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Which are the finest 1894-S Dimes ?

By Greg Reynolds for CoinLink
An 1894-S dime is ‘in the news’ as, in the third week of July, DLRC sold the Richmond 1894-S for $1.9 million in a private transaction. Collector Daniel Rosenthal was the seller. He paid $1,322,500 for it, through an agent, at DLRC’s Richmond 3 auction in March 2005, at a hotel in Baltimore.

It seems likely that only nine or ten 1894-S dimes exist. The San Francisco Mint struck only twenty-four dimes of this date, all as Proofs. While other researchers have presented rosters, I am attempting a condition ranking.

The 1894-S dime is among the most famous of all U.S. coins. Barber Dimes were minted from 1892 to 1916. These are extremely popular. Most dates in the series are available for very small amounts of money, particularly in low grades.

Like many of my childhood friends, I collected Barber Dimes when I was a kid. Indeed, I knew of dozens of kids and adolescents who did. I am certain that there were, and still are, tens of thousands nationwide. Many adults collect Barber Dimes as well, in a range of grades. Coins are graded on a scale from 01 to 70. Not all grades in between are used. All eleven points between 60 and 70 are used for “Mint State” or Proof coins.

Proof coins are much different from business strikes. They have sharper details, very reflective (or artistically granulated) surfaces, and design elements that are brought about and defined in a special way. Proof coins are struck more than once, though not all coins that are struck more than once are Proofs.

When I collected Barber Dimes as a kid, I was delighted by those that graded Good-04, or even AG-03. On occasion, I would acquire one, often a scarcer date, in Fair-02 condition. I dreamed of owning an 1894-S, as did many of my friends. When I gave a presentation on coins to my class, in fifth grade, I spent more than five minutes discussing 1894-S dimes. I have since collected more information about them:

1.) The Richmond-Parrino-JAS 1894-S dime – Finest Known

The Richmond 1894-S that DLRC just sold was graded Proof-66 by the Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC) around 1997. In 1990, it received the same grade from the Professional Coin Grading Service.

This dime is called the Richmond 1894-S since it was part of the epic Richmond collection that DLRC auctioned in 2004 and 2005. The collector known as Richmond, Bradley H., assembled an incredible collection of U.S. coins, including many Great Rarities. His collection of Eagles ($10 gold coins) was complete ‘by date’ from 1795 to 1933, and was missing only one major variety. His collections of Proof Liberty Seated silver coins are among the finest ever assembled. The whole Richmond collection is probably one of the fifteen all-time finest collections of U.S. coins.

In January 1990, this same dime brought $275,000 at the auction of the James A. Stack, Sr. collection of dimes, which may be the best ever collection of the dime denomination. Although Stack’s conducted the auction, James A. Stack, Sr. is not related to the Stack family that founded an auction firm. As it is a confusing coincidence that always seems to call for an explanation, it is best to refer to this dime as the Richmond 1894-S.

When this 1894-S sold at auction in 1990, it had been in the James A. Stack, Sr. collection for a very long time, probably more than forty years. A lawyer named Armen Vartian was the successful bidder. At the time, he was General Counsel for Heritage. A customer of Heritage, David D., was a serious collector of Barber coins, and obtained this 1894-S. Gary Tancer was the underbidder.

The $275,000 price was much higher than any previous price for an 1894-S dime. In the blazing hot market of the time, it was not considered to be that high, especially since it graded Proof-66 and there was manic demand for supergrade silver coins dating from before 1917 or so. Later in 1990, Jay Parrino acquired the coin in a complex transaction that may have consisted of more trades than cash. If my memory serves me correctly, several coins were included, and the late Bob Rose was involved. The price for this 1894-S was imputed to be about $450,000.

In 1998, DLRC obtained it from Parrino and sold it, for $825,000, to B.H., the collector known as ‘Richmond.’ As Parrino seems to have owned it for more than seven years, it is fair to include his name in the coin’s title.

Louis Eliasberg once owned the Richmond 1894-S. It is indisputable that Eliasberg formed the greatest all-time collection of U.S. coins. No other collection even comes close in terms of quality and completeness. For example, James A. Stack never had the unique 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ Dime. It was in the Eliasberg collection for more than forty-five years.

