck. They replaced the long-running Seated Liberty design, which covered the span from 1836-91 and included denominations of 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents and $1 coin issues.
    The new designs featured the head of Liberty with a cap and wreath, with the word "LIBERTY" in the band across the cap. The quarter and half dollar featured a spread-winged eagle with a shield on its breast, an olive branch in one talon and three arrows in the other. A wavy band in the beak includes the motto, "E Pluribus Unum" ("out of many, one"). The reverse design matches in many ways the Morgan dollar of 1878-1921 in terms of details such as the olive branch and arrows.
    These coins circulated well into the 1950s and disappeared by the early 1960s. As a young collector in that period, I managed to fill 75 to 85 percent of each Whitman three-page folder with the coins of each denomination — usually well-worn grades found entirely in circulation, and missing most of the really tough issues.
    The dimes included some really tough issues to find, even in lowest grades. Today, these low-issue pieces sell for $50 to $200 each: 1892-S, 1893-O, 1894-O, 1895, 1895-O, 1896-O, 1896-S, 1897-O, 1901-S and 1903-S.
    The famous 1894-S dime had a mintage of only 24 pieces — and that is a story in itself. The current catalog value is $500,000. Not every one has been accounted for, so there is a remote chance one or more pieces reside in old collections.
    Low-grade, common-date coins sell for about $1, while in uncirculated condition (Mint State-60), the most common dates sell for at least $100.
    During the silver frenzy of the late 1970s and early 1980s — when silver bullion rose to $48 an ounce and common circulated silver coins were selling for 25 times face value — many Barber coins were tossed into the scrap heap for bullion (which, at the time, exceeded their numismatic value) — making today's pieces that much scarcer.
    The Barber quarters also featured some fairly scarce dates that have a catalogue value in the lowly state of Good-4: 1892-S, $15; 1896-S, $300; 1897-S, $20; 1901-O, $25; 1901-S, $2,000; 1913-S $475; and 1914-S, $55.
    In uncirculated condition (MS-60), common-date Barber quarters run about $175. Low-grade common-date pieces retail about $5. In "extra fine" condition they run about $75.
    The Barber half dollar follows a similar pattern of the quarter with scarce low mintages throughout the series. The key dates and catalogue values in low grade (G-4) include: 1892-O, $200; 1892-S, $125; 1893-S, $90; 1897-S, $100; 1914, $30; and 1915, $21. In MS-60 the lowest catalogue values are $385 to $500 for the most common dates. Common low-grade Barber halves catalog for $8 to $10.
    This is a great series to collect, since all of the pieces — except the 1894-S dime — can be found in most major auctions and in many fixed-price lists. The prices keep rising, but to a dedicated collector, the completion of a nice set of each denomination is a real challenge — and a joy to behold.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.