How to Collect Barber Half Dollars

barber half dollars

The Design Of The New Half Dollar

Charles E. Barber was the designer of the 1892 half dollar which is based on and closely copeys the Barber quarter. The liberty is Facing to the right while wearing a Phrygian cap in her hair and a wreath of laurel encircles on her head as well. In her forehead is a ribbon or band that reads Liberty over her head are the words IN GOD WE TRUST. There are six stars to the left of her and another seven stars to the right with the date being below. On the reverse is an adaptation of the United States Seal with its Heraldic eagle holding on to a olive branch and arrows and in his beak holding a ribbon with the words E PLURIBUS UNUM witch translates to “out of many, one” or a better translation “out of many we are one”. Alose there is a Galaxy of stars above and the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and HALF DOLLAR going around the coin surrounding the Design in the middle.

Pattern Coins

There Five patterns known for the Barber half dollar. Four of the designs of the obverse side of the coin for 1891 closely adopted the design of 1892 but with small differences. The changes include adjustments of the letters that go around the coin. Another change is the detail on the ribbon and its relationship to the stars. Also the positioning of the stars have changed. For the fifth pattern the obverse is divergent  from the design that Mint Director Leech had requested and has liberty standing near an eagle. With one exertion J-1763 the reverse dies differ from the design that was adopted. These different Designs can only be found in the National Numismatic Collection in the Smithsonian Institution. This different adaptation of the actual design was used from 1892 all the way till the series finally ended in 1915. There were suggestions to change the design. In January 1908 Augustus G. Heaton submitted his sketch for his idea of the new half dollar. His design was a group that indicated the labor, women's aid and the education of the youth witch are spirit of our progress surrounding all of that would be the words “LIBERTY AND EQUALITY UNDER LAW: PROSPERITY IN ENERGY AND INTEGRITY”.

Pattern 1891 Judd-7162 half dollar, on the obverse it is a very close copy of the adaptation of 1892 the most notable difference though is the TR in TRUST in relation to the olive leaves on the reverse the main difference is that the clouds are bigger.

Pattern 1891 Judd-1763 half dollar, on the obverse the die is the same as its predecessor. On the reverse the differences are the positioning of some stars for example the stars under STATES.

Pattern 1891 Judd-1764 half dollar, on the obverse the clouds are smaller than the ones in Judd-1762 and the stars in this one are also positioned differently. 

Pattern 1891 Judd-1765 half dollar, on the obverse there are no changes. On the reverse the eagle is smaller and lots of oak leaves surround it.

Pattern 1891 Judd-1766 half dollar, on the obverse there is a standing liberty with a sword in her hand and a cap on a pole. Also there is a perched eagle behind liberty. On the reverse the eagle is smaller than the previous design it also has more oak leaves.

Mintages And Distribution

 1892 and onward barber half dollars were being routinely released to the public but Hardly any numismatics paid any attention to them. The Numismatist and the American Journal of Numismatics are devoid of information and saved for yearly mintage figures. Within only a few years most of the barber coins had the word LIBERTY worn out or missing and within 20 years it was completely gone. The LIBERTY is the key to assigning the grades on the barber coins. Barber coins are actually rarer than AU grades for example the Liberty Seated silver coins.

