World War 1 Coinage by the US Mint includes the Walking Liberty Half Dollar
In 1914, British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey famously said of World War 1, “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”
Fast-forward three years and put yourself in the year 1917.
A war that many expected to be brief has now lasted for three brutal years. Trench warfare has spread across Europe. The Allies are desperate for help from the United States. The Zimmerman Telegram has been released, proving that Germany is trying to lure Mexico into the war against America–promising our land to Mexico in return.
What will we do? Will we act to stem the tide and stop the Central Powers from conquering the continent?
Will your brothers, sons, husbands, friends, and neighbors be sent to war?
In 1917, the question is answered: America enters the war. In months, 10 million Americans register to serve. Everyone knows someone who has been drafted.
What will become of them? What will become of Europe?
Will the light of liberty be extinguished for our allies, or will it shine forth?
Today, we bring you a coin from the midst of that uncertainty, a treasure of American numismatics that expresses the finest of our ideals: an unwavering belief in liberty.
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The Walking Liberty silver half dollar is the work of renowned designer and sculptor Adolph A. Weinman, and was called “one of the greatest coins of the United States—if not of the world” by art historian and numismatist Cornelius Clarkson Vermeule III.
Does the coin live up to this superlative praise? We say yes. This tour-de-force design is one of exquisite beauty, grace, and balance.
A bald eagle dominates the reverse. Perched atop a mountain crag, his wings unfolded, he shows a stern profile as he looks to his right. A pine sapling springs from a rock–a nod to the pine tree as a symbol of our nation’s fierce independence since the Pine Tree Flag flew over New England during the colonial and revolutionary eras.
On the obverse appears the now-iconic Walking Liberty, whose figure just recently appeared on a gold centennial issued by the United States Mint. The full-length figure of Liberty strides confidently toward the rising sun, the folds of the Stars and Stripes billowing behind her. Her right arm outstretched before her in an open, generous gesture, her left arm carries branches of laurel and oak, symbolizing America’s civil and military glory. The inscriptions show the date, “LIBERTY,” and “IN GOD WE TRUST.”
In 1917, the Mint decided to move the mint mark from the obverse to the reverse of the coin, thereby creating two varieties, each from the Denver and San Francisco Mints (mint mark on reverse and mint mark on obverse). Though the obverse mint mark variety is rarer, both are almost impossible to find above gem (MS-65 or higher).
It’s no exaggeration to call a gem specimen of the Walking Liberty a Holy Grail for American coin collectors.
Visit Blanchard & Co’s selection of U.S. Rare Coins
1917 Historical Events Timeline
January – Silent Sentinels Protest Outside the White House
Alice Paul, the leader of the National Woman’s Party, leads a protest outside the White House. The group posts pickets at the gates, becoming the first people to ever picket the White House.
The “silent sentinels” stay on duty in all weather for over six months. Three years later, the Nineteenth Amendment grants women the right to vote.
April – U.S. Declares War on Germany and Enters World War I
On April 2, President Woodrow Wilson goes before Congress to request a declaration of war against Germany. Among the reasons: Germany’s attempt to entice Mexico into joining the war against the U.S. by promising Mexico parts of the American Southwest, and Germany’s submarine attacks on passenger and merchant ships. Two days later, the Senate votes for war, and two days after that, the House concurs. On April 6, 1917, America declares war on Germany.
May – Selective Service Act Is Passed
On May 18, Congress passes the Selective Service Act, granting the president the power to draft soldiers.
At the time of our war declaration, the U.S. had a volunteer army of 100,000, and the Allies desperately required fresh troops. A few months after conscription started, 10 million men in America have registered to serve.
June – First U.S. Troops Arrive in France
Though the landing site is kept secret due to lurking German submarines, the 14,000 U.S. infantry troops that land in France on June 26 are nonetheless greeted by an enthusiastic crowd. General John J. Pershing is tasked with setting up training camps and communication and supply networks. Four months later, the first American troops enter combat.
An interesting factoid about all 1916 and early 1917 “Walkers” is that the mint mark position was originally on the obverse, below the “R” in TRUST. Those coins were only the second series of halves with obverse mint marks until 1968. After fewer than a million 1917 halves were struck at each of Denver and San Francisco, the Mint opted to use the familiar 8:00 position on the reverse where it remained until the end of the series in 1947.