THE SEARCH CONTINUES
New details emerge about orgins
of 1894-S Barber dime.
By: Beth Deisher
D O YOU HAVE AN 1894-S BARBER DIME?
It would be well worth a second look, especially if you have a small cache of old coins handed down through your family over the years. Even a well- worn specimen would likely command six figures in today’s market.
Twenty-four of the small silver coins were made in 1894 at the San Francisco Mint. Yet, the whereabouts of only nine are known today. The most recent 1894-S Barber dime to cross the auction block garnered a cool $1,322,500 in March of 2005.
Rated as the finest known, it was purchased by a collector who spent his boyhood in New York City sorting through pails of dimes in search of one of the legendary dimes. Why only 24 were struck and how they may have exited the San Francisco Mint have for more than a century fueled speculation, enhancing the lore and mystery, thus elevating this dime to one of the top five most desirable coins in the entire U.S. series.
At least half a dozen theories have been advanced, but the most popularly repeated story for the past 30 years suggests that John Daggett, who in 1894 was superintendent of the San Francisco Mint, had the dimes struck for a banker friend. As the story goes, the banker friend learned that there would be no dimes struck bearing the date and Mint mark. Supposedly, the banker and six other friends each received three and Daggett kept three for himself. Then Daggett, the legend relates, gave his three coins to his young daughter, Hallie, and told her to keep them until she was old, at which time they would be very valuable. Hallie, the tale relates, succumbed to the temptation of ice cream on the way home from the Mint and spent one of the dimes, but kept the other two until she was old and sold both to a coin dealer for a handsome sum.
Newly published research goes a long way in discounting the “banker-friend-Hal- lie-ice-cream” legend, which was used to explain how at least one of the coins did reach circulation. But more importantly, it dashes all suggestions that the coins were secretly made and little known until years later.
Working independently, researchers Kevin Flynn and husband-and-wife team Nancy Oliver and Richard Kelly have uncovered Mint documents and correspon-dence in the National Archives plus contemporary published reports that shed new light on the status of the coins.
Mint records and documents reveal the 24 1894-S Barber dimes were struck on June 9, 1894, using working dies prepared for circulation strikes (not Proofs , as identified by some researchers). Thus the 1894-S Barber dime has the lowest mintage for a regular-issue circulation strike issued by the United States Mint.
Documents show two of the 1894-S Barber dimes were sent before the end of June 1, 1894 to the director of the Mint in Washington, D.C., for special assay and a third. example was sent to. the. superintendent of the. Philadelphia Mint. for the usual annual assay.. No records have been found to verify the fate of these three old coins. If general procedure were followed, they in all likelihood were melted.
Numbers are important to this story.
If three of the 1894-S Barber dimes were set aside or melted for official purposes, an immediate challenge arises to the 24-coin, banker-friend-ice-cream theory. The documents establish that only 21 coins could have been available for release to anyone. And they verify that the coins were not made in secret. The coins’ existence was made known to the highest in authority at the Mint and no documents have been found to suggest that their coining was ever questioned by Mint officials.
Furthermore, correspondence from collectors in various parts of the country asking for examples of the date and Mint mark and responses from San Francisco Mint officials in early 1895 confirmed the coins’ existence. Mint officials, however, told the inquiring collectors that none were then available.
Researchers Oliver and Kelly recently found a news story published in a San Fran-cisco newspaper in October of 1895, and subsequently published in a number of local newspapers throughout the nation in the weeks following, that suggests Mint officials realized they were striking a rarity when they produced the dimes.
Apparently, enough questions had been raised, that an enterprising reporter sought an official explanation of why the coins were struck.
More than a year after the coins were made, San Francisco Mint Chief Clerk Robert Barnett (who was acting superintendent in June of 1894) told the newspaper: “All undercurrent subsidiary coins, viz., those containing other than the design now being used when received denomination in 1894. However, when nearly all of this subsidiary coin bullion had been utilized, we found on our hands a quantity that would coin to advantage only into dimes and into dimes it was coined, making just twenty-four of them.”
