Just as with many other fashions, after a while people get tired of coin designs. By 1879 some were complaining that US coin designs had become outdated and second-rate. This led to an internal request in the 1880s by Mint Director James Kimball for new coin designs, but the responses were disappointing. When Kimball threw the competition open to the public, the results were equally discouraging.
A Clash of Egos
This was an era when two outstanding (and vain) American engravers were working on coin designs and since one of them, Chief Engraver Charles Barber, was on the Mint’s selection committee, it’s not surprising that none of the submissions met with his approval. The other, Auguste Saint-Gaudens, maintained that of four designers in the world capable of producing a design of sufficient quality, he was the only one in the US.
Barber’s Liberty Head Design
When Edward Leech succeeded Kimball in 1889 he chose to avoid further controversy by appointing Barber to draw new designs himself, which was Barber’s goal all along.
Far from producing a remarkable new coin design, Barber took the large bust of Lady Liberty on the contemporary Morgan dollar, gave her a new cap and hairdo, and turned her to face the opposite direction on the coin’s face (obverse). The reverse of the coin is nearly identical to the 44-year-old design in replaced. But Barber’s design was easy to reproduce on the new high-speed minting equipment, so it was approved to go.
Barber Dime Production
The Barber Dime was in commercial production for fourteen years. Nearly 540 million were made at Philadelphia, San Francisco, New Orleans (until its closing in 1909), and Denver (1906-1916). Proof coins were struck exclusively in Philadelphia every year but 1916 with one notable exception described below.
Rarities and Values
With over half a billion made, Barber dimes aren’t hard to find in grades up to About Uncirculated for prices well under $100. But there are also a few rarities that command sky-high prices. These include:
Although the exact reason is debated to this day, only 24 Barber dimes were struck in San Francisco in 1894, all of proof quality. Was it to use up some leftover silver? Preparation for a large run of dimes that never occurred? Or were they souvenirs for handful of friends?
Regardless, only nine are known to survive making the 1894-S dime one of the rarest of US coins. One sold for $1,997,500 at auction in 2016, making it the third most-expensive US coin on record.
1905 “Micro O”
This oddity was created when a mint worker used a mintmark punch intended for quarters, which contained a smaller “O” mintmark at the time. While somewhat scarce, circulated coins in Fine-Very Fine grades are available for a few hundred dollars with MS grades selling for several thousands. The auction record of $12,650 was set in 2005 for an MS-65 sample.
This coin is significant because it marks the first year of production at the Denver Mint. It’s not terribly rare but is still highly collectible due to it being a Denver first. Uncirculated coins run just over $100 with MS grades bringing well over $1,000. The record auction price for a 1906-D dime is $28,750 for an MS-64 coin in 2009.
For a look at price ranges for all Barber Dimes, visit the PCGS Coin Facts website.
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