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Barber Coins: Great Collector Coins at a Bargain Price

1892 Proof Barber Quarter
 
1892 Proof Barber Quarter

Printed with permission from David Hall's INSIDE VIEW

The coin market is in a good place. Activity is increasing and several areas of the market are very hot. Best of all, though prices have moved up in a few of the hot modern series such as Washington quarters and Lincoln cents, most prices in most market segments are very reasonable.

We're going te take a look at one of the most underpriced areas of the entire coin market; Barber dimes, quarters, and halves. These silver coins were struck at the turn of the last Century. They are both historically and numismatically important. They are truly rare in top condition. They are popular and affordable. And they are currently very underpriced. If you're looking for a great area of the coin market to sink your teeth into, this INSIDE VIEW is for you.

Barber Coins

Barber dimes, quarters, and halves were minted between 1892 and 1916. Designed by Mint engraver Charles E. Barber, the coin is technically a "Liberty Head" design, but they have been called "Barber" dimes, quarters, and halves by collectors for decades. Barber coinage has been widely collected during the past fifty years. They were widely collected by date during the 1950s and 1960s. However, the focus at that time was more on the rarity of the individual date in any grade, rather than the condition of the coin. During the 1970s, the coin market saw a big shift in buyer focus and condition (i.e., grade) became a big factor. At that time, it became very evident to knowledgeable buyers that many Barber coins were quite difficult to locate in Gem condition.

Prices for Gem condition Barber coins soared in the 1970s. And they did very well in the 1980s. Barber coin prices peaked with the rest of the coin market in 1989. Prices came down during the first half of the 1990s but have been relatively stable for the last five years (with proof prices moving up a little in the past two years.)

Today, the Barber coin market is in a great place. If you have the patience to put together a set of dimes, quarters, and/or halves (either circulation strikes or proofs), the rewards could be huge. Here are the positives of Barber coins... the reasons why I give them my highest personal recommendation.

  1. Importance. Barber coins are numismatically important. They were struck at the turn of the last Century and they have been collected by date for the past 50 years. Collectors care about Barber coins. They are a mainstay of the coin market.

  2. Popularity. Barber coins have just the right amount of popularity. They have been widely collected and there's plenty of demand. Yet they aren't so popular that it becomes impossible to buy the really good coins. If you collect Lincoln Cents, for example, you really have to do battle to buy important dates and condition census coins. That's not the case with Barber coins. When you do find the coins you need, you can actually buy them and you currently don't have to pay huge premiums for great coins.

  3. Beauty. Barber dimes, quarters, and halves are pretty coins in Gem condition. Circulation strikes can be really white and frosty, or they can be attractive rainbow toned Gems. Proofs can be stunning white cameos or gorgeous, colorfully toned Gems.

  4. Rarity. Barber coins are truly rare in Gem condition. For circulation strikes, coin collectors and dealers didn't begin to save Mint State coins in quantity until 1934. That's when saving uncirculated coins by the roll started. For Barber coins, there were only three individuals who saved uncirculated rolls, A.C. Gies, William Pukall, and coin dealer Wayte Raymond. Raymond had the idea to manufacture coin albums and he believed his coin rolls would become a source for individuals buying his coin albums. Most of these rolls were dispersed in the 1940's and 1950's. Not all dates in the Barber series were saved and today there are many issues that have very low populations in top grades. For proofs, rarity is a direct function of original mintage. And Barber proofs were made in much smaller quantities than later issues. Original mintages range from a high of 1,245 for the 1892 dimes, quarters, and halves, to a low of only 380 pieces for 1914 quarters and halves. The next proofs stuck by the mint were in 1936 and the mintages were three times that of the 1892 Barber coins. By the late 1950s, proof mintages were in the millions. Barber proofs started out rare.

