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Walking Liberty Half Dollar, 1916-1947 | CoinWeek

1933-S Walking Liberty Half Dollar. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.
1933-S Walking Liberty Half Dollar. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

Provisions of the Mint Act of 1890 stipulated that the United States Mint could introduce new designs on federal coinage only after 25 years of production of a current design. This was done to give American coinage a predictable appearance and cut down on counterfeiting and the unnecessary expense of regularly replacing old designs with new ones. The Barber Half Dollar, Barber Quarter Dollar, and Barber Dime were early beneficiaries of this law, replacing the Liberty Seated type of each denomination in 1892.

President Theodore Roosevelt was within his rights to agitate for changes to America’s gold coinage in 1907, as all four gold denominations had designs stretching back to before the Civil War.

So, in 1916, Barber’s creations were to be set aside. Mint Director Robert W. Woolley sought designs from three renowned outside sculptors. Adolph A. Weinman captured two of the three prizes, and his designs would be used on the Winged Liberty Dime (more commonly known as the Mercury Dime) and the Walking Liberty Half Dollar. Artist Hermon A. MacNeil’s design became known as the Standing Liberty Quarter.

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 Buffalo Nickel; the incuse Indian Head Quarter Eagle and Half Eagle; the two Augustus Saint-Gaudens gold designs, the Indian Head Eagle and the eponymous Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle; as well as several commemorative issues like the Panama-Pacific Exposition silver and gold pieces.

Adolph 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 (1904). His design for the half dollar features a full-length representation of Liberty based on French sculptor Oscar Roty’s Marianne. The coin’s reverse displays a powerful depiction of America’s national bird, the bald eagle, on the reverse.

Weinman’s designs were received well at the time of release and are even more popular today. Unfortunately, the artistic merit of the Walking Liberty Half Dollar did not translate into technical merit, as the Mint’s presses could not consistently bring up the entirety of the design. This was because areas of high relief on the design are opposite each other, and thus, weakness is often seen on Liberty’s left hand and leg and the eagle’s breast and leg feathers.

Chief Engraver George T. Morgan made modifications in 1918 and 1921 to improve striking quality. More changes were made by his successor, John R. Sinnock, in the late 1930s, but none of these changes produced significant improvements.

Walking Liberty Half Dollars were produced through 1947 and then replaced by Sinnock’s Franklin Half Dollar design; Sinnock’s silver Roosevelt Dime also replaced Weinman’s ‘Mercury’ type.

How Much Are Walking Liberty Half Dollars Worth?

More than 700,000 business strike Liberty Walking Half Dollars have been certified, more from the dates 1934 onward. Half dollars were not minted in 1922, 1924 through 1926, and 1930 through 1932.

The 1917 is the only issue struck before 1934 that sells for under $500 in MS63. The typical price for an MS63 for all other non-conditionally rare dates from this period starts at $1,200 and can easily reach into $12,000 or more for scarce dates. The 1921-S Walking Liberty Half Dollar is the undisputed key to the series and sells for over $30,000 in Mint State.

For budget-minded collectors, the Walking Liberty Short Set (1941-1947) offers an affordable and exciting set of coins to pursue. These coins sell for under $150 up to the grade of Mint State 65.

Proofs were minted from 1936 through 1942; most of each year’s mintage is listed in third-party grading companies’ population reports. Very few of these exhibit Cameo contrast. The 1936 is the highest-priced Proof issue, worth $3,000 or more in Proof-65. More often than not, Walking Liberty Proof coins fail to meet this grading threshold. Only a few dozen of each date reach the Superb Gem grades of Proof-67 or finer.

Date-by-Date Analysis by CoinWeek Notes

Extended Coverage by CoinWeek

The Ultimate 20th-Century Type Set: Barber and Walking Liberty Half Dollars

In Part 4 of their Ultimate 20th-Century Type Set series, Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker offer tips about collecting and selecting the right Walking Liberty halves for your type set.

 

Another video in the CoinWeek Grading Series, this one featuring Ray Herz on the grading of Walking Liberty Half Dollars.

Coin expert and CoinWeek contributor Greg Reynolds continues his Classic U.S. Coins for Less Than $500 Each series with an analysis of the Walking Liberty.

In a piece from 2012, Greg also looked at some of the top registry sets of Walkers.

Major third-party grading service NGC shares some information about counterfeit Walking Liberty Half Dollars they have encountered.

An "Old" 1921-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar Counterfeit - Jack Young and the Dark Side Group

And speaking of counterfeits, Jack Young of the “Dark Side” group on Facebook writes about an “old” 1921-D Half Dollar counterfeit he and his team encountered.

Design

Obverse:

A full-length, striding figure of Liberty is displayed on the obverse, walking from the right of the coin to the left. She wears a soft cap, Roman-style sandals with crossed ties, and a long flowing garment (likely a chiton) 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 the motto 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.

Reverse:

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. The motto E PLURIBUS UNUM, with 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.

Weinman’s initials are formed in a monogram AW, the “A” nested beneath the “W”, at the bottom of the coin, 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.

Edge:

The edge of the silver Walking Liberty Half Dollar is reeded.

Varieties

Several collectible varieties are known, including the 1917-D and 1917-S Obverse Mintmark; the 1916-D D Over D; the 1928-S Small S and Large S; the 1934-D Small D and Large D; the 1936 Doubled Die Obverse; the 1942 Doubled Die Reverse; the 1942-S Small S and Large S; The 1946 Doubled Die Obverse and Doubled Die Reverse; and other, more minor die variations.

Coin Specifications

Walking Liberty Half Dollar
Years Of Issue: 1916-47
Mintage (Business Strikes): High: 53,190,000 (1943); Low: 208,000 (1921-D)
Mintage (Proofs): High: 21,120 (1942); Low: 3,901 (1936)
Alloy: .900 silver, .100 copper
Weight: 12.5 g
Diameter: 30.6 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Adolph A. Weinman
REV Designer: Adolph A. Weinman

 

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References

Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of Mercury Dimes, Standing Liberty Quarters, and Liberty Walking Half Dollars. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.

Fox, Bruce. The Complete Guide to Walking Liberty Half Dollars. Bruce Fox.

Guth, Ron and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Yeoman, R.S. and Jeff Garrett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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