In the 1940s, Eliasberg had two 1894-S dimes. When he decided to consign some of his duplicates to public auction, he chose to part with this one. Experts at Heritage auctions have suggested that Eliasberg would have kept the finer 1894-S and let an inferior 1894-S go. It would not be fair to draw such a conclusion

Most of the superb gem quality coins in the Eliasberg were obtained when Eliasberg acquired the John Clapp collection in its entirety, through Stack’s, in 1942. Clapp was a connoisseur, and he had an amazing number of coins that were graded from 66 to 69 in the 1990s. Many of the individual coins that Eliasberg personally acquired were not of gem quality, or not all that spectacular. I examined a large portion of the Eliasberg collection, and I have analyzed many of the pedigrees (histories) of individual coins, and it is my impression that Eliasberg himself was not a grading expert, and was not focused upon quality to the extent that certain other legendary collectors were so focused. Consider John Clapp, John J. Pittman, George Earle, and Thomas Cleaney, all known for possessing many pre-1917 superb gem quality coins.

I am thus not convinced that the Eliasberg duplicates were always of lower quality than the ones that he kept. The 1894-S dime that Eliasberg retained was auctioned by Bowers and Merena (New Hampshire) in May 1996. One reason that Eliasberg kept it may be that it looks more like a Philadelphia Mint Proof than most (or all) other 1894-S dimes including the one that he let go, the Richmond 1894-S.

Not only are 1894-S dimes Great Rarities, branch mint Proofs are extremely rare in general. Before 1968, almost all Proofs were minted at the main Mint in Philadelphia. There are more New Orleans (O) Mint Proofs than there are San Francisco (S) Mint Proofs or Carson City (CC) Mint Proofs in total, for all silver and gold coins of the 19th century. Only occasionally, however, were any Branch Mint Proofs struck, and all such coins are extremely rare.

The most branch mint Proofs estimated to exist for any one date is probably about fourteen 1838-O half dollars. Sometimes, many years passed in between the strikings of branch mint proofs of any denomination.

Experts do not expect branch mint Proofs to look exactly like Philadelphia Mint Proofs. The branch mints had different equipment, different personnel, and employed slightly different techniques. Besides, branch mint personnel were not accustomed to manufacturing Proofs. So, the Eliasberg 1894-S is startling in the sense that, to a substantial extant, it looks like a Philadelphia Mint Proof. It almost has the thick glossy mirrors of a Philadelphia Mint Proof. The Richmond 1894-S has full mirrors, but these are more delicate and not as thick. There are other differences that I cannot easily explain.

A Proof with thicker mirrors is not necessarily of higher quality than a Proof with less glossy, thinner mirrors. The Richmond 1894-S (Eliasberg duplicate) is almost flawless, while the Eliasberg (primary) 1894-S has some light hairline scratches and other imperfections in the fields. These marks and scratches are not severe, and many would only be noticed by knowledgeable coin collectors. The point here is that the Richmond 1894-S is at a higher technical level than the Eliasberg 1894-S.

It is also true that the appearances and grades of coins change over time. Many of the dimes in the James A. Stack, Sr. collection developed appealing natural blue and tan-russet natural toning. They were properly stored in envelopes, probably designed for collectibles, for decades. He died in the 1950s, and his dimes were auctioned in the 1990. Did anyone look at them before other portions of his collection were auctioned in the mid 1970s?

Put simply, the grade of the James A. Stack-Parrino-Richmond 1894-S could well have increased between the 1940s and 1990. If a coin that is not very attractive takes on especially attractive natural toning, then its grade may increase substantially. Therefore, the James Stack-Richmond 1894-S could have been of a lower grade than the Eliasberg (Primary) 1894-S in the 1940s and, years later, have become of a higher grade.

In 1996, the Eliasberg 1894-S was catalogued as being “Proof-64 or finer.” I really thought that it had too many imperfections in the fields to merit a 65 grade. I remember thinking then that the James A. Stack-Parrino-(later)Richmond 1894-S was much more attractive.

When I first saw the JAS-Parrino-Richmond 1894-S, I was awestruck. The blue, orange-russet, tan, and green toning was really cool. Furthermore, it was struck four or five times. The design elements are brought up high (in relative terms) and some have a layered or ‘blocked’ look. It is a really cool coin. It has continued to tone, and is a little darker now than it was in 1990. Even so, I still believe that it is the finest known 1894-S.

2.) Chicago-BRS 1894-S Dime – Second Finest Known

The Chicago-BRS ‘94-S is sometimes called the “Daggett specimen.” It was auctioned by Superior Galleries, then operated by the Goldbergs, in August 1992. The consignor was a collector from the Chicago area. (It is probably not the 1894-S that Breen skeptically refers to as the ‘Chicago specimen.’) This Illinois collector had purchased it directly from James Ruddy, of Bowers & Ruddy, in Los Angeles more than fifteen years earlier. He had no interest in completing a set of Barber dimes. He had always dreamed of owning a Great Rarity, especially one of the ones that child collectors tend to dream about, the 1913 Liberty Nickel, the 1894-S dime, and the 1804 silver dollar. He paid Ruddy an amount between $90,000 and $100,000.

