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Barber Philly Halves Rarer Than You Think
By Paul M. Green

Many would make the normal assumption that being from Philadelphia which was the main facility and which usually had larger mintages that Philadelphia Barber half dollars are relatively available. The assumption would be wrong on a variety of fronts and that is why those relative few who collect Barber half dollars know that the Philadelphia Barber half dollars are not dates to be taken for granted.

One of the first things you discover as you examine the mintages of Barber half dollars is that Philadelphia, which would normally have the higher mintages than San Francisco or New Orleans, which were the other two facilities producing Barber half dollars in the early years, was not always the highest. In fact that trend would continue.

We cannot be precisely sure why the main facility in Philadelphia did not tend to produce large numbers of Barber half dollars every year. It is odd as the half dollar mintages of the 1880s were always low because the mints including Philadelphia were busy producing silver dollars and that resulted in lower mintages for other denominations.

Normally, the thought would be that Philadelphia had sometimes low mintages because the area serviced by Philadelphia did not need half dollars. That still could be true, but the evidence would suggest that there should not have been large numbers in circulation at the time. making the sometimes lower mintages all the more puzzling.

Even though they have sometimes lower mintages, the prices of many Philadelphia Barber half dollars are fairly low. This is partially true because of a lack of demand. That said, what limited saving there was of Barber half dollars would have primarily taken place around Philadelphia where there were more collectors. Another factor is that there were proofs made every year at Philadelphia and although the numbers are small the proofs were saved and carefully preserved, giving them a better chance of survival to the present day.

The surprisingly low numbers of Philadelphia Barber half dollars available today can be traced to an assortment of factors. At the time of many of the mintages of Barber half dollars, the national economy was not good and that would have discouraged some from collecting an upper denomination like half dollars. In reality half dollar collectors were relatively few in number anyway simply because of the high denomination (it was an age when workers were paid $5-$10 a week) and as it worked out, the Barber half dollar as well as the Barber dime and quarter were not especially popular with collectors as the design was seen as "institutional" and not very inspiring.

The fate of most Barber half dollars once they were produced was to simply circulate for decades before eventually picking up so much wear that they would be retired and destroyed. We see evidence of that fact in the New York Subway Hoard, which was assembled starting in the 1940s, and which was purchased by the Littleton Coin Company in the 1990s. Representing coins pulled from circulation, the hoard contained 24 complete sets of Barber half dollars. In some cases to have been pulled from circulation in the 1940s those coins would have been circulating for almost 50 years.

When you combine the various factors you can reach a conclusion that there would be relatively few nice examples from Philadelphia or any other facility. That would apply to Mint State coins, but also to top circulated grades as during their years of production there would be few new collectors for Barber half dollars to pull from circulation nice XF or AU coins.

The first of the Philadelphia Barber half dollars was the 1892 and it pointed immediately to the fact that Philadelphia mintages might be surprisingly low. It had a mintage of 935,245 and that total would prove to be lower than the total for the 1892-S. Certainly as the first year of a new design and even though that design was not received with much enthusiasm, there would have been some saving and that is reflected in prices of $28.50 for a G-4 while an MS-60 is $475, which is close to the price for the most available dates in MS-60. In MS-65 the 1892 lists for $3,620, making it one of the most available dates in that grade and that is supported by the fact that the Professional Coin Grading Service currently reports a total of 111 examples graded MS-65 or better out of over 500 Mint State examples graded.

The 1893 would have a higher mintage of 1,826,792, but as the second year of the new design, the 1893 would see much less saving than had taken place in 1892. That makes the 1893 much less available in Mint State at a price of $520 in MS-60 with an MS-65 at $3,800. Those prices reflect the number seen at PCGS, which reports about 125 examples in Mint State as opposed to over 500 for the 1892 and only 21 examples in MS-65, roughly 90 fewer than the 1892.

The 1894 and 1895 would be similar in that both had mintages between one and two million pieces. The 1894 would be lower at 1,148,972, which results in a G-4 price of $32.50 today while the 1,835,218 mintage 1895 is at $18 in the same grade. In MS-60 the 1895 is more expensive at $595 while the 1894 is $500 while in MS-65 the 1894 is at $3,850 while the 1895 is $3,900. The close prices are no accident as PCGS reports a mere one coin difference in the number of MS-65 or better examples seen of the two dates.