Based on an exhaustive examination of Mint records in the National Archives, Flynn in his new book, The 1894-S Dime - A Mystery Unraveled, provides a fuller explanation of why the 24 dimes were made:
The 1894-S dimes were struck to round out the total silver amount for the 1894 fiscal year. In 1893, 2,491,401 dimes were struck at the San Francisco Mint. Of these 999,980 were struck in the first half of 1 893 and 1,491,421 were struck in the second half of 1893. The totals for the first half of 1893 would be part of the 1893 fiscal year totals. The totals for the second half of 1 893 would be part of the 1894 fiscal year totals. For 1894 fiscal year totals, there was $149,142.10 in dimes from the second half of 1893. Because the San Francisco Mint only struck dimes, quarters, and half dollars, and because quarters and half dollars could not be used to round $.10 to an even dollar value, you would need either $.40 cents to get to get to $.50 or $.90 to get to an even dollar.
In looking at the 1894 fiscal year totals, the total for the half dollars is equal to $1 ,62 9,948.00. The total for the quarters is equal to $774,405.50. The total for the dimes is equal to $149,142.50. The total for all fiscal year 1894 silver coins is $2,553,496.00. The $.40 cents in dimes rounds the entire silver amount to an even dollar total.”
Flynn cites information attributed to Farran Zerbe published in the April 1928 issue of the American Numismatic Association’s journal, The Numismatist, that he believes supports his findings and points to an error that may have misled many over the years who tried to solve the mystery of why the coins were made. Flynn maintains the coins were struck to balance the fiscal year silver totals and not for the bullion account, as related in Zerbe’s report:
To close a bullion account at the San Francisco Mint at the end of the fiscal year June 30, 1894, it was found necessary to show 40 cents, odd in the year’s coinage. The mint not having coined any dimes during the year, the dime dies were put to work, and to produce the needed 40 cents, 24 pieces were struck, any reasonable amount of even dollars over the 40 cents being readily absorbed in the account. It has been stated that at the time no thought was given by the mint people that a rarity has been produced, it being supposed that they would, as always in the past, be ordered to coin dimes before the close of the year . It so happened that no dime coinage was ordered and the unintentional error was not realized until the year’s coinage record was closed. Its said that two or three of the pieces were obtained by mint people at the time of coinage, ‘just to have a new dime,’ and following the disclosure of rarity these were sold to collectors for $25 or more a piece. Except these two or three pieces, the coinage is said to have gone into a bag with other dimes and is supposed to have passed from the mint for circulation. I did not know of prices. One of the stories I have heard is of a barber of Olean, N.Y., who for years had been kidded by his friends for scrutinizing every dime that came his way for 1894 and the S mint mark, was eventually rewarded by discovering one, which sold for $100 . My information about the limited coinage was obtained at the San Francisco mint in 1905.”
Flynn believes Zerbe’s source of information was Charles M. Gorham, who was chief coiner at the San Francisco Mint in June of 1894 but who “retired” from that position on Aug. 31, 1894, according to documents located in the National Archives. Other documents show that Gorham was again employed at the facility as the melter and refiner in March of 1902 and, by 1905, was the only employee left at the San Francisco Mint who had direct knowledge of the striking of the coins in 1894.
Mint correspondence suggests that collectors were asking about the 1894-S Barber dime as early as January of 1895.
In response to an inquiry in September of 1895, Acting Superintendent Barnett suggests that one had been found in circulation and offered to the Mint, because he makes it clear that while such a coin would have collector value, we have no use of them here.”
The first collector to claim ownership of an 1894-S Barber dime was A.G. Heaton, who revealed the fact in the March 1, 900 issue of The Numismatist. Just three issues later (June 1 900), Dr. George F. Heath — founder of the ANA and editor of The Numismatist — wrote in an editorial that “J.C. Mitchelson, of Kansas City, but who has business interests in San Francisco, and has been spending much time there, writes that he has discovered an 1894-S dime. The mint authorities there in-form him that while twenty-four were originally struck, only fourteen went into circulation, the remaining ten being restruck. None remain in the mint.”
