• None the Worse for Wear - Barber Dimes

        Those Elusive Semi-Key Barber Dimes

        Anthony F. Bevilacqua

        Walter Breen had this to say of the liberty head dime series by Charles Barber: “…Barber must have been feeling exceptionally lazy [when designing the coin]…The series is most notable for stereotypical… “ in his book The Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins. He was not particularly inspired by the coins, but since he was by no means the only authority on beauty and barber dimes as a whole have been on the upward trends of value gains, I feel it is time to revisit the series. Besides that, I've made barber dimes my pet project being as how I really love them the most of all dimes. I don't know why I love them most, but there is just something about them, not to mention the thrill of the hunt when trying to build a nice set in F or above; we’ll look at barber dimes and to try and pick the best semi-key coins for a collection. As my pocket book, like most collectors, is limited I will dispatch with discussing various hard to find MS-65 coins that run into the thousands of dollars, instead focusing on what one can reasonably purchase for less than $200 in most cases.

        When looking at barber dimes, as a series, which ran from 1892 to 1916 and encompasses 75 pieces, many people tend to go straight for the gusto, right for that 1894-S. I mean, who wouldn’t with there being a few great stories behind it, a low, low official mintage of 24 pieces, and a price tag extraordinaire. But with that, they’re overlooking the series as a whole. A series that, in my opinion, has a lot to offer once you look past the one unobtainable piece in the series and the one key date coin, the 1895-O. What we need to focus on are low mintage semi-key dates. Once you’ve excluded the above mentioned coins, one can compile a list 73 coins long; wanting to pare that down a bit we’ll narrow it down to coins with a mintage of less than 2 million. Going in that direction we’ve gotten 20 coins, still too many, so we’ll go with coins with a mintage of less than 1 million. Now we’re at 12 coins, but I want to add the 1895-S dime to the mix even, because even though it has a mintage of 1.12 million, it still qualifies as a semi-key based on how it’s priced in most markets. So, with that addition our list now contains the following coins: 1901-S, 1896-S, 1896-O, 1895, 1903-S, 1894-O, 1897-O, 1892-S, 1904-S 1895-S, 1913-S, 1909-D, and 1915-S. I’ve arranged them in this way because this is generally the way in which you would like to purchase them, as the price tends to be higher at the beginning of the list in most grades. Now that we’ve got the list put together, I’d like to take a look at the coins on a coin-by-coin basis, but before I do that I want to make one additional point.

        Most coins have a place where between certain grades the price really jumps, not in an increment of $10, or $20, but where the price of the coins increases by almost 100% or more. When looking at most of the semi-key barber dimes on this list you’ll find that the price jump occurs between VG and F, which is a very dangerous place for a price jump (which I call the price break) to occur depending on how loose or strict your grading is. Some dealers and collectors won’t give a grade of F unless all letters can be seen clearly. This is not proficiently correct grading. Full VG coins have at least three full letters in LIBERTY, usually the LI Y or L TY combinations, however many dealers grade coins with four full letters and several bits of letters as VG, in my estimation coins with four full letters and bits of others are a VG-10 and should command higher prices accordingly, but coins with a full LI and TY and at least a half BER showing are worthy of a F-12 grade. With this in mind once can cherry pick barbers that should be graded F that are in fact graded VG, which could really enhance the value of a collection both monetarily and aesthetically.

        In this analysis I will use the rarity scale listing provided by Barber Coin Collectors’ Society’s [
        www.barbercoins.org] 2008 barber dime survey,

        R1: Common date and grade

        R2: Better date and grade

        R3: Tough date – available, but may require some looking
        R4: Scarce – may or may not find at larger shows/auctions

        R5: Very scarce – only a few offered for sale each year
        R6: Almost never seen – only one or two may be offered for sale in a year’s time
        R7: Rare – a single specimen might, on average, be offered for sale once every few years

        R8: Unique, or nearly so

        and I will list the average price jump from VG to F using an average established from several online and publication value listings.