The 1896 would again see a lower mintage of 950,000. The fact that supplies of Barber half dollar in circulated can be uneven is seen in the fact that despite its lower mintage the 1896 in G-4 is just $21.50, a price well below the higher mintage 1894. With so much time in circulation it is possible that greater numbers of the 1894 were destroyed, making it the tougher circulated date today, although the price difference in G-4 suggests a greater difference in availability than would be normally expected based on the mintage differences. In Mint State it is more in line with prices you would expect based on its mintage at $565 in MS-60 and $5,450 in MS-65.

The final Philadelphia Barber half dollars of the 1890s showed significantly higher mintages, although certainly by today's standards the totals were low. The 1897 was near 2.5 million while the 1898 was over 2.9 million with the 1899 being over 5.5 million. The three are between $14 and $15 in G-4, with each being $475 or $485 in MS-60. In MS-65 the three are just over $3,600 each, with the higher mintage 1899 being relatively scarce in population reports as PCGS has graded just 14 examples in MS-65 or better.

Perhaps as a more discerning market develops, these coins will show more price differential.

As would be the case with Philadelphia Barber half dollars, any mintage pattern does not last long. The 1900-1902 dates all had mintages of 4-5 million and generally speaking that makes them all similar in price and relatively equal in numbers seen in top grades, though the 1900 seems to be treated by collectors more like the 1897-1899 coins.

That pattern, however, was quickly changed when the 1903 checked in with a mintage of 2,278,755. While roughly one-half the totals of previous years, it is still high enough that with modest demand the 1903 is not expensive today at $14.60 in G-4, which is basically the same as the dates from 1900-1902. It is also similar in MS-60 at $500 but then it MS-65 things change dramatically as opposed to over $4,000 like the others it is priced at $9,250 and that price is supported by PCGS, which has seen a mere five examples in MS-65 or better while the three earlier dates usually had a dozen or more coins graded MS-65 or better.

The 1904 mintage of 2,992,670 was similar and that results in the 1904 being available in circulated grades but it too is more expensive than would be expected in Mint State listing for $1,250 in MS-60 and $6,450 in MS-65, with both of those prices being well above average. Once again the numbers are no mistake as PCGS reports just 7 examples of the 1904 in MS-65 or better and if anything the question becomes why the price is not even higher. The answer to that question might well be a lack of collectors and the availability of proofs.

Today in Proof-65 the 1904 is $4,650, which is almost $2,000 less than the MS-65 price. There is good reason as both for the 1904 as well as the 1903, which was $9,250 in MS-65, but just $4,650 in Proof-65. The good reason for the lower proof prices is that PCGS has seen safely over 20 examples of each in Proof-65 or better and many more in lower proof grades, making the proof far easier to find and consequently less expensive.

The proof situation might seem surprising to some today who would naturally assume the proofs would be tougher. In fact, the proofs certainly had lower mintages but the collectors of the day were many times collecting solely by date and not date and mint, so a proof would fill their hole for the specific date.

Proofs were also potentially easier to acquire for many collectors, especially if they were living near Philadelphia. As the proofs would only go to collectors, that resulted in much better care and a very high survival rate.

For example, the 1895 proof-only Morgan dollar like the 1895 proof Barber half dollar had a mintage of 880 pieces, but the belief is that perhaps as many as 600 examples of the 1895 Morgan dollar still exists out of the 880. While the surviving numbers are much lower for the 1895 Barber half dollar out of its 880 pieces, the fact remains that it is much more available than are Mint State examples of 1895 and that trend runs throughout the entire period.

In 1905 the Philadelphia Barber half dollar saw its mintage suddenly drop to just 662,727, which was the lowest Philadelphia Barber half dollar total up to that time. There is no specific reason for the decrease but the lower mintage makes the 1905 a $22.50 coin in G-4, although it is a better date in Mint State at $565 in MS-60 and $7,500 in MS-65 where PCGS has only seen 13 coins. Once again, the proof supply helps out as in Proof-65 the 1905 is $4,650 and there PCGS reports more than 30 examples in Proof-65 or better.

Although their mintages were not over 3 million, the 1906 and 1907 are at basically available date prices of $13.10 in G-4, $465 in MS-60 and $3,600 to $3,800 in MS-65. While at available date prices, it is worth remembering that these are hardly common coins with their mintages. Additionally they circulated for decades and many were certainly lost. When you consider all the coins potentially lost including some potentially melted when the price of silver hit $50 and any half dollar was worth $10 or more, you have to feel that even though seen as more available these dates are good values today.

