The Best Barbers – From Dimes to Half Dollars
— Mark Benvenuto
For a coin design that was met with some serious criticism in its day, the Barber design has weathered a lot, and moved to a place in the collector heart where there is even a club devoted to it. Issued from 1892 only to 1916, the Barber design for Lady Liberty graced three denominations, the dime, the quarter, and the half dollar. Assembling a type set of the best of these three coins that you can obtain, for the best possible price, of course, can become a stepping stone into three very satisfying collections. Let’s see just what Barbers might have tiny price tags attached to them.
The Barber Dime
The littlest of the Barber siblings is the dime. Weighing in at 2.5 grams of 90% silver, each as only 0.07234 ounces of the metal in it (the rest is copper). This is also the only barber design of the thre that has a wreath and value stated on the reverse. When it comes to common dimes from which to pluck a piece for a type set, well there are several. Quite a few dates have more than 10 million to their tally. The 1907 comes in first, with 22,220,000 produced, although in a win-place-show scenario, there are a couple of runners close behind. Any of these are easy to find, and are priced near $100 as you bump into the mint state grades.
The Barber Quarter
The mid-point in any trio of Barber’s Lady Liberty images in the quarter. The 8.2 million that were churned out of the Main Mint in Philly did not get surpassed until the year 1898 saw 11.1 million come from the same place. Even that was surpassed a couple more times, meaning there are several years with mintage totals near or over 10 million coins. Once again, these common dates make for a good starting point if you choose to search for a piece that will land in a type set. While the $100 we just mentioned can land a person any of a wide choice of Barber quarters, it doesn’t crack the MS-60 line. It will net plenty of good looking EF-40, and maybe even an AU-50 coin, but be warned: it takes a couple of hundred dollars to land one of these quarters in any grade of mint state.
The Big Guy – the Barber Half
The Barber half dollars may not be as heavily collected, graded, and slabbed into third party grading service sonic holders as some other half dollar series – but then again, they may be. Certainly, several of the dates within this series qualify as common. There are a handful of dates that got near or crossed over the 5 million coin tally. There are many dates and mint marks that went over 1 million coins. But no matter how common a Barber half dollar is, finding one in an upper grade can be expensive.
Let’s quickly note: just because a coin is expensive in the grades we all go hunting for, does not mean it is automatically out of reach. For example, way down in grades like G-4 and VG-8, many of the Barber halves costs somewhere between $25 and $35. But most of us prefer to collect coins with greater detail and eye appeal. So we look for coins in better condition. Earlier, we mentioned spending $100 for a Barber dime – which can easily be translated to the half dollars. But here that $100 will probably land a sample in VF-20 shape. That’s not automatically ugly. But a person has to factor in cost as well as grade when buying a big gun, like one of these halves.
Other Ways to Build A Type Set
We just detailed the simplest way to go about creating any type set: find the most common coin, and look for the best price. But this is just one way to have some fun with the Barber design. Knowing the prices for the common coins, a further way to approach building a type set is to find the least common coin that still has the same price as the very common one. You won’t ever get the key date in this manner (as if anyone could even find an 1894-S dime, much less find one that actually was for sale!), but collecting in this manner becomes a hunt for sleepers. It’s always fun to find a coin that appears to be underpriced, especially when you are looking at big coins, like half dollars.
Another way to go about gathering a type set trio of this design is to see what you can do by way of ‘S’ marked coins, or even ‘D’ marked coins. In the case of the Barber coins, you could even approach it from the ‘O’ mint mark of New Orleans. While most years saw the highest mintages coming from the main facility in Philadelphia, there are some dates that qualify as common, and that carry a mint mark as well. Thus, you can build a type set that most people will hav overlooked. But this could also be your first step in moving from a type set to a date run, or some other, fuller collection.
In short, there is still quite a bit in the Barber design with which a person can have some fun, and do some serious collecting. If you have ignored Barber coins in the past, why not take a closer look now?