The linkage of the Daggett family to possession of any of the 1894-S Barber dimes may be rooted in the publication of a story in the February 1951 issue of Numismatic Scrapbook magazine, which based its report on a newspaper clipping telling about the recent sale of two l894-S dimes by a non-collector. The story relates that a Ukiah, Calif., banker gave three dimes to his young daughter in 1894 and told her to save them because someday they would be valuable. She was reported to have sold two for $2,750 each and revealed that originally she had three dimes. She said she had looked for the third dime, but finally remembered that it was a hot day in 1894 when her father gave her the coins and she visited an ice cream parlor on the way home.
It was not until 1972 that any researcher attempted to collect all known information about the 1894-S Barber dimes and make it available to the coin collecting cornmunity. James G. Johnson, then editor of Coin World’s popular Collectors’ Clear -inghouse column and an owner of an 1894-S Barber dime, published his research in the Sept. 13 issue, which included a detailed pedigree chart. In a follow-up column in the June 27, 1973, issue of Coin World Johnson noted:
Some time after that Sept. 1 3 feature, Guy L. Chapman of California wrote that one evening in 1954, the late Earl Parker came into the Redwood Empire Coin Club and put two dimes in Chapman’s hand. They were the two 1894-S dimes Parker had just acquired from Hallie Dagget [sic], daughter of the San Francisco Mint Superintendent in 1894.
“Parker offered them to Chapman, but Chapman said he had to check with his wife before ‘spending that kind of money’! When he got home, he and his wife agreed he should buy them, but it was very late, and he didn t want to call Parker at that time of night. He would call at 9 o’clock the next day. Chapman’s birth year was 1894, one reason for his interest.
“He did call, and Parker told him he had sold the coins before breakfast. Presumably they went to W.R. Johnson and are CC-S and CC-9, in that Sept. 13 listing.
“Here’s the kick. At the Redwood club, Parker repeated what HaIlie Dagget had told him when he bought the coins from her. She said this:
In 1894, a banker friend of Dagget’s found there would be no dimes struck that year. So he asked Dagget to make some special for a small group of friends. There were 24 struck and each of eight people got three, including Dagget.
Dagget gave his three to his daughter, Hallie, who was around, and told her to put them away until she was as old as he was, and then she could sell them for a good price. On the way home, she spent one for a dish of ice cream; but the other two she put away, until she sold them to Parker in 1954. What is not known is just who the other seven people were, or whether they were connected with the Mint in any way.”
The coin collecting community embraced the colorful Hallie Daggett-ice cream story for many years. But modern researchers such as Flynn discount it.
Writing in the Jan. 1 6, 2006, issue of Coin World, Flynn notes that records from the California State Numismatic Association show that coin dealer Earl Parker first displayed two 1894-S Barber dimes in April of 1949, with one of the coins being sold several times before 1954 including in a Stack’s auction in 1953.
Flynn reported that in 2005 he spoke with Ken Jordon of California, who was the president of the Rosemont Coin Club starting in 1959. Jordon told Flynn that he was with Chapman when Parker attended the coin show and offered the two 1894- S Barber dimes for sale. At that time, Chapman was president of the Rosemont Coin Club. Jordon said that he remembered holding both coins.
According to Flynn, Jordon “remembered the story that Parker had told him, that he (Parker) had purchased the coin from a daughter of a banker who lived in Ukiah, Calif. She had told Parker that her father had given her three coins and that she had spent one on ice cream on the way home. Jordon said that the other individual who was president Henry Reed.”
Flynn notes that Jordon’s recollection and the 1951 Numismatic Scrapbook account are the same. Thus Flynn asserts that the “Daggett banker friend story was from Chapman, who most likely filled in the blanks over the years and believed the Ukiah woman was Hallie Daggett.”
A further fact that would seem to go a long way in debunking the popular legend is that in June 1894 when the dimes were struck, Hallie Daggett was 15 years old, not a child as often recounted. She would have been approximately 70 years of age in 1949 and at the time was living with her sister, Leslie, in Ftna, Calif. She died in October of 1964.
Although many in the coin collecting community still cling to the idea that she may have at one time owned the coins, Flynn states, “There is no direct evidence that Hallie Daggett owned or sold the 1894-S dimes.
Essentially, the coins have to speak for themselves. Nine examples, all held in private collections, are known today and two of the nine show evidence of heavy wear. Could there be more—five to 11, depending on which source you want to believe—awaiting discovery?
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