The following is reprinted (with permission) from "The Complete Guide To Certified Barber coinage
" by David & John Feigenbaum:
"The 1894-S dime is one of those few American numismatic treasures that has transcended it's particular series to become one of the most famous of all U.S. coins. Just like the 1804 silver dollar and 1913 Liberty nickel
, the 1894-S has an undeniable and mystical appeal which will excite collectors for years to come. It's often the case with such sought-after coins that they are not the rarest -- certainly there are U.S. coins with only one known survivor (for example, the 1866 no motto quarter and half dollar). But it's the story that makes the coin, and the 1894-S dime is no exception."
"First of all, the 1894-S dime is the only true rarity in all the Barber series (dimes, quarters and halves). Of the 24 pieces minted, just 9 coins are known to exist today and it is unlikely that any more will surface. Two of these are low-grade specimens while the others have survived without wear, though most have been mishandled in some way. The 9 specimens are well known and bear the "pedigrees" of some of the most famous numismatic collections ever assembled."
Farran Zerbe's Account
"The circumstances surrounding the production and distribution of the 1894-S dimes remain a mystery. In April 1928, The Numismatist (p. 236-237, the monthly publication of the American Numismatic Association) gave an account by Farran Zerbe, a former president of the ANA
. The coins were struck, Zerbe said, to provide a balance of forty cents needed to close a bullion account at the San Francisco Mint by June 30, 1894 -- the end of the fiscal year. Since any even dollar amount ending in forty cents was acceptable, the employees were said to have struck 24 pieces, or $2.40. Mint employees weren't deliberately trying to create a rarity because they were still expecting orders to produce more 1894-S dimes before the end of the calendar year. But December 31 passed without a request for further production. Two or three pieces were obtained by Mint employees "just to have a new dime," Zerbe said; when they realized the coins were now rare, they sold them to collectors for $25 or more apiece. The remaining 1894-S dimes went into a bag with other dimes and into circulation."
"At the time of this article, only 3 or 4 specimens had been found. Zerbe's information, which he said was "obtained from the San Francisco Mint in 1905," is similar to an earlier account by J.C. Mitchelson, a Kansas City collector. Mitchelson said he was told by Mint employees that only 14 of the 24 coins went into circulation, the others to be restruck and presumably melted (The Numismatist, 1900, No.6). The "unintentional rarity" theory is probably the explanation the San Francisco Mint wanted to publish, rather than admit what may have actually occurred. In recent decades, however, Zerbe's and Mitchelson's accounts have been more or less debunked by new information."
What Really Happened?
"In 1972, coin journalist James Johnson, attempted a complete accounting of the 1894-S story. After the article ran in Coin World
Collector's Clearinghouse (9/13/72), he received a letter from Guy Chapman of California. Chapman wrote that he had been shown two of the dimes in 1954 by California dealer Earl Parker, just after Parker had acquired them from Hallie Daggett, daughter of the San Francisco Mint superintendent John Daggett. Ms. Daggett told Parker that her father had minted 24 S-mint 1894 dimes as a special request for some visiting bankers. According to her account, Daggett struck the 24 pieces and presented three coins each to seven people. The remaining three, he gave to Hallie, telling her to "put them away until she was as old as he was, at which time she would be able to sell them for a good price." (Breen) As the story goes, Hallie immediately proceeded to spend one of the dimes on ice cream, but kept the other two until she sold them to Parker."
"Today, most experts accept the "made for banker friends" theory as the more likely one. Further evidence is in the fact that all seven of the remaining high grade coins seem to be proof strikes, made from specially-prepared dies and were carefully struck. It's quite unlikely that such care would be taken simply to "round out the books," but the process is logical for such purposes as presentation to bankers."