By Paul M. Green
If you are looking for fascinating coins, it would be safe to suggest that to find some real values the San Francisco Barber half dollars represent a perfect group to explore. The two facilities that basically produced Barber half dollars from their start in 1892 until their end in 1915 were Philadelphia and San Francisco. New Orleans and Denver also produced Barber half dollars, but neither had mintages from start to finish like San Francisco and Philadelphia.
In the case of the San Francisco Barber halves, there are some surprises and possibly more to come especially in Mint State as virtually any Barber half dollar is tough in Mint State grades.
With San Francisco Barber halves, unlike those from Philadelphia, there is no proof option. The Philadelphia dates can be tough in Mint State but more available and less expensive as proofs. No such option exists for the San Francisco dates. That means that, despite higher prices, some of the San Francisco Barber half dollars are much tougher than even their high prices suggest. It makes them a fascinating group to study. Buried away in their ranks are potentially some excellent values.
From the very start, the difficulty in finding some San Francisco Barber half dollars today in any grade is seen. The first, the 1892-S, had a mintage of 1,029,028, which while not high was also not low when it came to Barber half dollars. None has a mintage of even 6 million pieces. The real problem is that Barber half dollars as a group were not heavily collected at the time of issue.
There is no good reason for the lack of saving of Barber half dollars, but rather a variety of reasons. The first was basically that collectors at the time simply seemed to not like the new Barber coins. There is reason to believe that back in 1892 when the Barber half dollar made its debut there was more interest in the Columbian Exposition half dollar as the first commemorative than there was in the Barber half dollar as a new design on a circulating coin.
Certainly the denomination was a significant factor both in 1892 and in the years that followed. A half dollar was a significant amount of money for the collectors of the day, who in many cases were young and collecting from circulation. That would be the case for years, meaning that Barber half dollars were not saved in Mint State or even quickly enough to have save upper circulated grades. Supplies of many dates in even upper circulated grades are suspect, as the coins simply circulated for decades becoming worn to the point that they were in lower circulated grade or perhaps even so worn that they were retired from circulation and destroyed.
We certainly see all of these factors at work in the case of the 1892-S, which today lists for $250 in G-4. It is a somewhat surprising price as that is higher than many other dates with lower mintages, but when you have a situation where coins were not pulled from circulation by collectors you can get such surprising prices.
An available date Barber half in MS60 is $485, but the 1892-S is $975. In MS-65 an available date is $3,000, but the 1892-S lists for $5,500, and that is even with the normally heavy saving seen in the first year of a new design.
At the Professional Coin Grading Service they report a total of 13 examples of the 1892-S in MS-65 or better and a total of just 87 coins in all Mint State grades combined. Simply put, even though it is the first year of a new design, there is not a large supply of the 1892-S in Mint State.
There would be a similar situation in the case of the 740,000 mintage 1893-S, which today lists at $155 in G-4. At least with the 1893-S there is a good case to be made that it had a lower mintage, which helps to explain the G-4 price. Clearly, like the 1892-S, the price is higher than might be expected, suggesting that the 1893-S was lost in some numbers over the years.
In MS-60, the 1893-S is at $1,200 while an MS-65 is $27,500. Whoa. Obviously, the 1893-S is not readily available in Mint State grades, at least partially reflecting the normal decline in saving in the second year of a new design. Overall, that translates into just 36 examples seen in all Mint State grades combined and of that total just five were in MS-65 or better, explaining the high MS-65 price.
While some Philadelphia dates might have a similar MS-65 total at PCGS, they have Proof-65 examples usually in greater numbers available as an alternative. That option does not exist with the 1893-S as no proofs were made at San Francisco at the time. If you want an MS-65 example today, you will have to pay that price and find someone willing to sell one of the few available pieces to you. Good luck, Consequently, that price is probably a great value if you can find someone willing to sell you one.
The 1894-S had a much larger mintage of 4,048,690. That makes it a $17.50 date in G4. It could probably be suggested that the 1894-S is a classic early San Francisco Barber half dollar as it certainly seems like it should be available, but the lack of collecting and saving around San Francisco would come into play as it is $500 in MS-60, but $12,250 in MS-65 where PCGS has seen just 7 examples. For a coin with a mintage of over 4 million, that’s highly unusual, but when it comes to Barber half dollars from San Francisco, the total is not so unusual.
