Edward Emerson Barnard (Nashville, Tennessee) discovered this comet on July 16, 1884. It was then moving slowly through Lupus and was situated 0.42 AU from Earth. The comet was described as diffuse, with a coma 2' across. The discovery magnitude was not given, but was probably about 9 or 10.
The comet brightened as it headed for its mid-August perihelion, but also showed one very notable characteristic. During the first couple of weeks after its discovery, observers noted a complete lack of a nucleus and condensation. A condensation was first reported at the end of July and, shortly thereafter, a very faint star-like nucleus was noted by a few observers. By mid-August the comet was at its brightest, with probable magnitudes of 8 to 8.5. Thereafter, it began to slowly fade. E. W. L. Tempel (Arcetri, Italy) observed the comet on August 10, and reported something new. Just when observers were beginning to see a nucleus, Tempel described the condensation as double, and during the next couple of weeks observers reported the condensation became more diffuse and eventually vanished.
The comet threw a new twist at observers around mid-September. W. H. Finlay (Royal Observatory, Cape Town, South Africa) reported the comet had suddenly brightened. The comet continued to brighten through the end of the month, at which time the magnitude may have exceeded 8.
J. A. Perrotin (Nice, France) said a sharp nucleus was visible at the end of September and that high magnifications revealed a narrow luminous jet extending from it. No other unusual events happened for the rest of the comet's appearance. Its brightness steadily faded during October and when last seen on November 20, the magnitude had probably dropped below 11.
The first orbit was calculated by E. Weiss using positions from July 17, 23, and 26. The perihelion date was determined as 1884 August 15.71. The first elliptical orbit was calculated by A. Berberich using positions spanning the period of July 23 to September 12. The resulting perihelion date was August 16.98 and the period was 5.50 years. Additional orbits were calculated by J. Morrison, Finlay, E. Frisby, H. V. Egbert, and A. Berberich during the following weeks, months, and years, which established a period near 5.4 years. Berberich provided predictions for this comet's next two apparitions. By taking his orbit for 1884, he simply added the period of 5.40 years and determined perihelion dates of 1890 January 10.33 and early May of 1895. Berberich noted the 1890 return was not favorable, as the comet was opposite the sun from Earth when at perihelion, but that the return of 1895 was better. During 1894, Berberich revised his last prediction and indicated a perihelion date of 1895 June 3.96. No observations were obtained at either return. During 1979, R. J. Buckley used 179 positions obtained between July 24 and November 8, applied perturbations by Venus to Neptune, and computed a perihelion date of August 16.97 and a period of 5.38 years. He suggested the period was uncertain by 2 or 3 days and noted the comet was well observed and "unaccountably not seen since."