After it was consigned to Superior’s August 1992 auction, it was submitted to PCGS and it was certified as Proof-64. The legendary collector Pat Bolen was the underbidder at the auction. It is the only date of the dime denomination that Bolen never owned. Bolen bought the unique 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ Dime at the 1996 Eliasberg sale.

In August 1992, the successful bidder was Dwight Manley, who, as usual, bid via telephone. At the time, Manley was president of Spectrum Numismatics. The Chicago 1894-S dime sold for $165,000. Later, Spectrum sold it privately. In October 2002, DLRC and a Nevada dealer bought it and sold it to a collector who was assembling a set of Barber Dimes. John Feigenbaum believes that this collector was the consignor when the Chicago-BRS 1894-S dime was auctioned at Heritage’s ‘Platinum Night’ event during the January 2005 FUN Convention in Fort Lauderdale. It was not represented as being part of a larger collection.

At the January 2005 Heritage Platinum Night event, Laura Sperber was the successful bidder, for $1,035,000. It was the first time that a dime sold for more than one million dollars. In July 2004, Bowers & Merena (CA) auctioned the unique 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ dime for $891,000.

For the Chicago 1894-S, Sperber was acting on behalf of the collector known as “BRS.” It was acquired to complete a set of Proof Barber Dimes, all NGC certified, and currently listed on the NGC website.

At the time of the Heritage auction, the Chicago-BRS 1894-S was PCGS certified as Proof-65. Afterwards, it was NGC certified Proof-66. So, it was PCGS certified Proof-64 in 1992, PCGS upgraded to Proof-65 before 2005, and NGC certified Proof-66 in 2005 or 2006.

Assuming that it is certainly true that the Chicago 1894-S sold in 1992 is the same as the one that Heritage auctioned in 2005, then this Chicago-BRS 1894-S dime has substantially toned over time as well. In 1992, it was very light in color with non-large toned areas of mostly light blue, with some other light colors. In 2005, the toning was thicker, and covered a larger percentage of the coin. Some of the imperfections that were visible in 1992 were covered, or blended, with toning. As such imperfections are no longer visible, or not as visible, and the expanded toning is attractive, the grade of the coin may have, in actuality, increased. Besides, when I saw the Chicago 1894-S dime in 1992, I can remember thinking that a Proof-65 grade was plausible. My thinking then was that the obverse (front) was really pretty, and had very few imperfections. I am, however, skeptical of the recent Proof-66 grade. In my view, the JAS-Parrino-Richmond 1894-S remains the finest of the five that I have personally examined and the two others about which I have somewhat reliable information.

3.) The Eliasberg 1894-S Dime

I have not seen the Eliasberg 1894-S dime in years. The general belief is that either PCGS or NGC would grade it as Proof-64, and that NGC may certify it as Proof-65, an event that certainly could have already occurred. Since around 2002, grading standards have loosened. Even in the late 1990s, some very rare coins were receiving higher grades than the same coins received in the early 1990s.

The Eliasberg coin sold for $451,000 in May 1996. It was offered by Stack’s in October 2000. In late 2004, cataloguers at Heritage reported that this coin had been “dipped at least twice” since 1996 and they implied that it had suffered as a result. As I have not seen the coin in many years, I cannot comment on this report. It is possible, though, that the Norweb-Lovejoy 1894-S has become the third finest known. Until more evidence is forthcoming, however, I will continue to rank the top four 1894-S dimes, in terms of how I evaluated them when I saw them.

4.) Norweb-Lovejoy 1894-S

The Norweb-Lovejoy 1894-S was NGC certified as Proof-62 in 1990 or earlier. It was not certified when it was auctioned by Bowers and Merena (New Hampshire) in 1987. It was acquired by Allen Lovejoy, and his collection of dimes was auctioned by Stack’s in October 1990. Jeffrey Bernberg was the successful bidder.

It is certainly plausible that either PCGS or NGC did, or would now, assign a higher grade to this coin. At some angles, the light scratches on the face are very noticeable, and, at other angles, these are not readily apparent. In late 1990, when grading standards were much stricter than they are in 2007, I thought that this coin was on or near the border of a Proof-63 grade.

It has excellent natural toning, with evenly blended tones of blue, lavender, pearl gray, with touches of green. Miss Liberty’s headband is russet, and her cap is a grayish-russet, a shade of which dominates the reverse (back).

