US Coins

1921-S Walking Liberty half tops Bonhams auction

A 1921-S Walking Liberty half dollar graded Mint State 65 by Professional Coin Grading Service topped bidding at Bonhams’ Sept. 5 Coins and Medals auction in Los Angeles, selling for $88,920.

With a mintage of 548,000, the San Francisco Mint issue is the highest mintage of the three U.S. Mints that struck Walking Liberty half dollars in 1921, but unlike the Denver and Philadelphia Mint counterparts, a smaller percentage of the 1921-S half dollars were saved at the time of issue. As Bonhams pointed out, “1921 is often regarded as a major irritant for date collectors since finding just the right coin requires persistence more than money, unlike more common Walking Liberty half dollar dates.” No 1922 Walking Liberty half dollars were struck and production of the denomination was infrequent for nearly a decade.

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In Mint State grades the 1921-S half dollar is (along with the 1919-D coin) one of the top rarities in the series, and any Uncirculated example is expensive, with MS-62 examples often trading in excess of $20,000.

On its offered coin Bonhams noted “golden patina with scattered russet accents” on both sides, further observing, “Under this thin veil of natural color, the surfaces are quite frosty with especially clean fields and show only a couple of trivial blemishes on Liberty’s skirt. The strike is well-executed for the issue if one keeps in mind the normal areas of mushiness on Liberty’s head and the eagle’s trailing leg feathers.”

When value guides differ, what is a collector to do?”How can collectors determine a coin’s value when price guides assign it different values? Also in this week’s print issue, we learn of the first report of a 2017 doubled die variety, found on a Lincoln cent.

PCGS has recorded only 15 submissions in this grade with only three graded finer.

Another noteworthy piece was a 1921-D Walking Liberty half dollar graded MS-66 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. that sold for $40,950. Unlike the previously discussed half dollar, this presented virtually no toning and was described as “snappy-looking” in the catalog. With a series-low mintage of just 208,000 coins for circulation, the 1921-D half dollar is considered a key date in all grades, and in higher Mint State grades only the 1919-D and 1921-S are rarer.

Both PCGS and NGC record three 1921-D half dollars at the MS-66 grade level with none finer. When Heritage offered a PCGS example graded MS-66 with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker in 2015, it noted that even these six submissions may represent several duplicate submissions of fewer pieces. Like the 1921-S coin, ownership of any Mint State 1921-D half dollar is a sizable achievement for a collector, though in lower Mint State grades the Denver Mint issue is a bit more available, with typical MS-62 examples trading below $10,000 at recent auctions.

Other important examples of Walking Liberty half dollars offered by Bonhams included an unusually clean 1919-D coin graded PCGS MS-63 CAC at $12,870, a well-struck PCGS MS-64 1919-S that sold for $16,965, a boldly lustrous PCGS MS-65 1920-D half that realized $14,040, and a sharp PCGS MS-64 1921 half dollar that brought $12,285.

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