  5. Price. There are two ways to look at the price of Barber coins and both ways tell me that they are dramatically underpriced. First, there's the population-to-price ratios. There are many Barber issues that are selling for $2,000 to $5,000 that have PCGS populations of 10 or under. There are even a few selling in that price range that have PCGS populations of 5 or under. That's a startling fact and a scenario you won't find in many other areas of the coin market. Second, there's today's price compared to the 1989 highs. Most Barber coins are selling for less than 50% of their 1989 highs. Some are selling for as little as 20% to 30% of their 1989 highs. From a price point of view, the Barber market sure has a lot of upside.

Let's take a look at each Barber series and some of the individual issues. As always, all recommendations and comments apply only to coins graded by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). The coins graded by PCGS have the greatest marketplace acceptance and the highest resale value. If you're going to buy top quality Barber coins, buy PCGS graded examples exclusively. Additionally, all comments apply to coins that grade MS/PR65 or better. If you can't afford to buy MS/PR65 or better examples, it's certainly okay to buy 63s and 64s. However, it is the 65s and better that have the greatest upside price potential.

Barber Dimes

Barber dimes were minted between 1892 and 1916. Circulation strikes were made at the Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Denver Mints from 1892 to 1916. Proofs were struck at the Philadelphia Mint from 1892 to 1915. Excluding varieties, there are 74 circulation strikes and 24 proof issues. And of course, there's the famous 1894-S Branch Mint proof struck at the San Francisco Mint, one of the rarest and most famous of all United States coins.

Barber dimes have been widely collected for the past 50 years. There have been several great sets put together over the years. Louis Eliasberg, of course, had a great set. Allen Harriman, the former owner of the Coin Dealer Newsletter, had a great set he put together in the 1970's and sold shortly before his death in the 1980's. The late coin dealer Gene Edwards had a great personal collection. Interestingly, the finest current set is owned by Stewart Blay, who also happens to own the greatest Lincoln Cent set ever put together.

Today, Barber dimes are incredible bargains. There are a lot of very rare, low population circulation strikes that are selling at very reasonable prices. And the proofs are also great bargains. I can't think of a better set of coins to build.

Let's look at the circulation strikes. I've divided them into five relative rarity groups; common, scarce, rare, very rare, and extremely rare. I want to stress that this is a relative rarity grouping and even the dates I'm calling "common" are truly rare in an absolute sense.

Here is the current price structure for the most common dates in the series, along with the total population for all Barber dimes.

 Total PopulationCurrent Price1989 High
MS642,862$215$1,100
MS651,315$635$3,550
MS66581$1,175$7,625
MS67108$3,850$16,900
MS683$8,500$37,500

Common dates: 1892, 1893, 1897, 1898, 1901, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1911-D, 1911-S, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1916.

Note that most of the common dates in the Barber dime series are Philadelphia issues. This is because at the turn of the 19th Century, most coin collectors were on the East coast and it was the Philadelphia issues that were saved. The 1892 is the most common date as it was undoubtedly saved as a first year of issue novelty. At under $650, MS65 "common" dates are extreme bargains, and MS66s and MS67s are equally under priced.

Scarce dates: 1899, 1900, 1902, 1905, 1905-S, 1906-0, 1906-S, 1912-D, 1914-D, 1915, 1916-S.

Here are some real bargains. These coins have MS65 populations of less than 20. Yet these coins can be purchased for minor premiums over common date prices.

Rare dates: 1892-O, 1894, 1896, 1903, 1904, 1906-D, 1907-O, 1909-O, 1912-S, 1913-S.

This is the group that is relatively rare, coins with MS65 populations of around 10 to 15. These are difficult coins to find. Remember that PCGS has been grading coins for nearly 16 years. So there's a chance you may only see an MS65 example of one of these dates every 12 to 18 months. Still prices are extremely reasonable for these dates. In general, MS65s sell for $1,000 to $2,000 and MS66s sell for around $3,000. They are incredible bargains at that price.