5.) Newcomer-Neil-Hinman-Gillio 1894-S

The Newcomer-Gillio 1894-S was offered at auction by Ron Gillio’s firm in 1986 and then maybe sold privately to one of the Gillio’s clients in 1988 or so? I have never seen it.

No one I know seems to have a clear recollection of it. Years ago, in a library, I looked at the pictures of this 1894-S in the catalogue of the 1986 auction. I found it difficult to get an idea of the appearance of the coin. The Richmond 2005 cataloguer said that it has “a noticeable spot on [Miss] Liberty’s chin and the obverse shows evidence of being harshly cleaned.” I remember seeing such a spot in the 1986 picture, but I do not know to what extent it was cleaned.

More recently, I have located a catalogue sale of the Hinman-Century collection sale, held during the Spring of 1965. Though awful by the image standards of 2007, the pictures in the Hinman-Century catalogue are phenomenal for a 1960s coin catalogue. Spots and the remnants of a substantial cleaning of the right obverse inner field are apparent in the pictures of the Newcomer-Neil 1894-S. Hinman was the consignor.

My best guess, which is very crude and extremely tentative, is that the Newcomer-Hinman-Gillio 1894-S would grade Proof-60 to -62 now. The DLRC cataloguer of the Richmond 1894-S and Heritage cataloguer in January 2005 both list this 1894-S as grading “Proof-60”! Who has seen it over the last ten years?

6.) Jerry Buss 1894-S

I am not aware of the Jerry Buss 1894-S being graded by PCGS or NGC. Buss is a chemist, an entrepreneur, a real estate tycoon, and an owner of professional sports franchises. He was a flamboyant collector, who also owned the Olsen-Hawn 1913 Liberty Nickel and an 1804 dollar. Superior auctioned his coin collection in 1985. The Buss 1894-S dime was last auctioned in 1988, by Superior. Catalogue descriptions of this coin vary considerably. It may grade anywhere from Proof-45 to Proof-61! It seems that there is a good chance that the Newcomer-Neil-Hinman-Gillio 1894-S is of higher quality than the Buss 1894-S.

7.) Rappaport 1894-S

Is the Rappaport piece of a circulated grade? No one I know seems to have a clear recollection of it. Walter Breen mentioned it in his 1988 encyclopedia, but he clearly states that he never saw it. Where did Breen’s information about it come from? The only clue that I have read is the remark in the 2005 Richmond 3 catalogue that it is “probably an impaired proof which would not certify at PCGS or NGC due to mishandling.” Who determined that it is “impaired”?

8.) Ice Cream 1894-S

This 1894-S dime is traditionally referred to as the “Ice Cream Specimen.” It is #9 in David Lawrence Feigenbaum’s list, and he refers to it as grading Good-04. I grade it as Good-06, and I like it a lot. It was in Steve Ivy’s 1980 ANA auction, Bowers & Ruddy’s 1981 Sieck sale, and the Bowers & Merena (NH) March 1989 auction. I vaguely remember seeing it again someplace else. It has even wear and pleasant, natural, light, battleship gray toning. The few marks and scratches are not distracting. Besides, the surfaces of a circulated Proof are much more sensitive than the surfaces of business strikes. It is an appealing coin.

9.) Romito-Montesano 1894-S

The Romito-Montesano 1894-S was NGC graded AG-03 in 1990. I have read that it has a long, arc shaped cut on the obverse. Laura Sperber sold it to a collector in 1990. The names Romito and Montesano are vaguely mentioned by Breen.

Other 1894-S Dimes have been rumored to exist. None have surfaced for a half-century or so, and the rumors never had much substance. It is unlikely that there are more than ten 1894-S dimes. If the Rappaport piece disappears or is never authenticated, then there may only be eight known?

Without an 1894-S, a set of Barber dimes is relatively easy and inexpensive to complete. It will always be a very popular series, and the 1894-S will always be one of the most famous and exciting Great Rarities.
© 2007 Greg Reynolds

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About the Author

Greg Reynolds is a numismatic writer, researcher and analyst. Greg has examined almost all of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest type coins and patterns, He has extensively researched the pedigrees of important numismatic properties, and he has written about and analyzed numerous auctions, private sales and collections.

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  1. Janice Woolen | Oct 26, 2008 | Reply

    I have an old dine with a copper in color band around it. It is about half the size of a regular dime. It has rosevelt on the front of it, and the torch and olive branch on the back of it. Just like a regular dime. What is the value of this coin please. Thank you Janice

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