The Barber dime is named for its designer, Charles E. Barber, who was Chief Engraver of the US Mint from 1879 to 1917. The design was shared with the quarter and half-dollar of the same period. Extensive internal politics surrounded the awarding of the design job, which had initially been opened to the public. A four-member committee (which included Barber), appointed by then-Mint Director James Kimball, accorded only two of more than 300 submissions an honorable mention. Kimball's successor, Edward O. Leech, decided to dispense with the committees and public design competitions and simply instructed Barber to develop a new design. It has been speculated that this is what Barber had wanted all along.
The Barber dime, as with all previous dimes, featured an image of Liberty on the obverse. She is wearing a Phrygian cap, a laurel wreath with a ribbon, and a headband with the inscription "LIBERTY". This inscription is one of the key elements used in determining the condition of Barber dimes. Liberty's portrait was inspired by two sources—French coins and medals of the period, as well as ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. The obverse also contains the long-used 13 stars (for the 13 colonies) design element. The reverse contained a wreath and inscription almost identical to the one used on the final design of the Seated Liberty dime.