Very rare dates: 1892-S, 1893-0, 1893-S, 1895, 1896-0, 1896-S, 1897-0, 1897-S, 1898-0, 1898-S, 1899-0, 1899-S, 1900-0, 1900-S, 1901-0, 1901-S, 1902-0, 1902-S, 1903-0, 1903-S, 1904-S, 1905-0, 1907-D, 1907-S, 1908-D, 1908-0, 1908-S, 1909-D, 1909-S, 1910-D, 1910-S, 1914-S, 1915-S.

These are the real killer dates in the Barber dime series. They have MS65 populations of only 4 to 12. In other words, they're really rare in Gem condition. Nonetheless, most of them sell for only $2,000 to $5,000 in MS65 and about 50% above that for the handful of MS66s that exist. These are all absolute bargains.

Extremely rare dates: 1894-0, 1895-0, 1895-S.

These are the three circulation strike mega-rarities of the Barber dime series. Only two 1894-0 dimes have been graded MS65 by PCGS, while there have been three 1895-O and 1895-S dimes graded MS65. If you want one of these major rarities it will cost you approximately $10,000 to $15,000, if you can find the coin.

Proofs: There are 24 proof Barber dimes. They make up a rare and very important set. At today's prices, Gem Proof Barber dimes are big bargains. Here's the prices for the most common date proofs and the total PCGS Population for all proof Barber dimes.

 Total PopulationCurrent Price1989 High
PR641,248$635$2,200
PR65720$1,500$5,125
PR66525$2,000$7,950
PR67225$3,900$14,400
PR6823$8,000$32,500

Most of the Proof Barber dimes have very similar populations. The 1914 and 1915 have traditionally been the most expensive issues in the series due to their very low original mintage (425 and 450 respectively). There are five dates that have populations that are considerably lower than the other dates in the series: 1902, 1906, 1907, 1908, and 1915, the rarest of all proof Barber dimes.

Barber Quarters

Barber quarters were minted between 1892 and 1916. Circulation strikes were made at the Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Denver Mints from 1892 to 1916. Proofs were struck at the Philadelphia Mint from 1892 to 1915. Excluding varieties, there are 74 circulation strikes and 24 proof issues.

Like the dimes, Barber quarters have been widely collected in all grades for the last 50 years. And also like the dimes, Coin Dealer Newsletter owner Allen Harriman and coin dealer Gene Edwards both had great sets that were put together in the 1980s and sold in the early 1980s. And once again, Louis Eliasberg had a great set.

Today Barber quarters are selling for a considerable discount from their 1989 highs. I feel that proof Barber quarters are tremendous bargains at today's prices. But while I feel prices for circulation strikes are quite reasonable, I actually feel that circulation strike Barber dimes and halves,are a better deal than the quarters (see my comments on the 1896-S, 1901-S, and 1913-S that follow.)

First we'll look at the circulation strikes. I've grouped the 74 issues in five groups: common, scarce, rare, very rare, and extremely rare, and again, I want to stress that these are relative groupings.

Here's the current price structure for the common dates in the series, along with the total population for all Barber quarters.

 Total PopulationCurrent Price1989 High
MS642,582$425$2,150
MS651,288$1,175$6,100
MS66472$2,000$10,400
MS6784$5,350$21,000
MS686$9,750$42,500

Common dates: 1892, 1898, 1902, 1906, 1906-0, 1907, 1908, 1908-0, 1910, 1911, 1911-S, 1912, 1914, 1914-D, 1915, 1915-D, 1916, 1916-D.

The so-called "common" date Barber quarters are among the most important of all U.S. coins. They are not only the foundation for this popular series, they are also one of the key U.S. type coin issues. At $1,175, they are selling for 30% of their 1989 highs and they are a tremendous deal at that price.

Scarce dates: 1892-0, 1894, 1896, 1897, 1899, 1900, 1908-D, 1909, 1909-S, 1910-D, 1913-D, 1915-S.

