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The Magnificent 1894-S Barber Dime
History & Registry of Known Specimens

The 1894-S Barber dime is one of those few American numismatic treasures that has transcended it's particular series to become one of the most famous of all U.S. coins. Just like the 1804 silver dollar and 1913 Liberty nickel, the 1894-S has an undeniable and mystical appeal which will excite collectors for years to come. It's often the case with such sought-after coins that they are not the rarest -- certainly there are U.S. coins with only one known survivor (for example, the 1866 no motto quarter and half dollar). But it's the story that makes the coin, and the 1894-S dime is no exception.

First of all, the 1894-S dime is the only true rarity in all the Barber series (dimes, quarters and halves). Of the 24 pieces minted, just 10 coins are known to exist today and it is unlikely that any more will surface. Two of these are low-grade specimens while the others have survived without wear, though most have been mishandled in some way. The 10 specimens are well known and bear the "pedigrees" of some of the most famous numismatic collections ever assembled.

Farran Zerbe's Account
The circumstances surrounding the production and distribution of the 1894-S dimes remain a mystery. In April 1928, The Numismatist (p. 236-237, the monthly publication of the American Numismatic Association) gave an account by Farran Zerbe, a former president of the ANA. The coins were struck, Zerbe said, to provide a balance of forty cents needed to close a bullion account at the San Francisco Mint by June 30, 1894 -- the end of the fiscal year. Since any even dollar amount ending in forty cents was acceptable, the employees were said to have struck 24 pieces, or $2.40. Mint employees weren't deliberately trying to create a rarity because they were still expecting orders to produce more 1894-S dimes before the end of the calendar year. But December 31 passed without a request for further production. Two or three pieces were obtained by Mint employees "just to have a new dime," Zerbe said; when they realized the coins were now rare, they sold them to collectors for $25 or more apiece. The remaining 1894-S dimes went into a bag with other dimes and into circulation.

At the time of this article, only 3 or 4 specimens had been found. Zerbe's information, which he said was "obtained from the San Francisco Mint in 1905," is similar to an earlier account by J.C. Mitchelson, a Kansas City collector. Mitchelson said he was told by Mint employees that only 14 of the 24 coins went into circulation, the others to be restruck and presumably melted (The Numismatist, 1900, No.6). The "unintentional rarity" theory is probably the explanation the San Francisco Mint wanted to publish, rather than admit what may have actually occurred. In recent decades, however, Zerbe's and Mitchelson's accounts have been more or less debunked by new information.

What An Investment!
As a dealer who caters to collectors, we rarely tout coins as an investment, although many collectors certainly buy them for that purpose. In the case of the 1894-S dime, it is hard to overlook the significant gains made by those fortunate enough to own one of these exciting coins.

Consider the performance of the Lawrence-3 specimen which traded hands three times in two decades:

* 1990: Sold for $275,000 in auction

* 1998: Sold for $825,000 in private treaty

* 2005: Sold for $1,332,000 in auction

* 2007: Sold for $1,900,000 in private treaty

This impressive price climb is proof that this exciting rarity has real market strength which may still have much more potential. We had an inquiry in early 2010 and the current owner declined to even put a price on it. "It's not for sale.", he said.

The Registry of Known Specimens

(Last update: April 2013) There are 10 known examples of the 1894-S dime, which we have been researched back to their manufacture at the San Francisco Mint with varying degrees of success. David Lawrence first published this Registry in his 1991 book, The Complete Guide to Barber Dimes: online edition. We update this Registry as new information comes along.

The Lawrence numbering system has been established to identify each coin.

Lawrence-1 (L-1): Newcomer Specimen

Proof 60.
Has a noticeable spot on Liberty's chin and the obverse shows evidence of being harshly cleaned. Owners include Waldo Newcomer; Boyd; A. Kosoff (1946); Will W. Neil (paid $2,350); B. Max Mehl, Hydeman ($13,000); Kosoff, Bowers-Empire; Hazen Hinman; Jim Kelly; Leo Young; RARCOA Auction '80 (Lot #1578); Ron Gillio (1986 for $145,000); anonymous collector ($93,100).

Lawrence-2 (L-2): Eliasberg Specimen

Gem Proof.
Has not been graded at either PCGS or NGC as of this writing, however, it mostly likely would grade Proof 64-65. Described in the Bowers & Merena Eliasberg Auction catalog: "Mostly brilliant centers changing to delicate gold at the borders. A tiny lint mark from neck to below chin will serve to identify this specimen." One of two pieces owned by J.M. Clapp, who most likely acquired them within a decade of their minting. Louis Eliasberg purchased Clapp's entire collection in 1942 for $100,000 and this coin was included (the collection was brokered by Stack's). The coin was purchased by Harvey Stack in the May 1996 Eliasberg Estate sale held by Bowers & Merena Auctions ($451,000, May 1996, Lot #1250).