The 1895-S, with a much lower mintage of 1,108,086, is naturally a tougher coin in circulated grades, with a G-4 price of $35. In MS-60 at $575 it is also more expensive than the 1894-S, but while still scarce in MS-65, its $9,000 price is lower than the 1894-S and that is correct as PCGS has recorded I I examples in MS-65 or better.
Once again the uneven nature of the survival of San Francisco Barber half dollars is clearly seen as the 1895-S is tougher than the 1894-S in some grades but not in others.
The 1896-S confuses things even further with a mintage of 1,140,948, but a G-4 price of $92.50 – far higher than might be expected based on the mintage. The MS-60 listing of $1,400 is also higher than expected and so is the MS65 listing of $11,750 where PCGS has seen just 14 examples. The surprising prices again seem to reflect the uncertain chances for survival for any specific Barber half dollar.
We know some Barber issues of the 1890s were exported and that may play a role, but the major factor is simply that the numbers of any given date which were retired and destroyed or lost in some other way do not by definition follow the mintages.
The 1896-S clearly did not survive in the same numbers as others in assorted grades and we have no good way of explaining why that happened. the population reports are the only road map we are likely to get.
The 1897-S was another lower mintage date with a total mintage of 933,900. That is not as low as some others, but is still safely below the I million mark, which for many years many collectors used as the standard for a lower mintage.
Certainly at $150 in G-4 the 1897-S in circulated grades is priced like a lower mintage date. That also applies to MS60, where it lists for $1,500, and MS-65 where it is at $8,500 on the strength of PCGS having graded just 13 in MS-65 or better.
The 1898-S returned to higher mintages with a total production of 2,358,550 and that total results in a G-4 price today of $27.50. Even at $27.50 the figuring has to be that this coin saw some losses over the years as with its mintage and relatively low demand for Barber half dollars in general the assumption would be that it would not be over $25, especially in G-4.
The 1898-S becomes a more expected problem in MS-60 as there the simple lack of saving at the time enters into the picture. We find an MS-60 at $970 while an MS-65 is at $10,500. That higher MS-65 price finds support in the fact that PCGS has graded only 10 examples of the 1898-S as MS-65 or better.
Once again we see the uneven survival of Barber half dollar dates especially in lower grades when the 1898-S is compared to the lower mintage 1899S, which had a mintage of 1,686,411, but which is less expensive in G-4 at $22. In fact the 1899-S is cheaper across all grades, with an MS-60 at $660 while an MS-65 is $7,000. PCGS has seen 14 in MS65 or better.
In the case of the 1900-S what we see is a more typical San Francisco Barber half With a mintage of just over 2.5 million, the 1900-S is available in circulated grades with a current price of $15 in G-4. In MS-60 it is $650, but in MS-65 we find a listing of $12,500 and a PCGS total of just 9 pieces. Realistically, the 1900-S is less than many in MS-60, yet when you check for the total number seen by PCGS in all Mint State grades, you find that total is under 50 coins. So while not expensive, the 1900-S is still not an easy coin to find in Mint State and a good reflection of the fact that at the time there was simply very little saving of new Barber half dollars.
The 1901-S is a very special Barber half dollar at least in top grades. The 1901-S started out with a mintage of 847,044, which definitely qualifies it as low mintage. In G-4, however, it is $34, which is certainly above the available date price, but not in the small group at $100, meaning we can probably conclude that the 190 1 -S survival was about as expected. In MS-60, however, it is at $1,850 and then in MS-65 it lists for $22,000 which is one of the highest Barber half dollar prices in that grade behind only a couple others.
The PCGS totals show a mere 30 Mint State 1901-S half dollars having been graded and of the 30 just 7 were called MS-65 or better.
In the case of the 1902-S there is another case of an available date in circulated grades as it lists for just $16 in G-4, which is really quite close to the G4 price of an available date, which is just $12. What makes the price interesting is that with a mintage of under 1.5 million, it would appear that the 1902-S had a slightly better than average survival rate. In MS-60 at $750 it is not at an available date price, but virtually no San Francisco Barber half dollars are and its $9,350 MS-65 price does suggest a better date. That conclusion is supported by a PCGS total of just 11 pieces.
The 1903-S, with a mintage of over 1.9 million, proves to be even more available in all grades, starting at just $15 in G-4. In MS-60 the 1903-S is at $610 while an MS-65 is at $5,750. Once again those are not available date prices for a Barber half dollar but for a San Francisco Barber half dollar they are below average at least for dates from the period.
