Charles Barber’s half dollar design was introduced in 1892, a beneficiary of the provision of the Mint Act of 1890 which allowed for the design of a coin to be changed every 25 years. And so it was in 1916 that Barber’s designs for the dime, quarter, and half dollar were also set aside; though unlike the smaller denominations, the half dollar of 1916 did not use Barber’s somewhat stoic Liberty design. Director Robert W. Woolley had invited three renown sculptors outside the Mint to produce designs for all three denominations, possibly intending that each coin would display the efforts of a different artist. However, Adolph A. Weinman captured two of the three prizes, for the dime and the half dollar. Hermon A. MacNeil’s design was used for the quarter.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
These new designs were representative of the artistic vigor of the early 20th century, following previous changes of that period that included the Lincoln cent; the Indian Head (buffalo) nickel; the incuse Indian Head quarter eagle and half eagles; the two Augustus Saint-Gaudens gold designs, the Indian Head eagle and the eponymous Saint-Gaudens double eagle; the Standing Liberty quarter; and several commemorative issues such as the Panama-Pacific Exposition silver and gold pieces. Weinman was born in Germany but came to the United States as a child. He was a student of Saint-Gaudens and other top sculptors, and gained national recognition for his majestic sculpture Destiny of the Red Man. His design for the half dollar features a full-length representation of Liberty, and on the reverse a powerful depiction of America’s symbol, the bald eagle.
Weinman’s designs were well-received at the time of release and are popular today, perhaps more so for those old enough to remember seeing both the dime and half dollar in circulation prior to the run-up of silver prices in the mid-1960s. The artistic merit of the half dollar unfortunately did not translate into technical merit when the coins were struck, and many dates are weakly struck. This was because areas of high relief on the design were opposite each other, and thus weakness is often seen on Liberty’s left hand and leg and the eagle’s breast and leg feathers. In hopes of improving striking quality Engraver George T. Morgan made modifications in 1918 and 1921, followed by those of John R. Sinnock in the late 1930s, but neither produced significant improvements. Liberty Walking half dollars, variously known as “Walkers” and Walking Liberty halves, were produced through 1947, replaced by John R. Sinnock’s Franklin design; his Roosevelt dime also replaced Weinman’s ‘Mercury’ dime. While often assembled as a complete set, some collect only the “short sets” of either 1934 through 1947, or 1941 through 1947.
A full-length, striding figure of Liberty is displayed on the obverse, walking to the left. She wears a soft cap, Roman-style sandals with crossed ties, and a long flowing garment of alternating solid and vertically-striped panels. Her right arm is outstretched, reaching nearly to the flat rim of the coin, while her left holds a ‘bouquet’ of long oak and laurel (or olive) branches. Behind Liberty, and wrapped partially around her left arm, an American flag of stars and stripes billows, pushed forward by an implied wind at her back. At the bottom left is the sun with rays, partially obscured by a mountainous rise. The word LIBERTY surrounds a little more than the top half of the flat rim, the L overlapping a sun ray, and BER partially obscured by Liberty, the flag, and the branch leaves. To the right, near the bottom is IN GOD WE TRUST, the words on two lines, and the date is at the center of the bottom, below the level plain upon which Liberty walks. Half dollars minted at San Francisco and Denver in 1916, and part of 1917, display S and D mintmarks below IN GOD WE TRUST.
On the reverse a majestic standing eagle, wings partially uplifted, stands on a rock outcrop facing left, the right claw clutching a pine branch (showing both needles and cones) said to be symbolic of America. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is placed near the flat rim above the eagle, and HALF DOLLAR is at the bottom. E PLURIBUS UNUM, UNUM on a separate line, is placed at the left center just above the tips of the pine branch. Center dots separate adjacent words of the text phrases, with an additional dot following AMERICA. The designer’s initials AW, the A nested beneath the W, are at the bottom right, just to the right of the rocky perch. Liberty Walking half dollars minted at Denver and San Francisco from the latter part of 1917 through the end of the series have D and S mintmarks located at the lower left, between the left of the edge of the rocky outcrop and the rim.
A few hundred thousand business strike Liberty Walking half dollars have been certified, more of dates from 1934 forward. The census includes a very few prooflike pieces. Half dollars for circulation were not minted in 1922, 1924 through 1926, and 1930 through 1932. Prices are modest through MS63 for some issues prior to 1933, and for most dates post-1933 to MS65. Higher priced coins are most pre-1934 issues finer than MS60, particularly 1916-S, 1917-D and 1917-S Obverse Mintmark, and most 1919 through 1921 examples; and 1934-S, 1938-D, and 1946 Doubled Die Obverse, the last two expensive as Gem and finer. Proofs were minted from 1936 through 1942, and thousands are listed in census/ population reports, though very few have received the Cameo designation. The 1936 is the highest priced issue, expensive to very expensive at all grades, followed by the Cameo examples of various dates. The remaining proofs are modestly priced through PR64 (PR66 for 1940s examples other than Cameo), expensive finer.
Designer: Adolph A. Weinman
Circulation Mintage: high 53,190,000 (1943), low 208,000 (1921-D)
Proof Mintage: high 21,120 (1942), low 3,901 (1936)
Denomination: Fifty cents (50/100)
Diameter: 30.6 mm, reeded edge
Metal Content: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: 12.5 grams
Varieties: Several known, including 1917-D and 1917-S Obverse Mintmark; 1916 D Over D; 1928 S, Small S and Large S; 1934-D, Small D and Large D; 1936 Doubled Die Obverse; 1942 Doubled Die Reverse; 1942-S, Small S and Large S; 1946 Doubled Die Obverse and Doubled Die Reverse; and other minor die variations.
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.