Mintages Of Barber Half Dollars

1892: 8,236,000

1897: 2,480,000

1912: 1,550,000

1909-O: 925,400 

1899: 5,538,000

1906-O: 2,446,000

1902-S: 1,460,670 

1896-O: 924,000

1908-O: 5,360,000

1909: 2,368,000

1911: 1,406,000

1898-O: 874,000

1902: 4,922,000

1898-S: 2,358,550

1893-O: 1,389,000

1901-S: 847,044

1900: 4,762,000 

1912-D: 2,300,800

1912-S: 1,370,000

1893-S: 740,000 

1901: 4,268,000

1903: 2,278,000

1908: 1,354,000

1911-D: 695,080 

1894-S: 4,048,690

1894-O: 2,138,000 

1911-S: 1,272,000

1897-O: 632,000

1907-O: 3,946,600 

1903-O: 2,100,000

1907-S: 1,250,000 

1905: 622,000

1907-D: 3,856,000

1910-S: 1,948,000

1915-D: 1,170,400

1913-S: 604,000 

1908-D: 3,280,000 

1903-S: 1,920,772

1894: 1,148,000

1904-S: 553,038 

1906-D: 4,028,000 

1895: 1,843,338

1896-S: 1,140,948

1913-D: 534,000 

1904: 2,992,000 

1893: 1,826,000

1901-O: 1,124,000

1905-O: 505,000

1898: 2,956,000 

1895-O: 1,766,000

1904-O: 1,117,600 

1910: 418,000

1900-O: 2,744,000

1909-S: 1,764,000

1895-S: 1,108,086

1892-O: 390,000

1906: 2,638,000

1906-S: 1,740,154

1892-S: 1,029,028

1913: 188,000

1907: 2,598,000

1899-O: 1,724,000

1914-S: 992,000

1915: 138,000

1900-S: 2,560,322

1899-S: 1,686,411

1896: 950,000

1914: 124,000

1902-O: 2,526.000 

1908-S: 1,644,828

1892: 934,000

1905-S: 2,494,000

1915-S: 1,604,000

1897-S: 933,900

Comments And Reviews

 After they were released in 1892 the reviews and comments on the barber coins we’re negative most of the time. The quarter half dollar had a problem where it would not stack properly; this was a complaint that the Barber series received a lot and was eventually picked up by the press and printed in many newspapers. For example the half dollar in particular received criticism on January 20 in the Tacoma daily news. To sum up the review they said that the barber half dollar was an unlucky coin and that liberty was not as pretty as the girl on the dollar. Saying that she looks pale and her eyes looking as if she is daydreaming in the distance other things include them talking about the number 13 and how it comes up so much. Such as 13 stars above her head, 13 arrows grasped, 13 feathers, 13 eyes in the birds and 13 leaves on the olive branch.

Half Dollar Hub Changes

In 1901 the barber half dollar series received a new obverse hub die. The differences between the old and the new design are so mynewt that it would require magnification to detect it. For example the star next to the TRUST is moved slightly so that it points more to the right. Philadelphia minted coins that were made in the traditional year of 1900 are striked from obverse hub II while proofs from the earlier hub I were made before that. Strikes from all three of the mints can be found with both of these hubs.

Barber Half Dollars In Circulation

From the year 1892 and onword the Barber half dollars were popular in Commerce and the mintage quantities were often substantial. Once the silver denomination was finally discounted in 1904, the half dollar ended up becoming the highest silver denomination of its Realm. But by the time that happened the silver dollars were not often used in circulation except for states in the Rocky Mountains.The half dollars as well as the other two Barber denominations were supplied in proportion to the demand for them. Bold dimes and quarters were produced in large amounts because of their use in vending machines and gambling devices. the production of the half dollars with significantly less because those machines did not have slots for that coin. At the same time the demand for them was still steadily coming in throughout the years and there were only a few years where a meant Branch did not make them.Into the early 1950s The Barber half dollars we're actually a familiar sight in circulation by that time the dimes and quarters were actually rarely seen. 

Who is Collecting Barber Half Dollars

Prior to the 1930s the Barber half dollars were generally ignored making collectors start their coin albums with that decade. The face value was actually a deterrent in the depression years especially the barber dimes they were more sought after.  The Raymond album pages were the more popular way to store and display the coins. Many enthusiasts actually bult sets using the Raymond pages and more popular inexpensive Whitman folders around the 1940s. Going into the mid 1950s a lot of collectors had sets of Indian Head cents and coins from the Liberty Head issue; also half dollars from 1892 these were all put into Whitman folders. Most of the examples in numismatic channels were already worn with AG-3 and G-4 being common. Someone who specialized in these coins was Herbert Tobias. The higher grade coins where and still are rare to come by and actually the 1904-S is the key to this collection in some regard. The Coin game changed in 1960 with the start of Coin World and the nationwide attention given to the 1960, small date cent with $50 face value coin bags selling for $12,000 this led to hundreds even thousands of new collectors. An emphasis was put on coins with a higher grade. People lost interest in the Whitman albums as well as the barber coins stopping circulation. More emphasis was placed on higher grade coins and investing in them after the stop of 90% silver coins in 1965. Mint marks and interesting dates we're now no longer found in Pocket Change. Although people weren't concentrated on Barber coins they were still somewhat collected. Starting in the late 1900s coins from the barber series we're brought to the Forefront by many specialists. A book called the complete guide to Barber Halves Was written by David Lawrence and ended up being very successful and provided information about Barber coins and other articles like David W. Lange added to the interest of Berber coins. Then in 2005 Kevin Flynn released a book called alternative reference on Barber half dollars which featured a good amount of clothes up illustrations ovary punch dates and mint marks he also added a good amount of information about Barber coins.Spite all of this of collectors that favor Barber coins was and still is small. Although in recent years the BCCS has grown it still has fewer than 300 members. What interest is still growing around Barber coins and most have just not joined the society. 

