The 1921-S Walking Liberty half dollar is one of the greatest rarities in the series.
Although the 1919-D – and only the 1919-D – is slightly rarer in Gem condition, the ’21-S still boasts the lowest absolute population in Mint State. Taking into account a likely number of resubmissions, there are possibly fewer than 200 Uncirculated coins certified, with the bulk concentrated in MS63 and MS64. Finer examples are highly coveted but rarely acquired.
Specialists will therefore have a truly rare opportunity when we offer an NGC-graded MS66 example as a part of our June 8 – 13 Long Beach Expo US Coins Signature Auction.
The low mintage of the 1921-S (548,000 pieces) is still slightly more than the combined mintages of its Philadelphia and Denver counterparts. These paltry production figures have long been attributed in part to the economic downturn that culminated in the Great Depression, but the crumbling of the economy did not become a measurable factor in silver coinage until a few years later.
Small denomination silver coinage in 1920 was massive. Postwar commercial demand put pressure on the Mint to operate on 24- and 16-hour schedules to meet coinage orders. The dramatic decline of production in 1921 was due to the Pittman Act of 1918, which mandated the melting and recoinage of millions of silver dollars. These resource-consuming silver dollars went into production in February 1921. By the end of the calendar year, the three operating Mints combined had struck more than 86 million of them.
Substantial dollar coinage continued well into the 1920s, while demand for small silver denominations was largely fulfilled by reserves that the Mint had stockpiled back in 1920.
The main effect that the Great Depression had on the 1921-S Walker was in removing the ability of most would-be collectors from saving high-end examples of the half dollar denomination, which was more than an hour’s wage for many working class people during the 1930s. The 1921-S experienced extensive circulation that limited the Mint State survival rate to its paltry level today.
Concerning the 1921-S in Collecting & Investing Strategies for Walking Liberty Half Dollars (2008), Jeff Ambio writes that “[c]oins that grade MS-65 or finer are exceedingly rare, MS-66s are virtually unobtainable and Superb Gems are unknown.”
These words ring true when one realizes that the last Premium Gem sold at auction was an NGC coin more than two decades ago, which realized US$87,400. The only other MS66 coin on record is a PCGS example that was first certified before the turn of the millennium and is now housed in the current highest-rated PCGS Registry Set.
The present NGC coin is only the third Premium Gem 1921-S half dollar known, and it is the first piece certified this fine in more than two decades. One glance at the luminous, frosty surfaces, and the immense visual appeal and surface quality are immediately apparent. The specialist will notice some characteristic weakness on Liberty’s head and branch hand, as well as on the eagle’s trailing leg, but the overall quality and eye appeal are enormous for the issue. With both of the others MS66 coins long off the market, this is a remarkable opportunity for the collector to acquire this never-before-offered top-grade Registry coin. This piece undeniably warrants a record-breaking bid.