1941 Mercury Dime: The Ultimate Collector’s Guide
The 1913 Barber dime is a true collector’s gem which comes in the final half decade of a 25-year run for three coins designed by former Chief Mint Engraver Charles E. Barber – a series which also included the United States quarter and half dollar.
The Barber coinage serves as one of the most sought-after and celebrated sets of circulated United States coins in the nation’s history – a pivotal set with equally interesting stories of its inception and demise.
In 1879, public dissatisfaction over the Seated Liberty designs for United States coinage was at a fever pitch.
Many thought the Seated Liberty designs made US coins look second-rate compared to those from Western European countries, increasing pressure on Washington and Philadelphia to find a suitable replacement.
This opened up an opportunity for Charles E. Barber who, according to several numismatic historians, used his stroke as Chief Engraver to subvert a public competition for the coin’s redesign in favor of redesigning the coins himself.
The public competition came after an internal Mint competition was derailed by a commissioned panel of ten leading artists and sculptors rejected the terms of the competition due to qualms about short preparation time and monetary compensation.
The public competition saw over 300 design submissions and was overseen by then Mint Director James Kimball.
But only two were even given an Honorable Mention award by a new four-person panel of judges – one of which was Charles E. Barber himself.
Soon after this competition, Kimball was succeeded by new Mint Director Edward O. Leech.
Deeming the two previous competitions a “wretched failure,” Leech decided to just appoint Barber to redesign the coinage himself.
According to many, this was what Barber wanted all along.
He got his wish – getting reins over the redesign for the nation’s quarter, half dollar, and dime.
Barber’s designs for the coin were low relief and thus struck really well, appeasing Mint insiders.
His power play had worked.
The Barber coinage may have lasted much longer than 25 years if it wasn’t for a misreading of the Coinage Act of 1890 by leading Mint officials.
In 1915, new Mint Director Robert W. Woolley was under the misapprehension that, by law, circulated coins had to be replaced after a 25-year period.
The actuality was that coins were allowed to be replaced after such a period, not required to.
Barber lost out in a three-person competition to Adolph Weinman, leading to the end of the Barber coinage in 1916.
Barber was reportedly bitter and jealous over the perceived slight from losing the competition, and is said through historical hearsay to have carried a grudge with him to his untimely death just a year later.
Mints: Philadelphia, San Francisco
- Overall: 20,270,000
- Philadelphia: 19,760,000
- San Francisco: 510,000
Weight: 2.5 g
Diameter: 17.9 mm
Edge Type: Reeded
Composition: 0.900 silver, 0.100 copper
Designer: Charles E. Barber
Obverse Features: As with all previous dimes, the obverse of the 1913 Barber dime is centered by an image of Liberty.
Popping with a lighter coloration and deft line work, Liberty wears a Phyrgian cap, a laurel wreath with a ribbon, and a headband with the word “LIBERTY” engraved on it.
This headband and the phrasing contained on it are calling cards of Charles E. Barber’s coinage.
Liberty’s visage is inspired by two sources per numismatic historians – 19th and early 20th Century French coins and medals, along with the boldness of ancient Roman and Greek sculpture.
The phrase “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” wraps the inner edge of the obverse, cut in two by the very tip of the laurel wreath in Liberty’s hair.
The lettering is bold and spaced with a bit of abandon (as with the mint date underneath Liberty’s bust), giving the coin a very unique feel upon first viewing.
As with many coins from the era, the edge of the coin is patterned with denticles.
Denticles are little, tooth-like patterns which repeat in a circular border just inside the rim and add texture and depth to the overall presentation.
Reverse Features: The reverse of the coin is a near replica of the previous Seated Liberty dime’s design.
The center of the reverse contains a bold phrasing of “ONE DIME” with the words stacked on one each other.
The phrasing is nearly fully circled by a wreath containing corn, maple, wheat, and oak.
The line work of Barber’s version of the wreath is a bit more stark and stately than that of the Seated Liberty dime, popping with edges of the wreath reaching towards the denticle-laced border.
If you’re lucky enough to find a 1913-S Barber dime (more on that in the next section), the “S” mint mark will be found in very small type near the bottom of the reverse just below the bow of the wreath.
Errors and Variations
Because only 510,000 Barber dimes were minted in San Francisco in 1913, these represent the peak variation for the series and come with an extremely nifty value spike if you find a precious “S” mint mark.
A 1913-S Barber dime in merely Good (G-4) condition prices out around $36.00 and the value curve is exponential from there.
A peak-condition circulated 1913-S Barber dime will auction for anywhere from $200 to $275 with the right collectors bidding.
It gets much better from there if you’re one of the few lucky people holding a 1913-S coin in About Uncirculated (AU-50) condition or better – with values ranging from $331 to $844 for non-error coins.
These coins are needles in a haystack, so you’ll need some true collector’s luck to find one hiding in a collection somewhere.
Die errors for the 1913 Barber dime do exist but barely due to the coin’s low relief, with varied valuation based upon how glaring the error is and the condition of the coin itself.
One interesting note to share – the real gem of the Barber dime family is another San Francisco-minted version, this one dated from 1894.
Only 24 of these coins were ever minted, with only nine currently known to survive.
The last known 1894-S Barber dime to sell at auction was at the Florida United Numismatics show in January 2016.
Graded at a Proof 66, it sold for just a few dollars shy of $2 million!
Grading and Condition Issues
Grading a circulated 1913 Barber dime is actually pretty easy as there’s one key tell on the obverse of the coin which functions as a fail-safe barometer – the phrase “LIBERTY” on Liberty’s headband.
A 1913 Barber dime in Extremely Fine (EF-40) condition will have all letters of “LIBERTY” in sharp and distinct form, along with pronounced edging on the headband itself.
As the coin drops in grade, the lettering becomes much less sharp and starts to obliterate entirely.
A coin in Very Good (VG-8) condition will only have three visible letters, while a coin in merely Good (G-4) shape won’t have any of the lettering at all.
The real money for 1913 Barber dimes comes in the few uncirculated (grades 50-70) coins floating around the marketplace.
“LIBERTY” will be completely intact on these coins, with focus shifting to the condition of Liberty’s bust – particular her hair and cheekbone.
The less wear in these areas, along with on the wreath tips on the reverse, the better condition your coin may be in.
The top of the market, topping out around grades 60-63, will have no trace of wear with slight blemishes and some of the mint luster still intact.
When it comes to collector’s value, there are very few (if any) United States coins which eclipse the demand and popularity of Barber coinage.
Because these coins are over 100 years old, very few have survived the years in solid shape, let alone near-mint condition.
So if you find a 1913 Barber Dime in remotely good condition, you’re looking at a very nice value spike.
Circulated coins can go for anywhere from 34 to 220 times face value, with valuation increases thanks to the silver content and rarity of Barber coinage in good condition.
If you’re lucky enough to find an Uncirculated 1913 Barber dime, the face value spike climbs into the thousands for non-error coins.
Error coins are peak value collector’s gems and are valued accordingly on the market.
(Values below are for 1913 Barber dimes from the Philadelphia Mint. As stated before, coins minted in San Francisco have inflated value due to their rarity.)
Good (G-4): $3.40
Very Good (VG-8): $3.70
Fine (F-12): $4.28
Very Fine (VF-20): $7.40
Extremely Fine (EF-40): $22.00
About Uncirculated (AU-50): $77.00
Uncirculated (MS-63): $238.00
Proof (PF:63): $610.00