Know your U.S. coins: Walking Liberty half dollar

Walk into Liberty's world
By , Coin World
Published : 03/13/15
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Walk right into the world of collecting Walking Liberty half dollar coins, a series struck between 1916 and 1945.

Adolph A. Weinman's obverse design for the Walking Liberty half dollar has been hailed as one of the greatest of all time. It depicts a full-length allegorical Liberty striding left, garbed in the stars and stripes of Old Glory. Liberty carries in her left hand branches of laurel and oak. Her right hand is outstretched as she walks toward the dawn of a new day represented by the rising sun with rays. A large, plain field is on the right, at Liberty's back. Dominating the reverse is a left-facing fearless and powerful eagle captured with his wings about to unfold to begin flight from his perch atop a mountain crag. In the foreground is a mountain pine sapling springing from a rift in the rock. Open field space occupies a very small portion of the reverse.

COIN VALUES: See how much Walking Liberty half dollar coins are worth today

Weinman had a busy year in 1916. His models for the dime and half dollar won coinage design contests. They have remarkably similar heads, although the depiction of Liberty on the half dollar does not have a winged cap.

The D Mint mark for Denver or S for San Francisco appears in the obverse field on all 1916 and early 1917 issue Walking Liberty half dollars. The Mint mark was moved to below and to the left of the mountain pine near the rim on the reverse beginning later in 1917. Various repunched Mint mark varieties are cataloged for the series. The coins were struck at the Philadelphia Mint without a Mint mark.

A problem encountered throughout the series is the typical weak strike. The obverse facial details and hand holding a branch are typically weak. The hand is directly in line with the high points of the eagle's breast and left leg on the reverse, which is also typically either weakly struck or the first place to wear.

There simply wasn't enough metal to properly fill those design elements.

There are a number of challenging key dates to seek out in this series. Nine issues have a mintage of less than 1 million pieces each. These are 1916, 1916-S, 1917-D (on obverse), 1917-S (on obverse), 1919, 1921, 1921-D, 1921-S and 1938-D. The lowest mintage of all is 1921-D at 208,000 pieces.

The Walking Liberty half dollar appears in U.S. Proof sets of 1936 to 1942. The 1936 has the lowest Proof mintage at 3,901 pieces. The highest mintage is 21,120 pieces for 1942.

There are early dated Proofs struck individually, rather than for sets. There are, as an example, at least three known Satin Finish Proofs of the 1917 half dollar.

There are two varieties of the 1941 Proof coin, with and without the designer's initials.

It took seven revisions before the Weinman design could be used on the half dollar. This was due to the high relief in several places. Patterns exist of the Walking Liberty half dollar in several stages of its development.

Although officially none of these patterns were ever released, examples are known in private hands.

The design for the half dollar could be legally changed after July 1, 1941, 25 years having passed since its introduction.

However, wartime demands on the Mint allowed this design to continue through 1947. The Walking Liberty half dollar was replaced with a design depicting Benjamin Franklin in 1948.

Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:

Cents and half cents:

2- and 3-cent coins:

Nickels:

Dimes and half dimes:

Quarters:

Half dollars:

Dollars:

Gold coins:

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