The 1908 and 1909 at least based on their mintages of between 1.3 and 2.3 million pieces would seem likely to be relatively available dates. In this case the two are basically at available date prices in circulated grades and even in MS-60. Where the two dates seem to be tougher than would be expected is in MS-65. The 1908 is currently at $4,350 in MS-65 and PCGS reports only 17 examples in MS-65 or better. What is worth noting in the case of the 1909 is the proof, which at $4,650 is no different than other proofs, but the story here is that starting with the 1909, there was something of a decline in proof sales, making the later dates tougher than had been seen in the case of the dates just a few years earlier. Collectors who might want to specialize in the series might have an opportunity here to acquire a slightly better date at average money.

The 1908 and 1909 are really another case where you have to consider that an available Barber half dollar might well be very overlooked as we are talking about coins, which in the case of Philadelphia Barber half dollars, had a few dates reach the 5 million mintage mark and that was as high as they got in terms of mintages. When you then see how few were saved in Mint State, you have to conclude that if there was more demand these dates could potentially be much more expensive in all grades.

The 1910 would mark the beginning of an interesting period for Philadelphia Barber half dollars. The 1910 had a mintage of just 418,551 and by any standard that is a low total. A $20 price in G-4, however, makes the 1910 look like a real sleeper and a great value as despite a mintage below that of the 1938-D Walking Liberty half dollar, the 1910 is much lower in price. In fact, the price difference is $70 as the 1938-D is $90 in G-4 and when you consider the 1938-D was actually heavily saved at the time you have to think the 1910 is a great deal.

The 1910 also turns out to be a very good deal in Mint State as it is priced at $625 in MS-60 and $3,900 in MS-65 with a Proof-65 at $4,650. Certainly it is higher than many other dates but realistically when you consider the mintage the prices seem quite reasonable and that is supported by PCGS, which reports only 19 examples in MS-65 or better.

The 1911 and 1912 saw mintages rise to over 1 million at 1,406,543 and 1,550,700, respectively. Those are certainly not high totals, but the two can be found with the 1911 being less costly although neither are very expensive with the 1912 at $4,100 in MS-65 where PCGS reports only 11 examples graded.

The 1913 would begin the final three very low mintage years of Philadelphia Barber half dollars. The 1913 would have a mintage of just 188,627 while the 1914 would be at 124,610 and the final 1915 rounding out the group at 138,450. We do not really know what was happening at Philadelphia to cause such low totals although it may simply be a case where large numbers of Barber half dollars were not required.

Americans don't like using halves today. Perhaps the East began this trend just before World War I.

Interestingly enough the low mintages did not seem to produce much, if any additional saving. Of course few were interested in half dollars and while low the mintages would still be far higher than the 40,000 mintage 1913-S Barber quarter , or the 52,000 mintage 1916 Standing Liberty quarter, so it may be a case where the totals did not seem as low at the time as they seem to be to us today.

Certainly the three dates were in circulation for years and for decades collectors did not seem to be terribly interested despite the low mintages. In the past few years, however, the circulated grade prices of the three have been rising to a point where today the 1913 is at $77 in G-4 while the 1914 is at $155 and the 1915 is at $112.

In Mint State we find the 1913 at $1,150 in MS-60 and $5,250 in MS-65 while the 1914 is at $1,875 in MS-60 and $11,500 in MS-65 and the 1915 is at $2,650 in MS-60 and $6,650 in MS-65. The PCGS totals for the three show the 1913 has been seen 16 times in MS-65 or better with the 1914 having been graded 8 times in the same grades while the 1915 is in the middle with 12 coins having been called at least MS-65.

To those totals you can add small numbers of proofs, although the proof totals for these years are not high. Whatever grade you might select the fact remains that the 1913, 1914 and 1915 are an interesting group with very low mintages. Certainly if additional demand surfaces all three dates could see significant price increases as the supply is not strong in any grade.

The future of the Philadelphia Barber half dollars remains very much a large question mark. The key will be additional demand as for over a century Barber half dollars have generally not had any truly active periods of significant collector demand. That always could change and if it does you can expect the prices to change significantly as well. Perhaps you are the collector who will begin this new trend.


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