Barber Coins Are Worth Thousands – Here’s How To Know If You Have Any

Source: coinmintages

Collecting spare change has become a hobby beyond merely looking for some pocket cash to have when you don’t have the exact dollar amount for a purchase. The study of coins – also known as numismatics – has become a niche but thriving culture, with coin collectors from all over the world coming together on the internet to discuss their collections.

Barber Coins: Introduced

One particular type of coin has recently become of interest to coin collectors. Barber coins are specific styles of dimes, quarters, and half-dollars that were named after their creator and designer, Charles E. Barber.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Barber served as the sixth chief engraver of the United States, working for the government during the late nineteenth century. The coins that were struck during his time as the chief engraver of the United States are unique in their rarity and design, and are remarkable pieces of American history if you find one.

Calls to Replace the Former Design

Barber coins came into existence because by the late nineteenth century, there were calls from many to replace the former design of the Seated Half Liberty. It had been in use since the 1830’s, and many believed that it was time for a redesign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The redesign of the coins was approved in 1891, and the current Mint Director, Edward Leech, invited the public to submit designs for the new coinage in order to drum up public support for the remint. There was even a cash prize for the redesign, but it was a prize that only the winner of the contest would win.

Barber was Commissioned

Because the prize money was limited, legitimate artists and designers refused to participate in the competition for the redesign. The designs that were submitted by the general public were deemed inadequate for the United States Mint, and Barber was commissioned to create the new designs.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The process to design the new coins was short, and required few changes from Barber to secure Leech’s endorsement for the new design. They were approved for minting in the winter of 1891, and production took off for the new coins early the next year, to mixed reactions from the general public.

The New Design

The former design on the United States coins, the Seated Liberty design, featured the figure of a woman seated on a rock, wearing a long, flowing gown. In her left hand, she holds a Liberty pole mounted by a Phyrigian cap, which was the symbol for freedom during the United States Neoclassical Era.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The new design for the Barber coins was much more simple. Each of these coins featured the head of Liberty, facing right. She wears a small headband inscribed with the word “Liberty,” and on the quarter and half-dollar coins, the words “In God We Trust” appears above her head. For all denominations, she is also surrounded by thirteen stars.

Mixed Reactions from the Public

The coin design brought about significantly mixed reactions from the public, with the general opinion leaning more unfavorable than not. The general discontent around the coins surrounded the initial contest that was held, the prize money, and settled on the inevitability that Barber was eventually commissioned for the design.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Some even went so far to criticize the design of the coin itself. Artist Kenyon Cox, who was initially invited to participate in the 1891 contest for the redesign, stated that the design was disgrace, and that it was not representative of the great country that was the United States.

The 1894-S Type Dime

Barber coins also faced other problems that became apparent after the coins were minted. Firstly, it was discovered that the quarters didn’t stack properly, which required an immediate adjustment in the design on the part of Barber. This led to a particularly rare version of the 1892 Barber quarter, dubbed Type I and Type II by collectors.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

One of the rarest types of Barber coins, though, are the 1894-S type Dimes. They came about after a grand total of $2.40 needed to be struck by the San Francisco Mint after the melting of old coins, which was just enough for 24 dimes. More were expected to be struck later that year, but it never ended up occurring, meaning that these 24 dimes are a particular rarity for collectors.

A High Purchase Price

The distinct design of Barber coins makes them relatively easy to spot, though many of them don’t hold any significant value. They were struck en mass, as many coins are, and despite the fascinating historical context regarding their design, are not particularly rare.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

However, some, like the 1894-S type coin and other rarer mints and years, can be worth a significant amount of money. An auction held for one of the 1894-S dimes in December of 2020 went for an ultimate purchase price of $1.4 million!

Finding Your Own Barber Coin

As far as looking for rare coins in your own collection, the design of the Barber coins makes them easy to spot. Simply look for a late nineteenth century or early twentieth century date, and the reverse Liberty Head design.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Finding the rarer coins might be a little trickier, though, and really requires the eye of an expert. While even the common Barber coins could be worth a few dollars – far more than their initial value when they were struck – knowing whether the coin in your collection is worth more requires the eye of someone versed in numismatics.

Pieces of History

Barber coins are not only pieces of metal, they’re pieces of history. While many of us aren’t particularly interested in the timeline of the coins that we hold in our bags, the history behind the United States Mint and coinage is a particular fascination to some.

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When the potential value of some of these coins is discovered, though, it can lead to greater interest. The interest may merely be monetary, but anything that gets the public to think a little bigger, dig a little deeper, and invest a little more of their time into the United States as a country? Well, that’s something worth talking about.

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James Cross

Written by James Cross

James Cross, an enigmatic writer from the historic city of Boston. James' writing delves into mysteries, true crime, and the unexplained, crafting compelling narratives that keep readers and viewers on the edge of their seats. His viral articles, blog posts, and documentary-style videos explore real-life enigmas and unsolved cases, inviting audiences to join the quest for answers. James' ability to turn real mysteries into shareable content has made him a sensation in the world of storytelling.

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