The widely collected Barber dime series is a favorite among numismatists who appreciate the silver coinage of the turn of the 20th century.

Officially called the “Liberty Head” dime by the United States Mint and numismatic purists, the series has been long dubbed the “Barber” dime in honor of Charles E. Barber, the U.S. Mint chief engraver who designed the coin. The obverse features Lady Liberty facing right and the reverse uses a simple wreath design.

The Barber dime was in production from 1892 through 1916, replacing the Seated Liberty design. It offers collectors a well-balanced blend of common dates and key dates as well as intermediately scarce semi-keys and tough dates that make pursuing a collection of the entire series both challenging and exciting.

barber dime

The Liberty Head (Barber) dime designed by Chief Engraver Charles Barber. Image: USA CoinBook

Key Date Barber Dime Prices

Date & MintmarkMintagePrice (G4)Price (AU50)
1893 (3/2)Unknown$130$325
1894-S (Proof)24n/a$1,500,000
1905-O (Micro O)Unknown$50$300

Barber Dime Key Dates

The rarest and most storied of all Barber dimes is the 1894-S proof, which has mysterious origins. Many theories have been spun around the creation of this coin.

The most popular and widely told story about the 1894-S Barber dime is that San Francisco Mint Superintendent John Daggett commissioned the coining of 24 proofs to balance a differential of $2.40 in the mint’s account ledgers.

Daggett supposedly gave most of these two dozen 1894-S Barber dimes to his high-ranking associates and friends. He is said to have given three to his young daughter Hallie. She allegedly spent one on a dish of ice cream. Oddly enough, while 24 examples were minted, only nine are known to exist today, including a worn specimen that many believe is the “ice cream” coin.

It’s an endearing story. But is it true? Some numismatic experts point to holes in the tale.

But there’s no doubt about the coin’s rarity. Today, the 1894-S proof Barber dime regularly draws more than $1 million when it crosses the auction block.

Few collectors have any reasonable chance of obtaining a specimen of the 1894-S Barber dime for their collections. Still, the other Barber dime key dates are comparatively much more attainable. Those are the specimens we will examine in greater detail below.

A semi-key date that is tough in all grades.

1892 s barber dime

1892-S Barber dime. Image: USA CoinBook

1893 (3/2):
The only known overdate in the Barber dime series.

1893/2 barber dime

1893 (3 Over 2) Barber dime. Image: USA CoinBook

Another New Orleans semi key that’s tough in all grades.

1894-o barber dime

1894-O Barber dime. Image: USA CoinBook

The absolute series key date following the 1894-S!

1895-o barber dime

1895-O Barber dime. Image: USA CoinBook

This date is especially scarce in the higher grades.

1895-s barber dime

1895-S Barber dime. Image: USA CoinBook

Scarce in G4 and rare in grades of XF40 and higher.

1896-o barber dime

1896-O Barber dime. Image: USA CoinBook

Scarce but not quite as rare as the 1896-O in akin grades.

1896-s barber dime

1896-S Barber dime. Image: USA CoinBook

O dates can be tough, and this issue is no exception!

1897-o barber dime

1897-O Barber dime. Image: USA CoinBook

This is a popular Barber dime rarity.

1901-s barber dime

1901-S Barber dime. Image: USA CoinBook

This S-mint is especially tough in grades above VF20.

1903-s barber dime

1903-S Barber dime. Image: USA CoinBook

1905-O (Micro O):
This interesting O-mint variety is scarce in all grades.

1905-o micro o barber dime

1905-O (Micro O) Barber dime. Image: USA CoinBook

This toughie is scarce in grades of XF40 or higher.

1913-s barber dime

1913-S Barber dime. Image: USA CoinBook

Barber Dime: Series Overview

The Barber dime series was struck at four different mints, including Philadelphia, Denver, New Orleans, and San Francisco. Most issues saw mintages of at least 1 million pieces. Many saw production figures of well above 10 million pieces, with a handful of dates seeing more than 20 million made.

But, as many numismatists know, survival figures are generally much lower than mintages on coins over a century old. That’s certainly the case with the Barber dime. It is a categorically common coin yet offers plenty of scarce issues. This is true even among dates whose mintages may at first glance appear to make the coin common.

Common and well-worn Barber dimes are usually inexpensive and obtainable for prices not much above melt. “Slicks” (nearly smooth pieces grading "Poor" P1 to "About Good" AG3), as well as culls, are often thrown into pre-1965 90% silver junk silver rolls and bags.

But there are a good two dozen tough (or harder) issues in all grades and around a dozen dates that collectors consider highly scarce to rare regardless of grade. Finally, consider that all Barber dimes graded approximately Extremely Fine condition (XF40) or higher are conditionally scarce, no matter the date. Suffice it to say, the Barber dime was a workhorse coin in commerce and thus saw heavy use.

Barber Dime Collecting Strategies

One of the beautiful things about building a Barber dime set is the accessibility of the series to collectors of virtually all budgets. Yes, the series can be costly to build—take the 1894-S Barber dime as Exhibit A in proving that claim.

But the other Barber dime key dates aren’t necessarily cost-prohibitive, especially when comparing the prices of lower-grade examples with the retail prices of key dates from other popular series. Lincoln cents, Mercury dimes, Standing Liberty quarters, and other widely collected series contain at least one key date and/or major variety that costs in excess of $1,000, even in well-worn grades.

Yet, once the high-priced 1895-O Barber dime is purchased—itself trading under $500 in well-worn grades—most of the other key dates can be had for less than $100 a piece.

This doesn’t mean that deep-pocketed collectors will grow bored with this series. They, too, have plenty of exciting four- and five-figure options in the higher grades. Then, there are the Barber dime proofs that sell for three- and four-figure amounts or higher, depending on grade.

1898 barber dime

1898 Barber dime, a more common date.

Overall, Barber dimes are an excellent series for collectors to pursue. Those who embark on assembling a set of Barber coinage—including the Barber quarter and Barber half dollar—should seek well-struck specimens free of contact marks and other imperfections.

Avoid cleaned, whizzed, or otherwise damaged specimens. Look for nice examples with excellent eye appeal. There are many problem-free specimens in the marketplace.

Grading Barber dimes by eye isn't too difficult. The persistent collector who insists on nice quality, good color, and solid surfaces should be able to find what they’re looking for if they’re patient.

Barber dimes are rewarding to collect and have proven a solid performer investment-wise over time. This statement is especially true when discussing the key dates, which have only proven to become more challenging as time goes on and as more collectors demand examples for their collections.

This isn’t to suggest you should buy Barber dimes for investment purposes. Nobody can legitimately guarantee any particular coin or coin series will see gains over time. But the Barber silver dime is nevertheless a series that remains popular with collectors today. Stick with premium-quality coins and buy them from a reputable dealer, and the Barber dime collector really can’t go wrong!

Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a journalist, editor, and blogger who has won multiple awards from the Numismatic Literary Guild. He has also authored numerous books, including works profiling the history of the United States Mint and United States coinage.

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Key Date Mercury Dimes: 1916-D, 1921, 1921-D

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Top 15 Best Coins to Collect: A Definitive List

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