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    1901-S Quarter, MS65
    Extremely Rare at the Gem Level

    1901-S 25C MS65 PCGS. Three dates in the Barber quarter series stand out as rarities: the 1896-S (188,039 pieces struck), 1901-S (mintage 72,664 pieces), and 1913-S (40,000 coins minted). Interestingly, the most plentiful of these three in Mint State is 1913-S. The two higher-mintage keys are rarer.

    PCGS shows 932 submissions in all grades for the 1901-S quarter (9/19). Most of those pieces grade Good 4 or lower. In fact, there are more coins certified AG3 than any other grade. This preponderance of heavily circulated coins to higher-grade pieces is true of all three Barber quarter keys in comparison to other dates in the series. All three rarities are San Francisco issues, and Western citizens tended to prefer coins rather than paper notes for private transactions. Perhaps with relatively few coins to start with, the quarters kept moving from pocket to cash drawer and back again, and were simply used up. Whatever the reason, a Mint State 1901-S quarter is rare, and a Gem example extremely rare.

    The history surrounding the Barber design is enlivened by events of intrigue and self-interest, not surprising for the era. The Seated Liberty quarter design had been around since the late 1830s, and some thought it time for a change. Either because of legitimate confusion over past legislative intent, or perhaps due to other motives, Mint Director James P. Kimball worked with Senator Justin Morrill to have a bill introduced that would simplify the approval process for new coin designs. The resultant Act of September 26, 1890, allowed the Treasury to change coin designs, without Congressional approval, after an existing motif had been in use for 25 years.

    Walter Breen (1988) colorfully describes what happened next: "Implementing Kimball's eccentric idea, the Treasury shortly afterward announced a competition among 10 of the best-known American artists for new coin designs -- only to find that they jointly rejected the terms ... the Treasury's riposte was to throw the competition open to the public ... [Mint Chief Engraver Charles Barber's] presence among the judges was the kiss of death. The Treasury circular of April 4, 1891, giving details of the competition, elicited about 300 entries. Of these 300, only two were thought worth even an honorable mention; Barber made certain that no prize would be awarded. The new Mint Director, Edward O. Leech, called the contest 'too wretched a failure' ever to be tried again, and ordered Barber to prepare the designs himself -- which is exactly what Barber had wanted all along."

    Director Leech was more magnanimous toward Barber. In a letter to art critic R.W. Gilder, Leech noted that "Mr. 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." Perhaps anticipating further concern about Barber, he added "artistic designs for coins, which would meet the ideas of an art critic like yourself, and artists generally, are not always adapted for practical coinage." (Don Taxay, The U.S. Mint and Coinage, 1966). Even today Barber's artistic abilities are debated, but nonetheless the coins bearing his designs are avidly collected.

    For Barber quarter enthusiasts, the 1901-S is the premium issue of the series. The surfaces of this example are lustrous and well struck, though slightly soft at the hairline of Liberty and on the right edge of the reverse shield and nearby wing. The surfaces boast pleasing rose and cinnamon toning, accented with lilac and silver highlights (including a lilac blush on Liberty's cheek). There are no distracting marks or spots. Many collectors are happy to find a 1901-S quarter in any grade, but a Gem example such as this with such a remarkable appearance is a rare opportunity. This coin is sure to stand out in an advanced collection, admired and appreciated for years to come. Population: 8 in 65, 9 finer (9/19).
    Ex: FUN Auction (Heritage, 1/2009), lot 3782; New York Signature (Heritage, 10-11/2016), lot 5244.(Registry values: N10218)

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 23YR, PCGS# 5630)

    Weight: 6.25 grams

    Metal: 90% Silver, 10% Copper

    Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2019
    17th-24th Thursday-Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 19
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 2,362

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