US Coins

‘Branch Mint’ Proof 1894-S Barber dime an ANA highlight

Stack’s Bowers Galleries and Heritage Auctions will again share duties as official auctioneers of the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Illinois. The ANA made the two firms official co-auctioneers of its prestigious summer convention starting in 2014, and their multi-session auctions make for an exhausting week for collectors and dealers alike. 

A star at Stack’s Bowers’ Aug. 15 Rarities Night auction will be an 1894-S Barber dime graded Branch Mint Proof 63 by Professional Coin Grading Service. Unlike other famed rarities, such as the 1804 Draped Bust silver dollar and the 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent piece, U.S. Mint records show that the 1894-S dime was produced as an official Mint product. Of the 24 coins minted, Stack’s Bowers traces nine known today, with the offered dime in the middle of the condition census. 

It was offered as lot 617 at Superior Galleries’ January 1985 auction of the Dr. Jerry Buss collection. Selling a year before the proliferation of third-party grading, it was graded Brilliant Proof 60 by the auctioneer, who wrote in the catalog, “Well struck and partially prooflike with a triangular area, in the center reverse extending through the mint mark, poorly executed and finished.” It brought $50,600. It sold again at a June 1988 Superior auction carrying the same grade. Estimated at $55,000 and up, it realized $70,400. 

In the 1985 sale, pictured here with the black background, it is fully brilliant with nary a hint of toning, while the catalog in the 1988 offering shows it with a slight gold undertone. 

The plates in the 1985 and 1988 catalogs show a very different looking dime when compared to its current significantly toned state, with rose gold on the obverse and stronger magenta and blue color on the reverse. The overall look is similar to many coins that were once dipped and allowed to re-tone over time. 

The sale reminds collectors of a time when brilliant white coins were all the rage. Today, many buyers prefer a bit of color on their silver coins. Especially considering the unforgiving nature of reflective Proof surfaces, which seem to highlight every hairline and surface imperfection, some toning can mask deficiencies. 

Re-toned coins have been in the pages of Coin World recently. Last month’s Market Analysis looked at a high-end 1799/8 Draped Bust silver dollar that acquired a newly colorful appearance between auction offerings in 2013 and 2019. An article in the July 8 weekly edition of Coin World highlighted a Proof 1818 Capped Bust half dollar that was withdrawn from an upcoming auction when confirmed to be the same coin that sold at a November 2018 auction looking dramatically different. 

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