The 1921 half dollar struck at the Denver Mint is the lowest-mintage issue of the entire Walking Liberty series. At only 208,000 struck, it is more scarce than the Philadelphia 1921 (at 246,000 pieces) and the San Francisco issue of that date (at 548,000). Obviously something was going on around that time (a post-war recession), as the 1920 issues from all branch mints were struck in the millions – as was the 1923-S. No Walking Liberty half dollars were produced in 1922, and following a gap of three years (1924 through 1926), production resumed in the millions again at San Francisco in 1927.
At any rate, while the number of surviving coins dated 1921-D is considerably smaller, they did tend to come nice (nicer than other branch mints, anyway). Still, gems are rare, and so demand is strong for AU and XF coins as well. NGC reports only 15 pieces graded XF-40.
Auction archives for such a specific grade have to go back five years for the most recent record, to an example that sold for $1,762.50 USD in April 2015–though that was also given a Details grade. In February 2013, we see a coin with the Details designation that sold for $2,200. Two other Details-grade specimens sold in 2011 for around the same price as the 2015 example. And in February 2008, one finds a piece that sold for slightly over $2,000.
If you want to check GreatCollections for sales of the 1921-D Walking Liberty half-or any other coin, for that matter–be sure to check out the GreatCollections Auction Archives, with records for over 600,000 certified coins the company has sold over the past seven years.
At the time of writing, the high bid on the current example is $2,300 after one bid.
Background of the Walking Liberty Half Dollar
Charles Barber’s half dollar design was introduced in 1892, a beneficiary of the Mint Act of 1890, which allowed for the design of a coin to be changed every 25 years.
And likewise in 1916, 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 Liberty design. Mint Director Robert W. Woolley had invited three renowned sculptors from outside the Mint to produce designs for all three denominations, possibly intending that each coin would display the efforts of a different artist. However, German-born sculptor 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.
These new designs were representative of the artistic vigor of the early 20th century, following the previous changes to American coinage during that period (such as the Lincoln cent, the Indian Head (Buffalo) nickel, and of course the two Augustus Saint-Gaudens gold designs, among others).
Weinman’s designs were well-received at the time of release and are popular today, though there were technical issues. Many dates are weakly struck because areas of high relief on the design were opposite each other; 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. These were 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; Sinnock’s 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.
On the reverse is 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 in 1921 have the “D” mintmark located at the lower left, between the left of the edge of the rocky outcrop and the rim.
The edge is reeded.
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. The 1936 is the highest-priced issue, expensive to very expensive at all grades, followed by Cameo examples of various dates. The remaining Proofs are modestly priced through PR64 (PR66 for 1940s examples other than Cameo), though more expensive in finer condition.