[The following excerpt is published courtesy of DLRC Press and its author, David Lawrence This information was originally published in 1991 in The Complete Guide to Barber Dimes]
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HISTORY OF THE SERIES
This history first appeared In The Complete Guide to Barber Quarters” and has been modified here to focus on the dimes. The quarter book has a more complete discussion of the Barber patterns .
In the 1880s the U.S. silver coinage of dimes, quarters, and half dollars was the British- inspired Liberty Seated design. The obverse of these series had remained basically unchanged since 1837 and there was a general feeling among artists and federal officials alike that our coinage had a second-rate appearance, particularly in comparison with the French designs.
In his annual report for 1887, Mint Director James P. Kimball lamented the “inferiority of our coinage” compared to other advanced nations. He wanted “distinguished” artists engaged to redesign the American coins. But, believing he lacked authority, Kimball turned to Congress. At his request, Sen. Justin S. Morrill (R-VT) presented a bill authorizing the Treasury Department to redesign coins in use at least 25 years. This bill, which passed on September 26, 1890, allowed design changes for dimes, quarters and half dollars after 1891.
The Treasury Department initially decided to hold a design competition among 10 of the most distinguished artists in America. However, the artists jointly complained that the preparation time allowed was too short (less than 2 months) and the “compensation altogether insufficient.” They wanted $100 for each sketch and $500 for each completed plaster model, plus a grand prize of $1,000 for each design used – a fortune at the time. Shocked at the demands, the Treasury instead arranged for a public competition to be judged by sculptor August Saint¬Gaudens, Boston gem and seal engraver Henry Mitchell and chief mint engraver Charles Barber.
The results were unsatisfactory. They were bound to be because St. Gaudens believed that, outside of France, only he was competent to make such designs and Barber thought himself as the only one capable (Taxay). On July 3, 1891, the committee wrote to Treasury Secretary Charles Foster: “None of the designs or models submitted are such a decided improvement upon the present designs as to be worthy of adoption by the Government. We would respectfully recommend that one or more of the artists distinguished for work in designing and relief, be engaged at suitable compensation …” In fact, Kimball’s successor as mint director, Edward 0. Leech, called the competition a “Wretched failure.” Only two of the 300 designs submitted had been accorded an honorable mention.
J1760 – The Barber Dime Pattern
(Photo courtesy Smithsonian Institution)
CHARLES EDWARD BARBER
Born in London on November 16, 1840, Charles E. Barber came from a long line of distinguished British engravers. In 1852 he came to the United States with his father, William, who practiced his profession of engraving and die making first in Boston and then in Providence, R.I. When his father was appointed chief engraver of the Mint in 1869, Charles became an assistant engraver at the Philadelphia facility. In 1879 William Barber died and Charles was appointed to his fathers position by President Rutherford B. Hayes. On January 20, 1880 he became the sixth chief engraver of the United States Mint. In addition to the dime, quarter and half dollar series that bear his name, Charles Barber designed the Liberty (V) nickel, one of the $4 gold Stellas, several U.S. commemoratives, foreign coins and many medals. He died suddenly on February I8, 1917 at the age of 77 while still in office.
Leech favored having Barber do the redesign. “Our engraver at Philadelphia is the only competent person to do these designs,” Leech was quoted in the Boston Transcript of July 31, 1891.”Of course he receives no additional compensation for this. It is part of his regular work. I do not see any prospect of getting designs elsewhere in this country We might get them in France But the people of the United States would never forgive us if we went outside this country far our designs. To be sure, our designer is of an English family, but he is regularly in the employment of the mint” (Taxay).
A few days later, Leech defended his choice of Charles Barber to R.W. Gilder, art critic for Century Magazine, saying that Barber “comes from three generations of mint engravers and designers and has done excellent work in coin designing, and is in every way equipped for this important duty.” He added that Barber had prepared some designs that met with his and engraver Henry Mitchell’s approval, although some changes needed to be made.
Barbers original obverse design was. like the Liberty Seated series, modeled after English coinage. It shows Columbia standing with liberty pole and sword in front of an eagle – possibly inspired by the Una and the Lion gold pattern created for Queen Victoria in 1839 (Julian, see photo in the Complete Guide to Barber Quarters 1989). Leech rejected the design and ordered the obverse to have a Liberty head similar to several French bronze and silver coins of the Third Republic. The mint director wanted to retain the reverse of the seated dime, but ordered that the reverse of the quarter and half dollar bear the national standard.
The first Barber coin was struck at the Philadelphia Mint at 9 a. m. on Saturday January 2, 1892. In 1900, the obverse and reverse hubs were changed (see Major Design Changes). Barber dimes were minted into 1916 when, after the minimum 25 years, they were succeeded by Adolph A. Weinman’s “Mercury” design. The Barber coins saw extensive usage and most were worn down to AG condition. Many of these low-grade survivors were melted in the silver boom of 1979-80. Today, most Barbers exist in “Good” condition. Intermediate and high-grade coins are a challenge to find. Though many years had mintages of several million, in most issues only a few hundred survive in mint state.