Walking Liberty Half Dollars 1916-1947 Coin Guide
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Walking Liberty Half Dollars 1916-1947
Thomas Woodrow Wilson narrowly won re-election as 28th president of the
United States, campaigning on the slogan, "He kept us out of
war!" Within a few months, American troops would be heading for
Europe after all. Mack Sennett's Keystone Kops were making millions laugh
in the nation's movie houses, while New York's Wally Pipp was home-run
king in baseball's American League.
The year was 1916, and America was a nation in ferment. It was a time
of transition: from horse and buggy to horseless carriage ... farms to
cities ... domestic tranquility to foreign entanglement ... peace to war.
Major changes were taking place in United States coinage, too. Within
the previous decade, exciting new designs had debuted on six different
U.S. coins, supplanting the serene, sedate 19th-century portraits that
preceded them. And now, in 1916, three more old-style coins-the Barber
silver coins-were heading for the sidelines as well.
Outside artists not on the staff of the U.S. Mint had furnished new
designs for the six previous changes, and Mint Director Robert W. Woolley
showed his satisfaction by going outside again. In 1915, he invited three
noted sculptors-Hermon A. MacNeil, Albin Polasek and Adolph A. Weinman,
all of New York City-to prepare designs for the three silver coins,
apparently with the intention of awarding a different coin to each artist.
The Mint may not have planned it this way, but Weinman ended up getting
two of the three coins, the dime and half dollar, with MacNeil getting the
quarter and Polasek being shut out. It's hard to imagine how Polasek or
anyone else could have improved on the winning entries, though, for all
three of the new coins-the Mercury dime, Standing Liberty quarter and
Walking Liberty half dollar-are magnificent coinage artworks.
A.A. Weinman was born in Germany but came to the United States at the
age of ten in 1880. He honed his skills as a student of the famed Augustus
Saint-Gaudens and, by 1915, he was widely acclaimed as one of the nation's
For the obverse of his design, Weinman chose a full-length figure of
Liberty striding toward the dawn of a new day, clad in the Stars and
Stripes and carrying branches of laurel and oak symbolizing civil and
military glory. The reverse depicts a majestic eagle perched on a mountain
crag, wings unfolded in a pose suggesting power, with a sapling of
mountain pine-symbolic of America-springing from a rift in the rock. These
strongly patriotic themes resonated perfectly across a nation then
preparing to enter World War I, ironically against the land of Weinman's
birth. Weinman placed his initials (AW) directly under the eagle's
Unlike the other two Barber coins, the Barber half dollar wasn't
produced in 1916. Even so, the Mint delayed release of the new Walking
Liberty coin until late November. It drew immediate praise. The New York
Sun, for instance, pronounced it a "lively" coin, typifying
"hustle," while the Boston Herald said it had a "forward
look on its face."
First-year coins from the branch mints in Denver and San Francisco
carry the "D" or "S" mintmark on the obverse, below IN
GOD WE TRUST, as do some pieces minted the following year. Partway through
production in 1917, the mintmarks' location was moved to the lower left of
the reverse, just below the sapling, and that's where it remained until
the series ended in 1947.
Over 485 million Walking Liberty halves were made between 1916 and
1947, but they were issued only sporadically during the 1920s and early
'30s, none being minted in 1922, 1924-26 and 1930-32. These were coins
with substantial buying power, enough to buy a loaf of bread, a quart of
milk and a dozen eggs in the early '30s, so it didn't take huge quantities
to fill Americans' needs, especially after the Wall Street crash plunged
the nation into the Great Depression.
Mintages were particularly low in 1921, and the P, D and S half dollars
from that year all rank among the major keys of the series. Other scarce
issues include the 1916, 1916-S, 1917-D and S (with the mintmarks on the
obverse) and 1938-D. Brilliant proofs were minted from 1936 to 1942,
totaling 74,400 pieces, and a very few satin-finish proofs were struck in
1916 and '17.
"Walkers," as they're frequently called, are large,
precious-metal coins with a much-admired design. As a result, they hold
great appeal not only for traditional hobbyists but also for
non-collectors. Many exist in grades up to Mint State-65. Even above that
level, significant numbers exist for certain dates, particularly the later
years. Most dates, however, come weakly struck, particularly on Liberty's
left hand and leg, head and skirt lines and on the eagle's breast and leg
feathers. Sharply struck coins often command substantial premiums. In an
attempt to improve the striking characteristics of the design, some minor
modifications were made by Chief Engraver George T. Morgan in 1918 and
again by Assistant Engraver John R. Sinnock in 1937 and 1938. None of the
revisions seemed to help, as even later issues are often weak in the
central parts of the design. Places to check for wear include Liberty's
head, breast, arms and left leg and the breast, leg and forward wing of
A full set consists of 65 different date-and-mint combinations but is
attempted and completed by many collectors. Although Walkers were not
saved in any quantity by the public, particularly in the Depression years,
professional numismatists like Wayte Raymond and others put away many
early rolls during the '30s. Uncirculated specimens of certain dates in
the 1910s and '20s are probably only available today due to the foresight
of these astute dealers. Later-date Walkers also have a strong following:
many collectors assemble "short sets" from 1934 to 1947 or 1941
to '47. Type collectors just seek a single, high-grade example.
The Franklin half dollar succeeded the Walker in 1948. But 38 years
later, in 1986, Uncle Sam dusted off the Weinman design for the obverse of
the one-ounce American Eagle silver bullion coin, which has been minted
annually ever since.
Diameter: 30.6 millimeters Weight: 12.50 grams Composition: .900
silver, .100 copper Edge: Reeded Net Weight: .36169 ounce pure silver
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Breen, Walter, Walter Breen's Complete
Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Press/Doubleday, New York,
1988. Fox, Bruce, The Complete Guide To Walking Liberty Half Dollars, DLRC
Press, Virginia Beach, VA, 1993. Taxay, Don, The U.S. Mint and Coinage,
Arco Publishing Co., New York, 1966. Vermeule, Cornelius, Numismatic Art
in America, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA,
1971. Yeoman, R.S., A Guide Book of United States Coins, 47th Edition.
Western Publishing Co., Racine, WI, 1993.
Coin Information Provided Courtesy NGC.