Background and History

The 1894-S Barber Dime is one of the great rarities of American coinage. Besides having an original mintage believed to be just 24 pieces, this issue is surrounded by mystery, with the precise circumstances of its creation unknown. No other Barber type coins can boast such absolute rarity and intrigue. The value of the coin is similarly impressive, with finest known examples changing hands for more than $1 million each.

The Barber Dime series was introduced in 1892, when it replaced the former long running Seated Liberty design. Named for its designer Charles E. Barber, the obverse featured the head of Liberty facing to the right and adorned with a cap inscribed Liberty and a laurel wreath. The inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounds, with the date beneath. The reverse design remained the same as seen in the prior series, consisting of an agricultural wreath with the denomination ONE DIME placed at center. The mint mark appears below the base of the wreath.

During the course of the series, coins were struck at the Philadelphia, Denver, New Orleans, and San Francisco Mints. The mintage levels for regular issues ranged from a low of 440,000 to a high of more than 20 million coins later in the series. The 1894-S stands apart from all other issues of the series for its impossibly low mintage of 24 pieces.

As with some other major rarities in American numismatics, the full story of the 1894-S dime is not known. The coins were listed in the account book of the San Francisco Mint of 1894, like other coins struck that year and for many years afterward. All known examples are believed to have been struck as proofs, or at least as specimen strikings. The special production process involved was not typically employed at the San Francisco Mint, but usually limited to a small number of coins struck in Philadelphia. The production of proof coins at branch mints, usually only happened to mark extraordinary events. Since there were no such events in San Francisco in 1894, there does not seem to be much reason for the special striking of such minuscule mintage of dimes.

The first 1894-S Barber Dimes came out of the woodwork in 1900 when the Numismatist published an article about them. Since then, only a very limited number of the original mintage has turned up, and it seems unlikely that any additional examples will be found more than a century after their original mintage.