'O' for a New Orleans Quarter Set
By Paul M. Green
quarters are one of the great sets that can be
completed by many. There are certainly
significant key dates, like the 1901-S, the tiny
40,000 mintage 1913-S, and the 1896-S, but in
many cases those three dates tend to overshadow
some otherwise excellent dates that today
represent great values. Many of those dates that
are somewhat overshadowed were produced at New
Orleans. If you are looking for some good
values, the Barber quarters of New Orleans are a
perfect place to look as the Barber quarter set
is not just three key dates and all the rest.
A lot of our assumptions about Barber quarters
and especially New Orleans Barber quarters can
be wrong. The assumption that there were
significant numbers of collectors to save new
Barber quarters from New Orleans as they were
produced is a good starting point.
There is very little evidence of much interest
taken in the new Barber coins when they were
introduced back in 1892. There was a variety of
factors influencing that situation, not the
least of which was that the national economy was
not good and that made the Barber dimes,
quarters and half dollars even more of a
financial problem than normal for many to
Not only were the Barber coins’ high face value
relative to the incomes that prevailed in the
1890s, the design itself apparently did not
inspire much interest. To put the economic value
of even a Barber dime in perspective, remember
the 1890s were a time of nickel beers with a
free lunch thrown in. Keeping a Barber quarter
was a lot of lunch money. Building a set was
more than most people could afford.
What collectors there were in 1892 were aware of
the arrival of a new commemorative coin. This
interest in the new Columbian Exposition
commemorative half dollars was natural as they
were the first official commemoratives of the
Also, the new Barber designs, however, were seen
as not very interesting and not especially good
It was ironic as officials had tried to come up
with special designs for the new dimes, quarters
and half dollars, but their idea of having an
invited competition among the nation’s leading
artists ran into difficulty with the artists.
Their second idea of a national competition was
seen by one official as a “wretched failure.”
That left the back-up possibility, which was to
simply assign Chief Engraver Charles Barber to
design the coins. This he did, producing what
one critic called “Institutional” designs.
Whatever you call them, the designs apparently
inspired little interest on the part of
Even if there had been significant collector
interest at the start, the supply of dates from
the branch mints of New Orleans and San
Francisco might well be not much better today.
The reason is that the collecting of the day was
carried out primarily as a hunt for dates and
not for dates and mintmarks. One coin dated 1892
was considered as good as any other.
That mindset would eventually change. The year
after the Barber dimes, quarters and half
dollars made their appearance there was a
publication by Augustus Heaton that did help to
spotlight branch mint issues such as those from
New Orleans, but it would take a long time for
that publication to have an impact on collecting
habits. In fact the case can be made that people
really started collecting by date and mint much
later when cents and nickels, the most heavily
collected denominations began to be produced at
branch mints, or when albums became available
for complete collections and they included the
branch mint issues. In 1892, however, all of
those things were more than a decade in the
Even if collectors had been of a mind to collect
something like quarters by date and mint, there
might have been some hesitation when it came to
issues of New Orleans. The New Orleans facility
not unlike Carson City had a somewhat uncertain
status at the time. In fact, New Orleans had
produced its first coins since 1861 only in 1879
when the facility was brought back to produce
At about the same time Carson City stopped
producing anything but gold and silver dollars.
It was the silver dollars that played a major
part in the New Orleans return to the role of a
producing mint as the silver legislation of the
period required enormous silver dollar
If someone had wanted to collect New Orleans
quarters, they would have had a very hard time
finding any to collect. It was simply the nature
of the situation in New Orleans. After making a
quarter back in 1860, the next New Orleans
quarter would not be produced until 1891 the
year before the Barber quarter was introduced.
Consequently, at the time of the first Barber
quarter issue, it would have been very unlikely
that there was much of a base of New Orleans
quarter collectors of any kind.
Despite all the problems there is at least
limited evidence that the first 1892-O quarter
saw a small amount of saving by the public. The
mintage was 2,640,000. While certainly well
below the Philadelphia total of that year, it
was above the San Francisco mintage.
The 1892-O does command premium prices in
circulated grades at $22 in G-4 as opposed to
$10 for a Philadelphia example from the same
year. Available date prices for the series as a
whole is $5 in G-4.
In MS-60 the 1892-O lists for $400 while an
available date is $210 and an MS-65 is $2,000,
above the available date price of $1,550. In
fact, it is surprising as the numbers for the
1892-O are actually quite low in MS-65 or better
with PCGS reporting 31 examples in MS-65 along
with two in MS-66 and a single example in MS-67.
For the price that is not exactly a common coin
but that reflects the continuing lack of demand
for Barber quarters.
The 1893-O had a higher mintage of 3,396,000,
but it is less available at least in upper
grades. In G-4 the 1893-O is $9, which is still
a slight premium, but in MS-60 it is $265 with
an MS-65 at $2,100. If you check the available
numbers, that MS-65 price becomes even more
interesting as PCGS reports just 14 examples in
MS-65 and six in higher grades. With such
numbers, the 1893-O could easily be much more
expensive with added demand.
