Extensive research is often performed on surviving specimens of extremely rare coins with only a limited number of surviving specimens known. However, when it comes to the 1894-S Barber Dime, there is some dispute as to how many have pieces have survived, in addition to uncertainty about how many may still be hidden in private collections or might remain undiscovered. We do have reliable information on nine surviving specimens, all graded as specimen strikings, per the listing of William A. Burd, among others. One or two more examples have appeared in census listings and placed in recent auction descriptions, but the actual existence of these has been disputed by some, including Burd.
The finest of the nine 1894-S Dimes confirmed to exist is generally considered to be the James Stack specimen, graded by NGC as PF 66. This coin had become part of the Richmond collection, which was sold by David Lawrence Rare Coins at auction in March 2005 for $1,322,500. The coin was subsequently sold in a private transaction for $1,900,000, representing the record price for this issue.
The second finest known is considered to be another NGC PF 66, which appears to be the same coin that was previously graded PCGS SP-64 and SP-65. The coin was submitted and upgraded on various occasions. This coin sold for $1,035,000 when it was still in a PCGS SP-65 holder, in 2005. Another coin, graded by PCGS as SP-64, which was not included in the Burd listing, sold in 2005 for $1,552,500. The earlier provenance of this coin is not fully confirmed, and it is very well possible to be a possible tenth specimen.
Two specimens stand out in the roster of known 1894-S Barber Dimes. Both are well worn, and were either used as pocket pieces in the early 20th century or circulated heavily before their true value was discovered. The first is graded Good-4 by NGC, while the other grades About Good-3. The former is often nicknamed the “ice cream” specimen. It is presumed that it was the coin which Hallie Daggett, daughter of former Superintendent of the San Francisco Mint, spent on an ice cream after her father gave her three of the dimes. While it is unknown if the story is true, it is only one of the many mysteries of this great American rarity.