We get a lot of questions from coin collectors across numismatics, and one subject that comes up from time to time are questions about a “B mint mark” on Barber Dimes, Barber Quarters, and Barber Half Dollars. Barber coins, more formally known as Liberty Head coins, were made at the Philadelphia, Denver, New Orleans, and San Francisco Mints, with the latter three stamping their respective “D,” “O,” and “S” mint marks on their coinage. But there never yet has been a United States Mint facility whose mint mark is seen as a “B.” So what is that “B” on Barber coinage all about?
The “B” goes back to Charles Edward Barber, the eponymous designer of the Barber coinage struck during a period spanning from 1892 and until as late as 1916; production runs of the Barber Dime and Barber Quarter ended in 1916, while the Barber Half Dollar was supplanted by the Walking Liberty Half Dollar after the former was retired in 1915. Barber was a coin designer who served as the sixth engraver of the United States Mint from 1879 until his passing at the age of 76 in 1917.
Barber had designed a great many coins during his nearly 40 years as the chief engraver of the United States Mint. In addition to the trio of silver Barber coins, he also had to his name the circulating Liberty Nickel and many commemoratives that include the 1893 Isabella Quarter, 1900 Lafayette Dollar, 1903 Louisiana Purchase Exposition Gold Dollar, and the 1904 and 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition Gold Dollars. Furthermore, he designed the obverses of the 1892 and 1893 Columbian Exposition Half Dollar, the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition Half Dollar, 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition Quarter Eagle, and 1916 and 1917 William McKinley Memorial Gold Dollars.
Among Barber’s other credits are various pattern coins – including the 1879 and 1880 $4 Flowing Hair Stellas – as well as medals. He also crafted a variety of foreign coins, including the Kingdom of Hawaii coinage struck by the United States Mint in 1883, various Cuban coins struck from 1915 through 1961, and coins struck in 1897 for the Szechuan Province of China. All told, Barber’s legacy as witnessed through his artistic touch goes far beyond the scope of the three Barber silver coins carrying his name today.
And on those three Barber silver coins, the titular artist’s name is symbolized in the form of a single “B” found on the truncation of Miss Liberty’s neck on the obverse of those coins. It’s a feature most prominently seen on uncirculated specimens as well as those bearing light to moderate wear and exhibiting a circulation-borne darkening of the metal within the crevices of the “B.”
Meanwhile, the “D,” “S,” and “O” mint marks are found, when applicable, on the reverse of the Barber Dime, Barber Quarter, and Barber Half Dollar. On the Barber Dime, the mint mark can be seen on the bottom center of the reverse just below the bow at the base of the wreath encircling the inscription “ONE DIME.” On the Barber Quarter and Barber Half Dollar, mint marks are located just below the heraldic eagle’s tailfeathers and immediately above the central letters of the denomination “QUARTER DOLLAR” or “HALF DOLLAR.”
- Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of US and Colonial Coins. Doubleday, 1988.
- Burdette, Roger W. From Mine to Mint. Seneca Mill Press, 2013.
- Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing Company, 1966.