(Because mintmarks were added to dies by hand
using a letter punch, the location varies from
coin to coin. Some of the variations are so
extreme that they have been gaining separate
The 1894-O would see a drop in mintage to
2,852,000 and apparently a drop in the number
saved as well. The 1894-O is available in
circulated grades with a G-4 at $10-$12.50 but
an MS-60 is $325-$415 and an MS-65 is at $2,650.
The PCGS totals continue to drop, supporting the
higher prices with the 1894-O having a total of
just 14 coins graded MS-65 or better.
It almost appears that New Orleans was trying to
produce identical mintages as the 1895-O total
was 2,816,000, which was almost the same as the
1894-O. The prices while not identical are
similar with the 1895-O being slightly better at
$12.50-$17.50 in G-4 while an MS-60 is $390-$525
with an MS-65 at $2,850. Ironically, the 1895-O
MS-65 or better total is slightly lower than the
1894-O even though the 1894-O is more expensive.
The PCGS total for the 1895-O in MS-65 or better
stands at just eight coins and that certainly
would suggest it is an excellent value in top
The 1896-O would see a mintage decline to just
1,484,000 pieces. What must be remembered,
however, is that there were many Barber quarters
with mintages below 1 million so even this lower
total would not stand out. That meant that a
date like the 1896-O was likely to simply
circulate for years. We see proof of that as
even the 1901-S and 1913-O as is seen in the
totals from the “New York Subway Hoard,” which
was assembled starting in the 1940s, were still
in circulation in small numbers.
That means that a more available date like the
1896-O was likely to simply circulate until it
was retired and destroyed. Even if they were
pulled from circulation four decades or more
after being released, there is a real
possibility that they were so worn as to be a
prime candidate for melting in the 1970s and
1980s when the price of silver rose to $50 an
ounce as at that time they were worth more as
silver than as a lower grade Barber quarter.
Whatever the situation, the 1896-O is a better
date today at $32 in G-4, although that still
makes it only a better date and not even one of
the better lesser known Barber quarters.
In MS-60 the 1896-O is priced at $815 and then
in MS-65 it lists for $9,850. That MS-65 price
does make it one of the better Barber quarters,
although still well behind the key dates. In
fact, it’s PCGS total of just 10 coins in MS-65
and above is certainly supportive of the price,
although ironically it is higher than the much
less expensive 1895-O, although the difference
between the two in numbers seen is very small.
The 1897-O continued the mintage pattern with a
total production of 1,414,800 and that, too,
results in a better date in circulated grades
with a G-4 listing at $19.50. In MS-60, the
1897-O is $900 while an MS-65 is at $3,950 and
that seems in the ballpark as PCGS reports a
dozen examples in MS-65 or better.
The 1898-O had a slightly higher mintage of
1,868,000 and that results in a premium
circulated grade price of $16 for a G-4. An
MS-60 is $665, but an MS-65 lists for $10,000
and that puts the 1898-O as the fourth most
expensive Barber quarter in MS-65 behind only
the key 1901-S, the extremely tough in Mint
State 1896-S and the 40,000 mintage 1913-S.
The immediate question has to be whether the
1898-O deserves to be in that very select group
and the PCGS totals seem to suggest that it does
deserve to be in that company with only seven
examples graded MS-65 or better. There is no
particularly good reason why the 1898-O might be
so tough although it can be observed that New
Orleans at least in the case of Morgan dollars
was famous or perhaps infamous for lower than
average production quality.
If you couple indifferent quality with a poor
amount of saving, you have a pretty good recipe
for having trouble finding top quality examples
today. That is certainly the case with the
1898-O just as it has been the case with a
number of the 1890s dates.
That pattern of a definite lack of any numbers
of top grade coins would continue in the case of
New Orleans Barber quarters. The 1899-O had a
mintage of 2,664,000 and that made it a slightly
better date in circulated grades with a G-4
price of $14. In MS-60 the 1899-O is $415, which
seems to suggest average availability in the
case of New Orleans Barber quarters that are
virtually always in shorter supply than
Philadelphia dates. In MS-65 the 1899-O is at
$3,750 and that also seems to be about right as
PCGS has so far seen 13 in MS-65 or better.
The 1900-O had a higher mintage of 3,416,000 yet
its G-4 price is basically the same at $16. What
that suggests is that all of these dates simply
were allowed to circulate being seen by the
collectors of the date as basically nothing
In the end, neglect, a lack of saving and wear
tended to equalize their surviving numbers and
that is helped by the lack of demand today. It
might very well be the case that the 1899-O is
tougher in a circulated grade like G-4, but
until there is enough demand to cause the
difference to be seen in supplies, we are
unlikely to see any major price differences.
In the case of Mint State examples we can see
the difference as the Mint State examples are
sent in for grades and there we see the 1900-O,
for example, had a total of 15 coins seen by
PCGS, which results in a $3,750 MS-65 price. In
the case of the 1900-O, however, the MS-60 price
of $575 is more interesting as that price
suggests a somewhat lower supply than is seen in
some other years and that is true as PCGS has
seen about 55 examples in Mint State, but the
total for the 1899-O is closer to 75, so for
some reason the 1900-O is not readily seen in
any Mint State grade.
