1894-S Barber Dime
The 1894-S Barber Dime is a dime produced in the United States Barber coinage. The coin is one of the most highly prized United States coins among collectors.
After some debate, it is today held that San Francisco Mint Superintendent J Daggett had the coins produced for a group of banker friends, hence their rarity.
The coin is regarded as being among the "Big Three" of American numismatics, along with the 1804 Silver Dollar and the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel.
Rarity and value
Of the 24 coins thought to have been minted in 1894, only nine are today known to survive.
Due to the rarity of the coin and the debate and mysteries surrounding its past, the 1894-S Dime is one of the most valuable coins produced in the United States.
In the late 1990s one of the remaining 1894-S Dimes was bought for $825,000. They have since sold for $1,035,000 in 2005; $1.3 million also in 2005; and $1.9 million in 2007.
History and inaccuracies
It is today held that only 24 1894-S Barber Dimes were originally minted in San Francisco – all this has previously been questioned by numismatists over the years. Also queried is whether all of the coins were struck as Proofs.
Several theories over the years have tried to explain the mintage of these coins. An early theory suggested that the 24 coins were simply struck to balance the books in 1894, as reported in the April 1928 issue of The Numismatist.
The Zerbe report
This theory was related by Farran Zerbe who claims that the information was given to him at the San Francisco Mint in 1905:
"To close a bullion account at the San Francisco Mint at the end of the fiscal year, June 30th, 1894, it was found necessary to show 40 cents, odd, in the year's coinage. The mint not having coined any dimes during the year, the dime dies were put to work, and to produce the needed 40 cents, 24 pieces were struck, any reasonable amount of even dollars over the 40 cents being readily absorbed in the account. It has been stated that at the time no thought was given by the mint people that a rarity had been produced, it being supposed they would, as always in the past, be ordered to coin dimes before the close of the year. It so happened that no dime coinage was ordered and the unintentional error was not realized until the year's coinage record was closed".
However, two parts of this theory arguably don’t make sense today. Firstly, some experts find it odd that, if the coinage was indeed produced to close a bullion account that was off by 40 cents, it didn’t matter how many dollars over 40 cents were produced, making the account out of balance by two dollars.
Secondly, another question regarding the Zerbe report is the condition of these coins. With the exception of two heavily circulated examples, every known 1894-S dime is a Proof.
If Mint personnel were simply balancing the account, then why was so much time taken to create these coins as Proofs - especially if "no thought was given by the mint people that a rarity had been produced. The Zerbe account is today considered to be illogical and inaccurate.
The Presentation Specimen theory - the Johnson report
James Johnson presented the Presentation Specimen theory in his Coin World article of September 13, 1972. Johnson said his information came from Earl Parker, who purchased two 1894-S Barber Dime examples from Hallie Daggett in 1950.
Hallie was the daughter of John Daggett, the superintendent of the San Francisco Mint in 1894.
According to Johnson’s theory, seven banker friends of John Daggett were visiting the San Francisco Mint in 1894, and desirous of a souvenir, each were gifted three freshly minted Proof dimes. The final three went to Daggett, who gave them all to his daughter.
Johnson’s theory doesn’t explain why dimes were chosen, rather than gold coins or silver dollars. Also, it is based on the memory of Earl Parker, two decades after the fact, with Parker relying on the recollection of Ms Daggett, who was 72-years-old when she met with Parker.
Nevertheless, Johnson’s theory is the most credible, and is taken as fact. It is the theory that Walter Breen published in his various encyclopaedic works.
Facts about the 1894-S Barber Dime
According to Dallas auction house Heritage Auction Galleries:
1. Only 24 examples were struck and they were struck during the first half of the year, according to official mint records.
2. One or more examples were reserved for the Assay Commission that met on February 13, 1895. Were these included in the 24 coins minted, or were the Assay coins in addition to the 24 examples?
3. All were struck as Proofs, and all but two retain some or full mirrored proof finish today. They were struck from a single pair of dies, indicating all were struck at approximately the same time.
4. Aside from the record in contemporary mint reports, the first public notice that these coins existed was not until the March 1900 issue of The Numismatist.
The finest known example of the coin, graded PCGS Proof 66 Branch Mint, sold in 2005 for $1,322,500 at a David Lawrence Rare Coins auction. The dime was consigned for auction by Bradley Hirst of Richmond, Indiana. He had purchased the dime six years earlier for $825,000.
The same coin sold again for a record $1.9m in July 2007. Again the sale was conducted by David Lawrence Rare Coins. At the time the company President, John Feigenbaum, stated “The new owner wants to remain anonymous. He’s a New York City investment banker who is looking to diversify his portfolio out of paper assets,”