100 Greatest U.S. Coins Series: 1894-S Barber Dime

“Ideas are a dime a dozen.” “It isn’t worth a dime if….” Who knew the ten-cent piece was so utilized to make a point? To get to our point, dimes have been around for a significant amount of time. Disme, draped bust, seated liberty, winged liberty head (or Mercury), Roosevelt. All of these make up the history that is the ten-cent piece. But we are missing one crucial one: the Barber dime.

While the Barber coinage series (1892-1916) left much to be desired in the grand scheme of things, it did produce a ten-cent piece that is incredibly famous and rare among United States coinage as a whole. Its story, its rarity, and its value speaks volumes about its importance to the numismatic hobby, but very few people have ever seen it.

Outlined in Whitman Publishing’s fourth edition of the Greatest 100 United States Coins, this dime finds itself in not only the top 100, but in the top 10 on their list. With author Jeff Garrett in the driver’s seat and Ron Guth aiding in the passenger seat with influence from dealers and collectors from across the country, we will further discuss this Barber dime and explore why it has landed where it has.

#7 - 1894-S Barber Dime

According to the Whitman Publication and what they describe as the “general consensus”, only 24 1894-S dimes were struck and claims were made that the 24 number came from the need to round out an accounting entry. What made this claim difficult to comprehend was the fact that a total of $.40 was needed to round out the entry and what was produced was $2.40. Most of the surviving dimes also tend to be prooflike in their appearance which also makes the accounting entry theory difficult because special coins like these Barber dimes with such a rare appearance would not have been used to simply “round out an accounting entry.”

The Proof debate, in general, is an interesting one. The remainder of the known coins out there are either pinned as prooflike, which means they are produced with mirror surfaces but not with actual Proof dies, or actual Proof coins. The highest graded 1894-S Barber dime examples out there appear to be Proofs in the opinion of the authors.

More research down the road unveiled that the superintendent of the United States Mint at San Francisco at the time, John Daggett, had the coins struck at the request of his friends who were a part of the banking system. Three of the 24 coins struck went to his daughter Hallie while telling her to preserve them until she got older in hopes that the coins would be worth much more. Other than the one she used to purchase an ice cream with, Hallie kept the other two tight to the belt and in 1954, she sold them to a dealer in California.

Of all the Barber coinage every produced, no piece is rarer than the 1894-S dime. Only nine of the total 24 have been confirmed while two of them were pulled from circulation. One of those two ended up being known as the “Ice Cream Specimen”, for obvious reasons. Others have either been preserved in Proof or prooflike designations in grades ranging from impaired to gem. While the coins themselves present the rarest of qualities, it is unknown as to how the other examples other than the nine confirmed have not been brought to light. Some think that the other coins were lost or melted down.

In 1960, the 1894-S Barber dime was valued at $15,000 in a Choice Proof condition. By 1980, its value increased drastically to $100,000 and it became one of the first coins to cross the $100,000 price point. In this fourth edition, the coin is now valued at $2 million!