In today's market many buyers, especially the ones buying registry sets, seem to emphasize higher grades rather than the overall Rarity of the coin. Lots of Barber collections have been built using this mindset which has led to common coins in grades such as MS-63 64 and even 65 Making them worth a very high price. If they are unique or very rare in population this however was not a factor generations ago with coin collectors. The collecting of type sets became very popular following the rise of the market and beginning of early 1960. The Coin & Currency Institute published the liberty of coins albums which only further stimulated interest. A good amount of buyers of Barber half dollars are simply looking for a single high-grade piece to show the design.

Prices In 1946

A Guide Book of United States Coins was released in 1946 with its cover date being 1947. At the time the most expensive half dollar was 1901-S with a price of $150.00 with an Uncirculated grade. That was the only coin with a three figure valuation. The normal price for a common issue was $1.50 Fine, and $2.50 Uncirculated. The cheapest proofs were $8.50. 

The Top 20 Barber Half Dollar Prices in 1946


6. 1903-O: $30.00



2. 1901-O: $60.00

7. 1913-S: $30.00



3. 1904-S: $60.00 

8. 1900-O: $25.00 



4. 1902-S: $50.00

9. 1896-S: $22.50



5. 1903-S: $45.00




Die Varieties

The 1892-O, Micro o (can be a rarity in all grades) has to be the most important die variety among the Barber half dollars. Other than this one there are a bunch of repunched dates like 1892-1908 across the whole series you can find variations in mintmarks and their placements as well as the orientation. Lawrence and also Flynn talked about these in their books. Good amount of MPDs or misplaced dates can be found using traces of date numerals that are hidden in the deticles. This is because before the worker could punch in the date he moved the coin slightly to test the hardnet leading to the move.

Aspects Of Striking

Almost all of the circulated-strike Barber half dollars have some weakness on the right side of the reserve. A very good strike will have  all the eagle feathers that are close to the shield as well as the feathers on the eagle's leg and talions with the arrows in them. Although the arrows will sometimes get a good strike 99% of the coins will not have sharp talons, however the talions on the left side with the olive branch will have sharp talons. Out of the 4 mints that struck these coins New Orleans is known to have the weakest strikes and over all most carless coins. In order to improve worker safety the die was spaced farther apart then it should have been and as a result we get the weaker and lighter stuck coins that came from the New Orleans Mint. For the most part collectors know that the O-Mint stuck weak. The San Francisco Mint was more known for their harder and sharper strikes but that was at a price of more dies cracking. Towards the last 10 years of the series all coins were pretty much struck weakly and the fact that this happened just makes the coins more interesting.

Proof Barber Half Dollars

From 1892 to 1915 proofs of every year were made with 1914 and 1915 having the lost mintages. Those coins were sold in sets with dimes and quarters after that year. In 1901 to 1904 proofs for the most part had lightly polished portraits in the die and were not “cameo” or even deeply frosted much like other years. Proofs are readily collectible nowadays and most survive in grading coming out with a Proof-63 or even a 64.

Grading Barber Half Dollars

 1909 with a grade of MS-62, there will be some Abrasion and contact marks on the coin mainly on the cheek. Luster will be present but may be dull or somewhat lifeless. A good amount of Barber coins have been cleaned in some way, especially earlier dates. A MS-63 will have little marks and adrations. The abrasions on the cheek will be evident this is more common in half dollars compared to the other coins in the series. A MS-65 might have abrasion but marks will be so small that magnification is required to see them. On the reverse the same things apply as far as marks and apparitions most notable on the tail. 

