Is there still any wonder as to how Heritage Auctions’ has maintained its status as the largest collectibles auctioneer in the world? The auction house managed to bring in $192 million last year, dwarfing the combined total of all other American numismatic auction houses. One of the biggest draws of 2016 was an especially attractive 1894-S Barber dime which sold for nearly two million dollars!
The recently auctioned 1894-S Barber dime is one of only 24 proofs struck that year by the San Francisco branch facility of the U.S. Mint. The question, though, is why this coin had such a low mintage, and the answer to that question is quite interesting.
Ultra Rare Dime
The San Francisco mint, in 1893, struck almost 2.5 million Barber dimes. The next year was to be met with a similar level of production, but the Panic of 1893 would force officials at the mint to reevaluate their plans. See, the country experienced a massive depression that year, and so demand for new small coinage, along with the size of every sector in the economy, shrunk precipitously.
A large number of these coins were melted down for their 90% pure silver content. In 1894, no new dimes were to be minted by the San Francisco mint, but Mint supervisor John Daggett would make an exception—for his friends.
Legend has it that Daggett commissioned the twenty-four 1894-S Barber dimes so that he could gift them to a few high ranking associates that were expected to visit. The decision to mint dimes instead of another form of coinage may stem from a $2.40 deficit said to have existed in the ledger at the time.
There were seven bankers to whom coins were given; each of the men received three 1894-S Barber dimes.
The remaining three dimes were allegedly given to Daggett’s young daughter Hallie. The girl was instructed by her father to save the coins until she reached maturity. Hallie, however, would later exchange one of the dimes for a treat at the ice cream truck. (The public trading of that coin, dubbed the “Ice Cream Specimen,” would come to a halt in 1981.) In 1950, Hallie sold another of her three dimes to a California coin dealer named Earl Parker.
Today, only ten 1894-S Barber dimes are believed to exist.
“A couple of coins have been known among the rarest of the rare for a 100 years and this is one of those numismatic icons,” said David Hall, co-founder of Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) of Santa Ana, California.
The particular coin that sold at auction was graded Proof 66 by the PCGS, a designation reserved for pieces with but a “few minor hairlines [that are] not in [any] focal area.” In laymen’s terms, it is a superbly well-preserved coin with a good, strong strike.
The 1894-S Barber dime makes up one-third of the “Big Three” of United States numismatic rarities—the other two coins being the 1804 dollar and the 1913 Liberty “V” nickel.
The bidder, who has chosen to remain anonymous, competed against 16 other interested buyers before finally taking home the prize. The winning bid—$1,997,500!—was the highest price paid for a U.S. coin at an auction the entire calendar year.
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