These lower population issues are selling for small premiums over the common date prices and they are great deals at those prices. These are the "sleeper" issues of the series. The one exception is the 1909-S, which is currently somewhat overpriced.

Rare dates: 1893, 1893-0, 1894-0, 1895, 1900-0, 1901, 1903, 1903-S, 1904, 1905, 1905-S, 1906-D, 1907-O, 1909-D, 1912-S.

These are rare, low population dates with very reasonable prices. The MS65 population range from 6 to 16. I feel the coins in this group are the best deals among the circulation strike Barber quarters.

Very rare dates: 1892-S, 1893-S, 1894-S, 1895-0, 1895-S, 1896-S, 1897-0, 1897-S, 1898-0, 1899-0, 1899-S, 1900-S, 1901-0, 1902-0, 1902-S, 1903-0, 1904-0, 1905-0, 1907-D, 1907-S, 1908-S, 1911-D, 1913, 1913-S, 1914-S.

This group features the real rarities in the Barber quarter series. They all have very low MS65 populations and even lower MS66 pops. For the most part, prices reflect their rarity, but these coins are okay deals at current levels. Note that I've put the 1896-S and 1913-S in this group. These two low mintage dates are very rare in all grades and they are also quite expensive in all grades. However, they have MS65 and MS66 populations that are more appropriate for this group instead of the group that follows.

Extremely rare dates: 1896-0, 1898-S, 1901-S, 1909-0.

These four dates are the rarest in the Barber quarter series in MS65 or better condition. The 1901-S has always been considered the major rarity in the Barber quarter series. It is very expensive in all grades.

Proofs: There are 24 Barber quarter proofs. They also are important U.S. type coins for both the complete U.S. type coin set and the U.S. 20th Century type coin set. Here are the total population figures for all proof Barber quarters, along with current prices.

 Total PopulationCurrent Price1989 High
PR641,208$830$3,175
PR65716$1,675$6,100
PR66505$2,850$11,000
PR67310$4,850$21,000
PR6871$11,500$49,000

Most proof Barber quarters have very similar populations. The 1914 and 1915 have traditionally sold for a premium price due to their very low original mintages of 380 and 450 coins respectively. Today, the three premium coins according to population are the 1902, 1907, and truly rare 1915.

Barber Halves

Barber halves were minted between 1892 and 1915. Unlike the dimes and quarters, there were no Barber halves struck in 1916. Circulation strikes were made at the Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Denver Mints from 1892 to 1915. Proofs were struck at the Philadelphia Mint from 1892 to 1915. Excluding varieties, there are 73 circulation strike and 24 proof issues.

Barber halves have been collected in all grades for the past 50 years. Additionally, they are one of the classic United States silver type coin issues and arguably the rarest 20th Century silver type coin. There have been a few great sets put together over the years. Louis Eliasberg had a wonderful set which included the only Gem 1892-0 micro 0 known to exist. Half dollar specialist James Pryor had one of the finest sets of circulation strikes ever assembled. Today, there are two different doctors (who wish to remain anonymous) that have the two nicest sets I know about.

Barber halves are currently one of the great bargains in the rare coin market. I just can't say it strongly enough, these truly rare coins are selling for very reasonable prices. Every issue is a great deal!!!

Let's look at the circulation strikes first. Here's the current prices for the most "common" dates, along with the total population for all Barber halves.

 Total PopulationCurrent Price1989 High
MS641,664$1,100$3,050
MS65643$3,250$8,550
MS66231$4,900$16,500
MS6778$10,500$36,500
MS689$19,500$58,500

Common Dates: 1892, 1894, 1895, 1897, 1906, 1907, 1908-0, 1909, 1911, 1912-D, 1915-D, 1915-S.

While these dates are the most "common" of the Barber halves, they are not common in the absolute sense. You'll have trouble finding some of these dates. And the price for Gem quality Barber halves is the most reasonable it's been during the past 18 years.