It is the opposite for the 553,038 mintage 1904-S. Starting with that low mintage, the 1904-S would be expected to bring premium prices in all grades and at $38.50 in G-4, it does. That price, along with others from the period, does suggest that attrition in the case of dates from the early 1900s was potentially not as great as was seen in the case of the dates from the early 1890s. Of course an extra decade in circulation might well have made a difference when it came to coins being retired from circulation and destroyed and naturally the dates more likely to be retired were the first ones produced.
In Mint State the 1904-S is the key Barber half dollar. It lists for $6,250 in MS60 and $37,500 in MS-65. If anything, those prices appear to be bargains. In Mint State, PCGS has seen just 21 examples, or barely a roll of the 1904-S and only 5 of those coins qualified as MS-65 or better. Clearly the supply is not enough to meet future demand as even if only a few collectors seek to complete top-grade Barber half dollar sets, the 1904-S will be a problem to find and to convince an owner to sell.
The 1905-S returned to a more normal mintage of nearly 2.5 million pieces. That total puts it almost at an available date price of $15.50 in G-4 while an MS-60 is $565, but an MS-65 is $10,000 * It an interesting situation as until you-get to MS-65, the 1905-S is perilously close to an available date, but in MS-65 it becomes a problem and that is seen in the PCGS total in MS-65 or better of only 11 coins.
The 1906-S, with a mintage of 1,740,154 would be the first Barber half dollar to really be priced at an available date price of $13 in G-4. At $610 in MS60 it would also seem to be fairly available, which is supported by a total of 80 seen by PGGS. Coins in MS-65, however, remain a problem as the 1906-S lists for $6,250 and PCGS reports just 15 in MS-65 or better.
The 1907-S is special. It is the last of the MS-65 Barber half dollars to top $10,000 in MS-65. The 1907-S is a fairly average date in lower grades with a mintage of 1,250,000, which is slightly lower, so a $16 G-4 price is not too surprising. In MS-60 it is at $1,275 and that is surprising, but so is the total of just 43 graded by PCGS and the $13,500 MS65 price is supported by the fact that only 14 of the Mint State total were MS65 or better.
Even though these later date Barber half dollars tend to be less expensive in all grades, they still have cases where they are at premium prices. We see that in the case of the 1908-S, which is $18 in G-4 despite a mintage of 1,644,828. The 1908-S also brings premiums in upper grades at $850 in MS-60 and $6 1 850 in MS-65. In this case it may be a sleeper in Mint State as PCGS has only seen 43 examples in Mint State and just 14 were MS-65 or better.
The 1909-S could almost be called available in all grades. It had a mintage of 1,764,000, but a G-4 is $12 and an MS-60 is just $595 while an MS-65 is $5,000. That MS-65 listing is higher, but PCGS has seen 19 examples, which still does not sound like much but is far higher than some other dates.
The 1910-S with a nearly two million mintage is available in G-4, but slightly tougher in Mint State, with an MS-60 at $650 while an MS-65 is at $6,850. PCGS has seen just over 20 examples, and interestingly the 1910-S is a date where the number in MS-66 is actually slightly higher than the total in MS-65.
The 191 I-S had a lower total mintage of 1,272,000, but that has little impact on price as it sits at $13 in G-4 and $580 in MS-60. An MS-65, however, is better at $6,000 and that may be cheap as only 14 have been graded.
As the years passed, there was definitely slightly more saving of Barber half dollars, although the change was very small in Mint State. The 1912-S is slightly better at $15 in G-4, but at $550 in MS-60 it is inexpensive for a San Francisco Barber half dollar. Its MS65 price of $6,000 would prove to be the last date to reach that price and the 16 graded by PCGS in MS-65 or better is only slightly higher than many earlier dates, making $6,000 a fair listing.
The 1913-S and 1914-S are similar in availability and price although the 1913S is slightly better in G-4 at $22. The 1914-S is interesting as it had a lower mintage of 992,000, which might be expected to produce a higher price than $15 in G-4 and $580 in MS-60 and $5,000 in MS-65, but clearly by 1914 there was at least some small additional savings by collectors taking place.
The final coin in the sequence, the 1915-S, is ironically the one Barber half from San Francisco that has availabledate prices. An MS-60 is just $485 and an MS-65 is $3,250. Even though available, it is still a good deal; PCGS has seen fewer than 30 in MS65 or better.
Certainly date for date, the San Francisco Barber half dollars qualify as a group whose prices are difficult to predict based on mintages. What you can, however, predict is that in top grades virtually all are very tough and potentially excellent values.