Lawrence-3 (L-3): James Stack-Richmond Specimen

PCGS/CAC Proof 66.
Previously graded NGC Proof 66 as well. Rose, blue and steel toning. The finest of all the 1894-S dimes. The second of the two pieces owned by J.M. Clapp and, later, Eliasberg (See L-2). Since this coin was a duplicate in Eliasberg's collection, it was made available. Stack's auctioned it off in 1947 and it was purchased by James A. Stack (no relation). It was later auctioned by Stack's ($275,000, January 1990, Lot #206). Sold in December 1998 for $825,000 by David Lawrence Rare Coins to a private collector. In 2005, DLRC Auctions sold the coin at a live auction of the Richmond Collection to Daniel Rosenthal ($1,332,000, March 2005, Lot #1295, web link). In 2007, Mitch Spivack of represented the seller and John Feigenbaum of David Lawrence Rare Coins represented the buyer, John Albanese of CAC, in a private treaty transaction for $1,900,000.

Lawrence-4 (L-4): The Daggett-Parker-Brown-Lawrence Specimen

PCGS/CAC Proof-64 BM.
Attributed as one of the original group of coins given by Mint superintendent John Daggett to his daughter, Hallie (along with L-5, L-6 and, possibly, L-9). Sold by Hallie Daggett to coin dealer, Earl Parker between 1949-1954. The ownership chain continues from Parker to Dan Brown; Stacks; Chicago Private Collection; Kagin’s (October 4-6, 1984, Dr. Samual Joseph Gillespie Sale, Long Beach Auction, Lot #4176); Private Collection; Stacks’ Auction ($1,552,500, October 2007, Lot #4921, link to Stacks' catalog page); Private Collection; David Lawrence Rare Coins (April 2013, Official Press Release).

Lawrence-5 (L-5): Daggett-Lawrence Specimen

NGC Proof 66.
Reportedly given by Mint superintendent John Daggett to daughter, Hallie at time of minting. Between 1949-1954 Daggett sold this coin, L-4 and L-6 to California dealer, Earl Parker. Other owners include James Johnson; Abner Kreisberg; World-Wide Coin; it was offered by Bowers and Ruddy Rare Coin Review (No.21, 1974); anonymous "mid-western" collector; purchased at Superior Galleries auction by Spectrum Numismatics (August 1992); acquired by David Lawrence Rare Coins & David Schweitz Coins (October 2002); acquired by Laura Sperber of Legend Numismatics at Heritage Auctions ($1,035,000, January 2005, Lot #30164); private collection. This coin has been graded NGC Proof 65; PCGS Proof 65; and currently graded NGC Proof 66.

Lawrence-6 (L-6): Jerry Buss Specimen

Impaired Proof.
Has been graded in various auction catalogs from XF to Proof-60. Reverse has a vertical scratch and what appears to be a planchet flaw on the lower right, extending into the mint mark. Authenticated by ANACS. The second Hallie Daggett coin, which was sold to Earl Parker.

Other owners: James Kelly; Malcolm Chell-Frost; F.S. Gugenheimer; 1973 Kagin MANA Sale; Jerry Buss. Sold for $50,600 by Superior Galleries; Michelle Johnson; later sold for $70,400 by Superior Galleries (1988). Current whereabouts: unknown.

Lawrence-7 (L-7): Norweb Specimen

NGC Proof-62.
Has a significant mark on Liberty's cheek. Maple leaf below 'D' is weakly struck. Faint vertical striations on the reverse. Light lilac and gray toning over gold surfaces. Past owners/transactions include: Charles Cass; 1957 Stack's Empire sale ($4,750, 1957, Lot #881); Bowers & Ruddy; Q. David Bowers; Mrs. Norweb; sold in 1987 Bowers & Merena Sale of Norweb Collection ($77,000, 1987); sold in 1990 Stack's 55th Anniversary Sale ($93,500, 1990, Lot #504); Current whereabouts: unknown.

Lawrence-8 (L-8): Rappaport Specimen

Grade unknown but probably an impaired proof, which would not receive a definitive grade at PCGS or NGC due to mishandling. Owners include: A. Kagin; Reuter; Kreisberg; Bowers & Ruddy; Pennsylvania Estate.

Lawrence-9 (L-9): Ice Cream Specimen

Good-4 with an old reverse scratch through 'ONE DIME' plus some other light circulation marks on the obverse. Graded VG by New Netherlands. Authenticated after 1980 Steve Ivy sale by ANACS to Numismatic Funding Corp. Even though this is referred to as the famous "Ice Cream Specimen" there's no way to be certain that this is indeed the piece Hallie Daggett spent.

Robert Freidberg bought this coin over the counter for $2.40 (24 times face value) at Gimbels Department Store, NY, in 1957. Later: A. Kagin; New Netherlands (1951, lot 581); A. Kagin; Harmer Rooke (Nov. 1969); James G. Johnson; sold at 1980 Steve Ivy ANA Sale ($34,100, 1980, Lot #1804); sold by Bowers & Merena at 1981 ANA Sale ($27,500, 1981, Lot #2921); private collection.

Lawrence-10 (L-10): Romito-Montesano Specimen

Supposedly certified by NGC but does not show up in the Census Report. Has a circular cut on the obverse. Owners include: Romito (1911); consigned by Montesano to Stack's in 1942, but withdrawn; sold by John Hipps to Laura Sperber in 1990; then to private collector for about $35,000.