While the Walking Liberty half dollar was well received by the public, a general lack of demand and the silver dollar production requirements of the Pittman Act of 1918 resulted in a decade of sporadic production figures. Throughout the 1920s, the United States Mint’s San Francisco facility was responsible for striking nearly 60% of all Walking Liberty half dollars produced and even struck the entire issuance of 1928.
It was technically difficult to replicate Adolph Weinman’s design since the high points of the obverse and reverse fields were in the same area. This caused the Mint serious striking issues and necessitated a series of redesigns, the first of which occurred in 1918. This was not nearly enough, and the vast majority of San Francisco’s production was poorly struck. Characteristic of this type, most examples display a flattening of details in Lady Liberty’s hand as well as the reverse eagle’s breast feathers and legs. Since this was a well-known recurring issue, the Mint ordered further redesigns in the 1930s.
Despite having a small mintage of 1,940,000 pieces, San Francisco used two different S mintmark punches in 1928. Called MMS-002 “Small”, the first type was used for every issuance from 1917 until 1942. However, when the dies became worn enough that the Mint needed to re-punch the mint mark, they used an older style punch. Since it is very similar to those used by the San Francisco Mint in the 19th century (on Barber quarters, for example), it is thought that the mint workers used an old punch instead of cutting a new one.
The Small variety does not, however, command a premium. Instead, condition is the main driver for this type since very few half dollars were collected when new as a result of the Great Depression.
The 1928 S Walking Liberty Half in Today’s Market
As one of the key conditional rarities in the Walking Liberty series, the 1928-S is extremely rare in high grades. In fact, there is only one example of the highest recorded grade, MS 66+. Last sold in 2018 by Heritage Auctions, this coin holds the auction record of $28,800 USD. Of only 15 certified MS 66s, an example sold in 2020 for $10,200 and a different example sold in 2018 for $19,388. At one grade lower the price is nearly halved, and MS 65s sold for between $4,500 to $6,500 in 2020.
In a signal that the price for the 1928-S Walking Liberty has been rising for the past few years, an MS 64 at roughly $6,750 now is worth more than the MS 65 2020 auction price. Meanwhile, in 2022, an MS 63 sold for roughly $3,800. The price then drops to between $2,000 and $2,500 for examples certified MS 62. For pieces floating around the AU/MS divide (AU 58 – MS 61), collectors should expect to pay roughly $2,000.
The price remains high for high AU examples, with AU 50 – 55s being worth $750 to $1,500. The price drops again to between $375 and $450 for XF 45s. From VF 30 to 35, examples sell for between $150 and $350, and from VF 20 to 25, they sell for between $75 and $150. Even below F 12, examples are still worth roughly $20.
Completely dominating the obverse face of the Walking Liberty half dollar is the eponymous walking Lady Liberty. She is seen as a full-body figure, dressed in a flowing gown, and draped with a large billowing American flag. She holds laurel and oak branches in her left hand that symbolize the civil and military glories of America, respectively. As Liberty strides confidently towards the rising sun, she also reaches out and presents a welcoming and open hand. So large is Lady Liberty that she is superimposed over the obverse legend “LIBERTY” ringing the obverse – in fact, she obscures half of the “BE” and almost the entire “R”. Above Liberty’s outstretched rear foot is IN GOD WE TRUST and below her is the date (1928).
The design bears a notable resemblance to sculptor Oscar Roty’s The Sower, a common image on French coins. Numismatist Roger Burdette posited in his book Renaissance of American Coinage (2007) that this was not a coincidence and while Adolph Weinman did not directly copy, he did derive significant inspiration from Roty’s work. Weinman’s Liberty Walking design quickly became one of America’s most iconic numismatic images and would be used with minor modifications on the American Silver Eagle bullion coin starting in 1986.
The reverse design of this coin is intended to show the power and might of a country becoming accustomed to flexing its global power. Perched on a rocky outcropping, a defiant eagle stares off into the distance, its wings partially unfolded. A mountain pine sapling can be seen growing from the rock next to the eagle. Above the bird’s wings is the country name, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, to the left is E PLURIBUS UNUM, and below its talons is the denomination HALF DOLLAR. The designer’s initials “AW” appear beneath the eagle’s right wing. To the left of the rocky outcropping, at 7:30 on the clock, is the “S” mint mark.
The edge of the 1928-S Walking Liberty half dollar is reeded.
Adolph Alexander Weinman was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States as a teenager. He studied and worked under such famous American sculptors as Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Daniel Chester French. Weinman is responsible for two of the most iconic coin designs in U.S. history: the Mercury or Winged Liberty dime and the Walking Liberty half dollar, both of which debuted in 1916. Weinman’s sons also became sculptors and coin designers, and he taught such pupils as sculptor Anthony de Francisci of Peace dollar fame. Adolph Weinman died in 1952.
|Year Of Issue:||1928|
|Denomination:||Half Dollar (50 Cents)|
|Mint Mark:||S (San Francisco)|
|Alloy:||90% Silver, 10% Copper|
|OBV Designer||Adolph Alexander Weinman|
|REV Designer||Adolph Alexander Weinman|