The 1901-O with a 1,612,000 mintage is tougher
in every grade. We cannot be sure why, but the
1901-O is simply not available. That is seen in
a G-4 listing of $42.50. The lower mintage
1896-O is just $32 in same grade, so something
happened to the 1901-O.
We see that pattern in upper grades as well as
the 1901-O lists for $885 in MS-60 and is then
$5,850 in MS-65 and there the PCGS total is just
a dozen pieces. We cannot determine reasons, but
we definitely can determine that the 1901-O is a
better than average date.
Something changed dramatically in 1902 and that
was the New Orleans Barber quarter mintage,
which jumped to 4,748,000. That total did
produce a lower circulated price of $8.50 in
G-4, but even that level is close to some other
lower mintage dates, suggesting that mintage
totals are not a certain way of determining
The 1902-O is at $485 in MS-60 and $5,000 in
MS-65, so even with a higher mintage its prices
are not significantly less than other dates.
There were simply small numbers of collectors
literally for decades when it came to Barber
quarters and they needed only one example of
each date for their sets, so despite the
mintages those coins they set aside in basically
equal numbers make up much of our supply today
and consequently many dates are trading in a
very narrow price range even though we suspect
some are less available than others.
The trend would be seen in the 1903-O as well as
its mintage of 3.5 million fell somewhere in the
middle for New Orleans dates of the period and
so does its price with a G-4 at $8.00 while an
MS-60 is $435 and an MS-65 is at $5,625
reflecting the fact that the 1903-O is another
date that seemingly did not appear in any
numbers in the coins saved in top grades as
again PCGS reports just a dozen examples in
MS-65 or better.
The 1904-O had a mintage of nearly 2.5 million,
which results in an $11.50 price in G-4 while
the MS-60 level of $850 is also shared with
other dates while an MS-65 at $3,250 is
relatively inexpensive and a PCGS total of
nearly 20 examples seen seems to suggest that
the 1904-O is a more available date in MS-65.
The 1905-O with a mintage of 1,230,000 is a
better date. We see that in a G-4 price of
$18.50 as well as $500 and $6,600 listings in
MS-60 and MS-65, respectively. The low mintage
again seems to have inspired no extra saving at
the time and actually the 1905-O with just 10
examples seen by PCGS ranks as one of the better
New Orleans Barber quarters.
There is another dramatic change with the
1906-O. The mintage is similar to other dates at
just over 2 million and if anything, is slightly
low. The G-4 price, however, is just $7 and the
MS-60 is just $290 with an MS-65 at only $1,700.
For some reason the 1906-O is significantly less
expensive than the prior dates. Moreover, the
difference is seen in PCGS totals as well as in
MS-65 or better the 1906-O has been seen a total
of 47 times and that is much higher than the
Interestingly enough, the 1907-O is a bit
tougher, but the 1908-O is very much like the
1906-O in terms of price and availability.
Someone, somewhere back around 1906 appears to
have discovered Barber quarters. Perhaps the 10
or 12 collectors who saved the scarce earlier
dates in high grades for PCGS slabs a century
later might have been joined by a couple of
dozen additional collectors. No?
If it wasn’t a small increase in collector
numbers at that point in time, could it have
been a a dealer setting aside a roll or two?
Whatever the reason, there is no escaping the
fact that around 1906 we have better supplies of
New Orleans Barber quarters than we have from
the prior years. Today’s collectors owe thanks
to whoever it was that kept enough of these
coins to provide us with a somewhat larger
supply of coins at more affordable prices.
There is, however, the final New Orleans Barber
quarter, the 1909-O, and it had a much lower
mintage of just 712,000 pieces. With great
saving being indicated in previous years, the
1909-O would potentially be not as tough as the
mintage suggests, but it still is a premium date
at $19.50 in G-4 and $800 in MS-60. In MS-65,
however, it is priced at $8,500, making it the
third most expensive New Orleans Barber quarter
in MS-65 or better.
Moreover, even at this high MS-65 price it might
be cheap relatively speaking as PCGS reports
just five examples in MS-65 or better. What
happened with the 1909-O remains a mystery, but
certainly it is a very tough New Orleans Barber
quarter the equal of virtually any other date at
least in top grades as its total number in all
Mint State grades is also a very low 35 pieces.
Perhaps because it was the last coin, collectors
just settled for whatever they could get, or bad
quality control once again asserted itself.
With the production of the 1909-O Barber
quarter, the New Orleans facility again ceased
production. This time, however, it closed for
good. New Orleans had declined in relative
importance and the status conferred on it by the
existence of a mint there was lost. Denver had
opened in 1906, essentially pushing the New
Orleans facility into obsolescence.
The city itself remains a major port as it has
been for centuries, but as a financial center,
it has declined from its heyday of pre-Civil War
Mark Twain riverboat commerce.
As for the New Orleans Barber quarters, never
really appreciated while they were being
produced and still relatively overlooked today,
they are a great group to collect in any grade
as they have a good story and at today’s prices
they are also good values.