Scarce dates: 1893, 1898, 1899, 1906-D, 1907-D, 1908-D, 1911-D.

"Scarce" Barber halves are rare by most other measurements. These dates are rarer than the previous group, yet they have small price premiums. Both groups are way underpriced.

Rare Dates: 1892-0, 1892-S, 1900, 1901, 1902, 1907-O, 1908, 1910, 1912, 1912-S, 1913-S, 1914-S, 1915.

All of these dates are quite rare in Gem condition. They have MS65 populations as low as only four. Think about it! Only four or five coins graded MS65 in 16 years. That's rare.

Very rare dates: 1893-0, 1894-0, 1894-S, 1895-0, 1895-S, 1896, 1896-S, 1897-0, 1897-S, 1898-0, 1898-S, 1899-0, 1899-S, 1900-S, 1901-S, 1902-0, 1902-S, 1903, 1903-S, 1904, 1904-0, 1905, 1905-0, 1905-S, 1906-0, 1906-S, 1907-S, 1908-S, 1909-0, 1909-S, 1910-S, 1911-S, 1913, 1913-D, 1914.

This is a big list because there are a lot of very rare Barber halves. Most of these dates have miniscule populations in MS65 or better condition. With this group the rarity is somewhat reflected in the price. These coins sell for between $5,000 and $13,000 in MS65 condition, with most prices in the $6,000 to $9,000 range. So if you happen to run into one of these rarities, you will have to pay up. Nonetheless, these coins offer great rarity for the price so I certainly wouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger at today's prices.

Extremely rare dates: 1893-S, 1896-0, 1900-0, 1901-0, 1904-S.

These are the five rarest dates in the Barber half dollar series. Very few Gems are known to exist. They sell for between $13,000 (1896-0) and $25,000 (1904-S).

Proofs: The 24 proof Barber halves are rare and extremely important coins. Here are the prices for the most common date proofs and the total PCGS population for all proof Barber halves.

 Total PopulationCurrent Price1989 High
PR641,222$1,250$4,650
PR65602$3,500$9,150
PR66404$5,000$18,300
PR67190$8,000$37,500
PR6838$14,500$78,000

Most proof Barber halves have very similar populations. Like the dimes and quarters, the 1914 and 1915 have traditionally sold for premium prices due to their low initial mintage of 380 and 450 respectively. The lowest populations are for the 1902, 1907, 1910, 1912, 1913, and the lowest pop of all, 1915.


Collecting Barber Coins For Fun and Profit

There are two ways you can participate in the Barber coin series and not only have some fun, but also take advantage of today's great prices. The first way is simply to buy some great coins. Check out the population-to-price ratios and try to buy the most rarity for the price.

The second way to participate is much more involved, but the potential rewards are huge. Set building is the best way to participate in the rare coin market and sets of Barber coins are among the best you can build at today's prices. The proof sets could be completed in 12 to 24 months. The circulation sets would probably take two to four years to build. Here are the approximate prices for complete sets.

Barber dimesCurrent Price1989 High
MS65$175,000$875,000
MS66$265,000$1,550,000
PR65$40,000$125,000
PR66$60,000$235,000
PR67$105,000$350,000

Barber quartersCurrent Price1989 High
MS65$300,000$1,400,000
MS66$435,000$2,100,000
PR65$45,000$155,000
PR66$80,000$285,000
PR67$130,000$525,000

Barber halvesCurrent Price1989 High
MS65$485,000$1,250,000
MS66$675,000$2,150,000
PR65$90,000$235,000
PR66$128,000$460,000
PR67$175,000$780,000

Barber dimes, quarters, and halves (all three)Current Price1989 High
MS65$960,000$3,525,000
MS66$1,375,000$5,800,000
PR65$175,000$515,000
PR66$268,000$980,000
PR67$410,000$1,655,000

1896-S Barber Quarter
1896-S Barber Quarter
1905 Barber Half Dollar
1896-S Barber Quarter
PCGS Library