NorthWest Detroit Coin Club
The Other Barbers, Part 1
By John Dembinski
Over the years much has been written about the dimes, quarter dollars and half dollars designed by Charles E. Barber, for whom our Society is named. And this is as it should be - that’s why we are called the Barber Coin Collectors Society. Discussing and sharing information with other Barber collectors about die varieties, collecting habits, stories of finding that special Barber coin you’ve been hunting for years, etc., is what this Society is all about. But what about Mr. Barber’s other coinage? There is more U.S. coinage attributed to Mr. Barber’s designs than just the dimes, quarters and halves we love and always talk about. So, in this article let’s have a closer look at some of the other coins that Charles E. Barber is famous (or not so famous) for designing.
The first coin that comes to my mind should be obvious to us all: the Liberty Head Nickel, also known as the “V” nickel, 1883-1913. This coin is (in my humble opinion) a very beautiful design, both obverse and reverse. According to the Coin World Almanac, 7th Edition, page 281, the model or source for the Liberty Head design on the obverse of this coin is unknown. The reverse of this coin, for which two varieties for 1883 exist (“with CENTS” and “without CENTS”) are thought to be original designs by Mr. Barber. (The “with CENTS” variety always commands a higher price than the “without CENTS” type in every grade.)
Most of us would consider the “key” dates in this series to be the 1885, 1886, and 1912-S, all of which are within the grasp of budget-minded collectors like myself. You could also shoot for the chance to own one of the famous (or infamous?) 1913 nickels. (Being a close relative of Bill Gates or a Saudi prince would help.)
For further information about this wonderful coin, please refer to BCCS Journal issues Vol. 13, No. 4 and Vol. 14, No. 1. Also see excellent articles in Coin World: 5/15/00, p. 102; 7/10/00, p. 72; 4/23/01, 9/23/02, p. 120; COINS magazine, May 2001; Dec. 2002; and COINAGE magazine, June 2001, to name just a few. Great reference books on the Liberty Head Nickel include The Complete Guide to Shield and Liberty Head Nickels by Gloria Peters and Cynthia Mohon and Treasure Hunting Liberty Head Nickels by William Van Note and Kevin Flynn. Please also see Chapter 21, “The Barber Coinage,” in Don Taxay’s book, The U.S. Mint and Coinage for very interesting reading about Mr. Barber and his designs.
Another Barber design that may often be overlooked by Barber collectors is the Isabella Quarter Dollar minted in 1893 as a souvenir of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago that year. Authority was granted to mint the commemorative 25-cent piece on March 3, 1893 and the Philadelphia Mint turned out 24,214 quarter dollars, of which only one type is known. Not considered very rare, even for its low mintage, a nice specimen in AU-50 can be obtained for about $425.00 which puts this coin within reach of most Barber collectors of modest means. Also, if I am correct, this quarter is the first U.S. coin design to depict a real person (long deceased, of course), Queen Isabella of Spain.
So, as you can see, there’s a lot more to Charles E. Barber than just his beautiful dimes, quarters, and halves. In my next installment, I would like to discuss some other Barber designs that we might not often think of. I also hope the collecting of Barber’s “other” coins will instill some excitement in the hearts and minds of collectors, myself included.
Sources: Coin World Almanac, 7th Edition, 2000
A Guidebook of United States Coins (Red Book), 56th Edition, 2003
Over-Grading Just a Bit?
By John Dembinski
In reference to Mr. Safran¹s letter in the Journal, Vol. 15, No. 2 (³Barber Bits,² page 13), I too have come across all too often the occurrence of dealers over-grading coins in the Barber series. I will relate from memory just two instances of buying from dealers Barber coins that were grossly over-graded.
The first was about two years ago. It was a 1900-O dime graded as VF-20. And I remember paying a VF price for it. It looked decent, a nice original coin, but alas, I had not done my homework.
According to the Official A.N.A. Grading Standards for United States Coins, Fifth Edition, part of the description for this grade reads: ³EVERY letter in LIBERTY is visible.² To make even a Very Good grade, LIBERTY must show three letters. Besides the coin having some nice details, I couldn¹t find even TWO letters showing in LIBERTY. This coin couldn¹t even make VG by these standards!
The other instance was back in March at our club¹s [Wayne Coin Club, Wayne, MI] local show. The coin in question was a 1913 Barber Quarter graded as Fine on the holder. Wow! Got to have that one - that¹s one of the keys! It was priced at $60 and I thought it would make a nice Father¹s Day gift for myself. The dealer knocked $10 off the price so my wife bought it and put it away.
On Father¹s Day morning, I received my gift - a 1913 Barber Quarter in Fine condition - or so I thought. Now, according to the A.N.A. Grading Standards book, in Fine condition part of the description reads: ³ALL letters in LIBERTY are weak but visible.² On my particular coin, the ³L² and the ³Y² are the only complete letters to be seen. Also showing is the upper half of ³I² and the right crossbar of ³T.² I graded the obverse VG. It¹s certainly not Fine!
For the reverse, outside of having a strong border and denticles, the shield on the eagle¹s breast is worn so smooth it merges with the wings, and one could barely tell there was a shield there at all! The eagle¹s eye is worn flat, and only four complete letters of the motto show on the ribbon. The reverse of this coin wouldn¹t even make a VG in my opinion, so I graded it as Good. To me, it is still a decent coin, but certainly doesn¹t command a grade of Fine.
My wife and I have decided that we are going to have a little fun at next year¹s show. I am going to place the coin in a different holder, and I will go back to that same dealer and ask him what grade he would assign to that coin. I¹ve heard over the years from other collectors that some coin dealers will downgrade coins when buying, and likewise upgrade coins when selling. Has the above-mentioned practice reached epidemic proportions? We all certainly hope not. One thing I have learned the hard way - brush up on your grading skills so that YOU will know what makes a coin a VF as opposed to a VG. Armed with this kind of knowledge, coin dealers then cannot take advantage of us collectors. But stay tuned. I¹m sure there¹s more to come on this topic.
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