        The 1901-S has a mintage of 593,022, making it the 4th lowest mintage in the entire series, but the 2nd most expensive coin after the 1895-O. This coin is listed as a R3 in G through F, a R4 in VF, a R5 in XF, but then falls back to a R4 in AU and MS. I have found that for this coin is actually pretty easy to find in G as it is 20th century and for some reason pretty easy to stock. Be prepared to shell out $80 to $90 for a G4 but only around $150 for a VG. The price break on this coin is enormous averaging $205. I purchased mine, a VG-10, in 2006 for $200 and counted myself lucky to have such a nice example. Finding anything above fine will be a challenge.
        The 1896-S has a mintage of 575,056, making it the 3rd lowest mintage in the series, but just as expensive in G as the 1901-S. The coin is a R3 in G and VG and a R4 in F-XF before going to a R5 in AU then strangely dropping to R4 again for MS. This coin runs a hearty $160 in VG, but has an average price break of $135. I purchased this coin at the same time as a G-6 showing about 25% of an L and most of a Y in LIBERTY along with a better than usual defined eye. A quick note about in between grades, more often than not the in between grade is ignored the G-6, VG-10, F-15, etc. Coins that fall in these grades sometimes make excellent buys as they have more detail than the standard coin grade, but because they aren’t listed in most of the major publications usually sell for a small percentage above the average grade.

        The 1896-O is next on our list, but always remember, the New Orleans mint is famous for producing weakly or softly struck coins throughout most of its minting career, so watch for that weak strike and don’t confuse it with wear, especially in respect to the BER. The mintage on this coin is 610,000, but again it still costs about the same in G as the previous two coins. A R3 in G and VG going to R4 in F and VF but is a R5 in all other grades. The price break on this coin is $130. This coin will take a bit more searching to find for some reason, but should not take too long. I bought mine, unbeknownst to me at the time for $2 as an AG-3 common 1896 from a bargain bin around 2003/4, it was around a year later I saw the O on it.

        The 1895 with a mintage of 690,880 is the only Philadelphia minted coin to make my list of semi-keys. It is about the same price, $80, as the coins listed above it, but as a R3 in G goes to a R4 in VG through VF rising to R5 in XF and AU before plunging to a R3 in MS. But even as a R3 who can really afford $750 to $850 for even a MS-60. This coin has a price break of $190 making it one of the more desirable coins to try and find in a half grade or an undergraded F. I bought mine just in 2007 as a full G for $65.
        The 1903-S with a mintage of 613,300 is a paradox of sorts. It still runs around $80 is G but it is harder than usual to find problem free specimens for your collection. Apparently there was a rash of coin gouging and graffiti artists around 1905 in San Francisco. This coin a R3 in G/VG, R4 in F/VF and R5 in XF/AU, then R4 in MS again only rises in price to around $130 for a VG, but the price break averages a whopping $225, the most of any of the coins on the list. Be prepared to tough out a search on this one as it may take a while for you to find just the right coin. I managed to pick my G4 specimen up for $55 as it has a weak rim.

        Moving on to the 1894-O we start moving down in price slightly. The coin has a mintage of 720,000 and run you about $70 in G. The coin roller coasters in between R3 and R4. This is one where looking for a VG is paramount because it only makes a $30 jump from G but again the price break averages $102. This coin seems readily available but look for original surfaces when shopping for this coin as old cleanings abound. Mine is a VG that I found in 2007 for a reasonable price.

        The 1897-O, mintage 666,000 is one coin that will throw you for a loop. It is a $70 coin in G, and runs from R3 in G/VG to R4 in F/VF to R5 in XF/AU dropping again to R3 in MS. But that is not the entire story. This coin is exceedingly hard to find in outside of AG-3 and G-4 while overgraded and problem coins litter the bourses. I have yet to find one that will fit in my collection and have been searching for 2 years now. Well-graded problem free specimens are likely to command a premium even with a price break of $165.

        Coming down the backstretch we find the 1892-S with a mintage of 990,710. This coin is a R3 in G/VG and a R4 in ALL other grades. This is probably due to the fact that as a first year issue it was saved in higher percentages than later coins. This is also reflected in the prices. A G-4 specimen will run $60-65 and a price break from VG to F is around $87, but running from F to VF only adds another $35. This is a coin you might consider spending more on to find a nice VF.
        This article was originally published in blog: None the Worse for Wear: Barber Dimes started by BQcoins