Barber Dimes 1892-1916 Coin Guide
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Barber Dimes 1892-1916
As early as 1879, public dissatisfaction with the Seated Liberty design
was heard in Washington and Philadelphia. It was felt by many that the
nation's coin designs were second-rate, but few could have predicted how
mundane a change could really be. New designs were submitted by Mint
engravers throughout the early 1880s, but the only outcome was the
production of a new nickel in 1883 designed by Chief Engraver Charles
Barber. In 1891, when there was much discussion of a public competition
for new designs for the dime, quarter dollar and half dollar, Barber
reported to Mint Director James Kimball that there was no one in the
country who was capable of assisting him in preparing original designs.
This same egotism was also found in one of the leading sculptors of the
day, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who confided to the Mint Director that there
were only four men in the world competent to do such a redesigning: three
were in France, and he was the fourth. Kimball insisted that rather than
going abroad to find the best design talent available, it would be
possible to find able designers in America. To that end a panel of ten of
the leading artists and sculptors of the day was commissioned to judge
which would be the best designs for the new coinage. Rather than make any
decisions about a design competition, the panel instead rejected the terms
of the competition as proposed by Mint officials on the grounds that the
preparation time for plaster models was too short and the monetary
compensation too paltry.
The Mint Director rejected the panel's suggestions and threw the
competition open to the public. The results of a public competition were
equally discouraging. Of the more than 300 drawings submitted, only two
were accorded an honorable mention by a four-member panel appointed by
Kimball (it should be noted that one of the panel members was Charles
Kimball's successor to the mint directorship was Edward O. Leech. The
latter was well aware of the problems Director Kimball had encountered
trying to get new coin designs. Leech avoided what he termed the
"wretched failure" of committees and public discussion
altogether by simply directing the chief engraver to draw new designs
which, of course, is what Barber wanted all along.
What Barber did was to modify the large head used on the Morgan dollar
by adding a Liberty cap and cropping Liberty's hair shorter in back. He
then placed his initial B on the truncation of the neck. The reverse uses
almost exactly the same wreath used on the Seated Liberty dime of 1860-91.
What Barber did accomplish with his new dime, though, was to design and
place into production a coin that would meet the striking requirements of
modern, high-speed coin presses. As a Mint employee he was acutely aware
of the need for coins to be designed so they would strike up with one blow
from the coin press. His objection to outsiders was, no doubt, due in part
to jealousy, but in all fairness he did understand the exacting
specifications required to strike millions of coins for commercial
The first Barber dimes were struck on January 2, 1892. Over half a
billion pieces were struck during the next twenty-five years. Some issues
have mintages as small as 500,000 (such as 1895-O, 1901-S and 1913-S),
while others were struck in quantities as large as 22 million (1907-P). At
one time or another four mints struck these coins, and the mintmark of
Denver (D), San Francisco (S) and New Orleans (O) can be found on the
lower reverse below the knot in the bow (there being no mintmark for coins
struck in Philadelphia).
Barber dimes are, for the most part, a completeable set of coins with
no significant date or mintmark rarities, except for the legendary 1894-S.
The low relief design assured that most coins would be sharply struck,
except for a few issues from New Orleans (known for weak strikes over the
decades). This lack of any great strike rarities in the Barber series
stands in stark contrast to the next series, Adolph Weinman's
"Mercury" design, where mushy striking details make that series
such a challenge.
There is one great rarity in the Barber dime series, one of the rarest
coins in all of U.S. numismatics-the 1894-S dime. Allegedly, 24 pieces
were struck on orders from San Francisco Mint Superintendent J. Daggett.
Only ten specimens can be accounted for today, which presents one of the
great numismatic mysteries of the past hundred years: Where are the other
fourteen 1894-S dimes that were reportedly struck? All of the known 1894-S
dimes are proofs, and all were struck from the same set of dies. Much has
been written on this fascinating rarity over the years, and there are many
interesting stories and theories about these coins. Undoubtedly the best
known story is that Superintendent Daggett gave three of the coins to his
daughter Hallie and told her to keep them until she was as old as he was,
when they would be worth a lot of money. On her way home from the mint,
she spent one of the dimes on a dish of ice cream. Today that coin is
known as the "Ice Cream Specimen." The other two she kept and
finally sold in the 1950s.
Grading Barber dimes is a relatively simple process. On high grade
coins, signs of circulation will first appear on Liberty's cheek and in
the fields. For a coin to be uncirculated, all the mint luster must be
uniform and unbroken over both sides.
Proofs were struck in each year except 1916, and the only standout
rarity in this series is the 1893/2 overdate. The 1894-S dime is the only
issue to have been counterfeited in any appreciable numbers. Dangerous
forgeries have been made by altering the mintmark on an 1894-O or adding
one to a Philadelphia coin. Others were made in the mid-1970s in The
The series is commonly collected by beginners in Good to Very Good
grades, while more advanced collectors prefer mint state and proof
examples. Recently, however, collectors have showed a renewed interest in
this and the other Barber series in XF and AU grades. Several issues of
these intermediate grade coins are quite challenging to locate. Curiously,
some issues are more difficult to locate in problem-free XF or AU than in
mint state due to the hoarding of original BU rolls.
Barber dimes are also very popular with type collectors, especially in
high grades. Because the series spans both the 19th and 20th centuries,
anyone attempting to complete a type set from either century will need an
While the Barber dime may lack the artistic merit that designs before
and after displayed, this type, with its distinctive 19th century motif,
has remained a favorite with collectors over the decades.
Diameter: 17.9 millimeters Weight: 2.50 grams Composition: .900 silver,
.100 copper Edge: Reeded Net Weight: 0.0723 ounce pure silver
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Breen, Walter, Walter Breen's Complete
Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Press/Doubleday, New York,
1988. Lawrence, David, The Complete Guide to Barber Dimes, DLRC
Press,Virginia Beach, VA, 1991. Taxay, Don, The U.S. Mint and Coinage,
Arco Publishing, New York, 1966.
Coin Information Provided Courtesy NGC.