Finest-known 1894-S Barber dime leads Heritage's FUN Platinum Night auction

Proof 66 CAC example of legendary rarity anchors January auction in Tampa
By , Coin World
Published : 12/11/15
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The finest known 1894-S Barber dime is one of the top stars at Heritage Auctions various sales held in conjunction with the Florida United Numismatists convention. 

The convention has public hours Jan. 7 to Jan. 10, and Heritage is presenting its official FUN auctions between Jan. 6 and 12. 

The 1894-S Barber dime is graded Proof 66 by Professional Coin Grading Service, with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker. The lengthy lot description establishes the importance of the dime, stating, “The 1894-S Barber dime is a classic rarity in American coinage, often grouped with the 1804 dollar and the 1913 Liberty nickel as ‘The Big Three’ of United States numismatic rarities.” Heritage adds, “The 1894-S remains the most famous, mysterious, and elusive coin in the entire Barber series and has been the stuff of collector dreams since it was first mentioned in the numismatic press by Augustus Heaton in 1900.” It is also a rarity that trades infrequently, as no example has been offered at auction since 2007, when a Proof 64 example in Stack’s 72nd Anniversary Sale realized $1,552,500.

The rarity is one of 24 examples struck, and is one of perhaps eight or nine known to collectors today. The coin in the auction has a long pedigree that includes John M. Clapp and his son John H. Clapp. The younger Clapp sold his father’s collection to Louis E. Eliasberg. It brought $2,150 at Stack’s October 1947 sale of what was billed as the H.R. Lee Collection — the initials H.R. were from Eliasberg’s mother’s name and “Lee” plays off the collector’s own initials — when offered as a duplicate from Eliasberg’s collection. 

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Heritage observes that Eliasberg retained what is considered today to be his lesser example. When Eliasberg sold his duplicates, he typically retained the example he considered the finest, but it is unknown what criteria he used in deciding which of the 1894-S dimes to sell and which to retain. Heritage explains, “No formal grading standards had been established at the time and, while Eliasberg had a keen eye for quality, the difference in price between one coin in attractive condition and another in slightly higher grade was not nearly as great as it is today.”

The present dime would later sell at a January 1990 Stack’s auction as part of the James A. Stack Collection for $275,000. In the 1990s it would trade hands privately for $450,000, then $825,000 before selling again at David Lawrence Rare Coins’ March 2005 auction of the Richmond Collection, then graded Proof 66 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., for $1,322,500. In July 2007 John Albanese purchased it for $1.9 million. 

It is also the plate coin for the 2005 edition of Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth’s 100 Greatest U.S. Coins book.

The San Francisco Mint struck nearly 2.5 million Barber dimes in 1893 and had plans to maintain production in 1894, since as of January 1894 the San Francisco Mint had 10 pairs of dies from which it could strike 1894-S dimes. “Unfortunately, the Panic of 1893 caused a widespread and long-lasting economic recession and there was little demand for small change in the shrinking economy,” Heritage noted, and just 24 were struck. Heritage observed, “Although no one could have foreseen it when the coins were struck in June, there would be no further orders for dimes in 1894 at the San Francisco Mint.” 

The production came at a time when Mint mark collecting expanded in popularity with American collectors due to recent publications, most importantly the book “Mint Marks, Heaton’s seminal treatise on the subject,” Heritage notes, and contemporary collectors were well aware of the low production total that was listed in the Report of the Director of the Mint for 1895.

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