By Dr. Peter K. Shireman, Guest Contributor

Barber half dollars represent a most interesting and challenging series, particularly in mint state. These coins are large, beautiful, classic, and difficult to find nice in gem and better grades (MS65 and above). In this article I will relate my experience and great delight in collecting Barber half dollars. Whether selected as a single type coin, collected by one-per-year, one-per mint of origin, or as a complete set with all mint marks, gem Barber halves are amazingly beautiful coins. Before I begin taking you on this journey, I want to acknowledge my wife, Janice, as she has been my greatest supporter and helped me along the way.

The Start

My interest in coins began around 1968 when I was 10 years old. A limited budget had meant I collected what I could afford: rolls of uncirculated Lincoln Memorial cents, circulated Buffalo nickels, Indian cents, Lincoln cents, you get the picture. Twice I bought 20th Century type sets in framed holders with glass fronts harboring higher grade Barber halves, as I remember, Extra Fine to About Uncirculated. When I would share these sets with other collectors, the immediate response was, “will you sell that Barber half?” Clearly high-grade examples were difficult to find. These events had a deep impact on my appreciation for the rarity of higher grade Barber half dollars. One can find thousands of Barber halves in AG to G grade, but uncirculated examples are very scarce.

In 1993 I had the opportunity to obtain a coin that had eluded me from my early days of coin collecting. It was a mint state Barber half dollar. Even though this particular coin was a common date 1892 graded MS 64, it was so beautiful! This was a significant moment for me. I derived great joy studying that coin and seeing the amazing detail on a coin that is usually found completely worn flat.

Expanding the Set

Once I had a type coin example, it was not long before I came up with a plan. I decided to put together a set of Barber halves in mint state over a three to five year period. I would target certified examples grading MS63 to MS64. Having completed medical school and residency in Pathology, I had a paying job. Little did I know what a delightful time was in store. I would go through several changes in direction during my journey. My time devoted to this wonderful hobby was great fun, and I am very glad I have done so. Collecting coins is the greatest hobby in the world.

I would spend countless joyful hours tracking sales in ads such as in Coin World, and in major auctions. I would travel to coin shows, coin shops and meet very interesting dealers. I would pore over auction catalogs and there were some significant sales of these coins during the 22 years I worked on my set. The Pryor auction came and went. I ended up buying the 1892-O Micro O in AU55 from that set. The Eliasberg sale came up and all coins were raw. At that point I was not yet buying superb gems; I did not attend the auction. I saw that the 1904-O in MS 66 was on offer, and I bought it soon after the sale. It remains in the collection as a centerpiece coin.

It would turn out that I would switch from collecting MS 63-64 to MS 65-67 coins, but that didn’t happen overnight. This switch would require more searching, more money, therefore more time. Never did I lose my drive to search out and hunt for upgrades and better coins. So much enjoyment is from the hunt, the analysis, and in the people you meet. I would meet the great collectors, Dr. Steven Duckor and Dale Friend. What a treat to have other avid collectors to discuss coins and play show-and-tell with. Another great source of fun is finding pedigrees for coins. Poring over older auction catalogs is a way to go back in history. So many of the extant high-end coins available now came from a few early collectors who picked up coins directly from the mint when issued. Barber half dollars are big coins and represented a lot of money for most people in the years they were issued. Collecting them was not popular when they were released – in part due to the face value of the coin – and many were not saved when issued.

Getting an Agent

I went it alone when first choosing coins, but soon realized that having a dealer to represent me to view coins was a wise idea. Having dealt with a number of dealers, I was impressed with Harry Laibstain. After some initial purchases, we developed a wonderful relationship that exists to this day. We would find coins at auction that were possible upgrades to the set. Some were nice enough to add to the set, others not. A serious collector cannot