Sharp-eyed collectors of Charles Barber's Liberty Head silver coins (1892-1916) are aware that circulated pieces dated 1901 and later must be graded a bit differently from earlier issues.
Hub Changes in the Barber Silver Coins
collectors of Charles Barber's Liberty Head silver
coins (1892-1916) are aware that circulated pieces dated
1901 and later must be graded a bit differently from
earlier issues. This is especially true of the quarters
and halves. Using the published standards in grading
books, it seems that most examples dated 1892-1900 are
a half grade to a full grade lower on the reverse than
the obverse. Conversely, coins dated 1901-16 usually
will have fewer letters of LIBERTY visible than the
overall condition would suggest.
The exact reason for this is little understood by most
collectors, though a bit of reading reveals some clues.
The three books on Barber coinage by the late David
Lawrence Feigenbaum describe this phenomenon and mention
differences in the dies before and after 1901. In his
grand encyclopedia of United States coinage, the late
Walter Breen likewise acknowledged that changes were
made to the obverse and reverse hubs circa 1900-01.
He obtained this information from articles published
in Coin World in 1980 and written by John McCloskey
(dime study) and by me (quarters and halves).
These were not the only hub changes in the Barber series.
Slightly better known is that implemented for the Barber
quarter during 1892, the first year of coinage. The
earliest reverse dies have the eagle placed in such
a way that less than half of the letter E in UNITED
is covered by its wingtip. Shortly after coinage began,
a new reverse hub was introduced on which the eagle
has been moved upward ever so slightly, and its wingtip
now covers most of the letter E. Dies from both hubs
were used at the Philadelphia, New Orleans and San Francisco
Mints, and coins having the first reverse are noticeably
scarcer in each instance.
No changes were made to the dime or half dollar at that
time, because it was the quarter dollar alone that presented
a unique problem—it didn't have enough space
below the eagle's tail for a mintmark! As noted
in last month's column, this situation was ultimately
solved by moving the mintmark to the right, where it
remained off-centered through the end of the series.
The Mint's first attempt to address this problem,
however, involved moving the eagle upward to gain just
a tiny extra bit of space, and thus was born two distinctive
reverses for 1892.
The silver coinage introduced in 1892 otherwise proved
quite satisfactory, and no further changes occurred
until 1900. During that year, the Mint's Engraving
Department prepared new hubs for several denominations.
Affected were the reverses of the nickel and silver
dollar, as well as both sides of the fractional silver
coins. As with the hub change of 1892, no records survive
to document why these alterations were made, so we have
only the coins themselves to study. While some features
of the design were moved slightly away from one another,
reducing the likelihood of the dies chipping and filling
in use, other changes appear to have been purely cosmetic.
As chief engraver, Barber presumably did the work himself.
On the dime, Liberty's hair ribbon was moved away
from the letter N in UNITED, and the leaves at the top
of her head were lengthened and made more pointed. For
the reverse, the right ribbon end was made thicker,
and an extra fold was added to its lower side. On the
quarter dollar, the ribbon securing Liberty's
wreath was altered. On the old obverse, each ribbon
end is deeply slitted and has slender forks, while the
revised ribbon ends have much shorter slits that give
the ribbons a more blunt appearance. On the reverse,
the eagle's wingtips were lengthened so that they
extend beyond the tops of the letters, whereas previously
they had ended at the tops of the letters. The half
dollar does not seem to have had any changes made to
its reverse, yet its revised obverse reveals the altered
ribbon ends, as well as possessing a feature common
to all three denominations. For the dime, quarter and
half alike, Liberty's ear was distinctly reshaped.
On the old obverse hubs, the center of her ear was hollow,
while the revised obverses display a central rib of
cartilage that is quite prominent. In addition, her
earlobe was made longer and noticeably thicker. A final
feature common to all three coins is one which could
very well account for the differences in wear patterns
before and after 1901. Each coin's outer rim was
made narrower on the new obverse and reverse hubs, thus
covering less of the denticles' length. This change
creates the illusion that the overall border is thicker,
when in fact it is the same size.
Research into which obverse/reverse hub combinations
exist for each mint during the years 1900-01 is still
ongoing, but a number of transitional pieces have been
found. The 1900-O quarter, for example, is known from
both old and new hubs. Like the varieties of 1892, however,
these transitional pieces seem to have generated little
interest from collectors. Rare hub combinations are
not yet bringing premium prices, and these offer an
excellent opportunity for the astute collector to "cherrypick"
a future treasure.
David W. Lange's column USA Coin Album appears monthly
in Numismatist, the official publication of
the American Numismatic Association.