Weinman’s masterpiece: 100 years of the Walking Liberty half dollar

Walking Liberty half dollar served nation during two world wars and the Great Depression, beautifully
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 10/13/16
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“A writer says, ‘For the moralist there is a whole story behind each of these new coins. They come as clean as new souls to take their share in the great drama of life: they will lie in milady’s silken purse and in the ragged pocket of the street beggar. They will go clean from honest hand, and they will figure in the tainted loot of thieves. They will go up to God’s high altars in collection plates, and they will be the prize for which men fight and kill and the lure for which they sell their souls.’ ”

Collecting the coins

The Walking Liberty half dollar series is a great playground for collectors and history buffs. The series spans two World Wars, the Roaring 20s and the Great Depression and it has no prohibitive rarities.

A budget-minded collector can put together a complete set in Good condition for the cost of a kitchen appliance. An MS-65 set, though, would set you back the cost of a house or two or three.

Of the 65 date and Mint mark combinations (including obverse and reverse Mint mark coins), 37 have a Coin World Coin Values value of $7.50 in Good condition, 17 are worth $10 to $20, eight go for $25 to $60 and only three cost more than $100.

The whole set can be bought for less than $1,500. And because there are no rarities, it could probably be put together in one day at any larger coin show.

The three keys are the 1916-S half dollar, which catalogs for $110 in Good; the 1921 coin, which goes for $150; and the 1921-D half dollar, a $300 coin. The 1921-D half dollar has a scant mintage of 208,000, making it scarce, but by no means rare.

Mint State Walking Liberty half dollars can be very dear. An MS-65 set would set the buyer back more than $600,000, according to Coin Values. 

The most valuable MS-65 coin is reasonably common in circulated grades, but jumps into the stratosphere at MS-63. Only a dozen or so MS-65 1919-D Walking Liberty halves are known and it’s been a decade since one appeared at auction.

In a 2005 catalog description, Heritage Auctions commented on the rarity of high grade 1919-D halves. “Once in a while, someone may have set one of these coins aside as a keepsake and it is these few examples that remain in high grades to satisfy current collector demand.”

In his 1993 The Complete Guide to Walking Liberty Half Dollars, Bruce Fox noted, the coin is “almost always weak in the hand and head area on the obverse.”

He said the 1919-D half dollar shows “good investment potential” and valued an MS-65 piece at $33,000. Today it catalogs for $172,500.

Common-date 1940s MS-65 pieces, coins that come with the added patina of a World War II connection, have a Coin World Coin Values value of just $100.

Because the coin’s high points (Liberty’s head, torso and left leg on the obverse and the eagle’s breast on the reverse) are opposite each other, the series is notorious for weak strikes. The series is an ideal place for cherrypickers to ply their trade. 

With mintages in the millions, the 1927-S and 1935-D Walking Liberty half dollars are extremely common coins, except when they’re fully struck. Fox said he’d never seen a fully struck coin of either date.

In 1998, researcher David W. Lange wrote a series of articles in The Numismatist called, “Assembling the Ideal 20th-Century Type Set.” He detailed the best struck and most attractive coin for each series. For Walking Liberty half dollars he settled on the 1933-S coin. It is, he declared, “the coin with the greatest amount of fine detail this type ever possessed.” 

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