by Frank M. Zapushek,

While answering some questions at a recent show, an ILNA member asked me, “Why would the U. S. Mint produce just 24, 1894 S Barber Dimes?” I did not have a good answer, and told him to look in the next Digest.

1894-S Dime, PCGS Proof-66, that just sold for $1,322,500 in an auction conducted on March 7, 2005 by David Lawrence Rare Coins.
Photo Credit: David Lawrence Rare Coins.

First, lets cover the theory in” Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins”. Mr. Breen states that the 24 coins were struck by Mint Superintendent J. Daggett for a group of banker friends. Seven of Mr. Daggett’s friends each received 3 coins, and he gave his three to his daughter.

Mr. Daggett told his daughter to put the coins away until she was as old as he was, then she could sell them for a good price. On the daughters way home, she supposedly used one to buy a dish of ice cream. She kept the other two until 1954 when she sold them to coin dealer Earl Parker.

In David Lawrence’s “The Complete Guide to Barber Dimes”, Mr. Lawrence covers the same theory as Breen. He also covers a story released by Farran Zerbe, former President of the ANA.

Mr. Zerbe’s story was published in the April 1928 issue of “The Numismatist”. Mr. Zerbe stated the coins were struck to provide the 40 cents needed to close a bullion account at the San Francisco Mint by June 30, 1984, the end of the fiscal year. Any even dollar amount ending in 40 cents would do fine, so the Mint employees struck the 24 dimes. The Mint employees did not know they were creating a rarity, because they expected to mint additional dimes by the end of 1894. December 31 came and went, with do request for additional dimes. Mr. Zerbe stated the two or three pieces were obtained by Mint employees, just to have a new dime. When the employees realized the dimes were rare, they sold them for $25 or more apiece. In 1928, when this article was written, only three or four specimens were know.

Mr. Zerbe’s explanation was very similar to an earlier account by J. C. Mitchelson, a Kansas City collector. This theory is most likely the explanation that the San Francisco Mint wanted to release.

In 1972, journalist James Johnson attempted an accounting of the 1894 S story. After the article ran in Coin World Collectors’ Clearinghouse on September 13, 1972, Mr. Johnson received a letter from Guy Chapman. Mr. Chapman stated that he had seen the two 1894 S dimes in 1954, just after dealer Earl Parked had purchased the coins. Mr. Johnson explained that Earl Parker had been told by Mr. Daggett’s daughter that the banker story was true.

The dies used to strike the dimes were specially prepared and the dimes were carefully struck. This would not have been done to round out the books, but the special treatment would hardly be a surprise for presentation pieces.

The second part of the question presented me more hurdles to jump. “The 1894 S specimens are listed as Proofs, but in the “Red Book”, only one is listed and it is listed as “MS 60 $465,000”. Why?

Since no Proofs were minted in 1894, the coins should be considered business strikes. Now what does the “Red Book” consider a Proof? 51st Edition, 1998, “A ‘proof’ is a specimen striking of coinage for presentation, souvenir, exhibition, or numismatic purposes.”

Sure sounds like the coins are “Proof” to me. How about you?

One example sold in 1973 by dealer Art Kagin for $46,000. The coin was graded extra fine because of a scratch on the reverse and a planchet flaw. In 1988, Superior Auctions sold this coin for $64,000 and it was graded Proof 60.

Adding to the problem is the grading of the coins that have been in circulation. One specimen is graded About Good and another is graded Good. If you are under the believe that these are not Proof coins, they you will except the circulated grading of these coins.

If you are under the belief that the 1894 S Barber dime is a Proof coin, then the coins mentioned above should be listed as Impaired Proof 3 and Impaired Proof 4.

After hours of investigating this coin, I have come to the conclusion that there is no correct or incorrect conclusion. If you believe the coins were struck to close a bullion account, then the 1894 S Barber dime is a business strike and should be grade as a business strike coin.

If you believe the “banker story”, then the coins should be graded as Proofs. Or maybe we can come to a compromise, how about Special Mint Struck. SMS, every hear of that before?

No matter what story you believe, one point can be agreed on by everyone. “The 1894 S Barber dime is way out of reach of the average collector !”

Have a question, need an answer, drop me a line. Frank M. Zapushek PO Box 1993, Bloomington, IL. 61702. If writing, please include a SASE. Or email me at mrz@bakercoins.net.