1915-D with a grade of AU-53, there will be some light wear that can be seen on the head especially on the hairline under the LIBERTY. A AU-58 will have extensive luster but it will be incomplete mainly higher up on the coin. AU-50 to 53 luster will be less. On the reverse, wear is seen on the head ,tail and tip of the wings. There will still be good luster. AU-58 can have a reverse be in full Mint state. 

1908-S with a grade of EF-45, there will be more wear on the head the hairline uber the LIBERTY will have lost most of its detail and overall shows wear but still is a strong coin. On the reverse more wear is shown on the head tails and tips of the wings; the sharpness of the strike on the reverse is not important though.

1897-S with a grade of VF-30, the head will have more wear. For the most part all the detail in the hairline is gone under the LIBERTY. The LIBERTY itself will show some wear but is still complete. The leaves and the cap both show wear. On the reverse the wear has increased and it can be seen in the tail, head, outer parts of the wings and the shield.

1909-O with a grade of F-12, the head will have extensive wear; the LIBERTY will also show wear mainly on the ER but is still readable. If the coin has been lightly stuck it will be missing some letters. The graders will know this but collectors will insist on full letters. On the reverse there will be more wear. The E PLURIBUS UNUM is light and might have one or two letters worn away or almost worn away.

1915-S with a grade VG-8, will have a net of three letters on the LIBERTY but they must be readable, usually the LI will be clear with one or two letters being faint. On the reverse more wear and half of the wethers will be worn. The shield will be intact for the most part maybe apart from some lines. The motto is a little worn away and the rim is full.

1892-O with a grade of G-4, the head is an outline at this point with the middle being flat. The rim is still intact and the letters are still full. On the reverse the eagle shows a few feathers with some letters of the motto scattered. The rim might be worn flat but you can see partial letters.

1896-S with a grade of AG-3, the stars and motto are extensively worn with the border being somewhat indistinct; it will vary on different levels. The date will be clear. Most of the grading is done on the reverse. On the reverse the rim will be gone and the letters being slightly worn away. The eagle is mainly flat, maybe with a hint of feather or two. The obverse might look a higher grade which is why it's important to take a look at the reverse to grade this coin.

1914 with a grade of PF-61, they will be extensively clean and have many hairlines once they will be duller or more grey lines will be lower grades like PF-60 to 62 they are not desired as much. With good hairlines and reflectivity a grade of PF-64 is appropriate. Lines on the cheek are present and are known as slide marks and are on all barber coins with notable slide marks the highest grade you can receive is PF-64. With few harlines a PF-65 is possible. A PF-66 will have to have hairlines so detailed magnification is required to see them. If the proof is higher than that there should be no hairlines. 

Things To Look for When Buying Barber Half Dollars

   If you're getting a circulated grade look for coins that have as little impairments and scratches as possible. A typical coin will have a light gray color to it. It might come as a shock to you but collectors in the Barber Coin Collectors Society don't look for clean or shiny coins, instead seeking out worn and used ones that show the history. The grades I am talking about are anywear from Fine to AU and they surprisingly are in high demand. The availability of the Barber half dollar in all kinds of grades has been talked about in various BCCS articles and also on surveys at the Mint State Level. When looking at coins from the New Orleans Mint try your hardest to look for harder stuck coins even though it might be hard to find. Although grades will look over things because of its weak strike, collectors can still have their preferences. Lower level Mint state coins like MS-60 up to MS-62 can look scruffy and overall unattractive. The better choice would be to look for MS-63 and look for a quality coin. Grading comes down to a matter of opinion and if the coin has better eye appeal it might be more elusive for the grader. For example a MS-63 with nice luster and a sharp strike would be better than a weak MS-65 with no luster and little to no eye appeal. That is your advantage though most buyers just look at the label and not much else. Decades ago most of the Barber half dollars in collections had good luster and album toning with iridescent hues. Since then a lot of the coins have gone darker and look more unattractive. Proof coins like Proof-64 and higher are sought after coins and picked for quality. For the most part Proof-64 will look nicer than 65. At the end of the day keep in mind that although grades are important, finding a nicer looking coin with a lower grade can be the better way to go. 

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