Thursday, December 22, 2016

Walking Liberty Half Dollar, 1916-1947

So open up your morning light
And say a little prayer for right
You know that if we are to stay alive
Then see the peace in every eye
--Paula Cole

In 1915 new Mint Director Robert Woolley commissioned a competition for designs to replace the Barber half dollar. The winning design came from Adoph A. Weinman, a German immigrant and sculptor. (Weinman also won the dime competition with a design that affectionately become known as the 'Mercury dime').

1934-S Walking Liberty Half Dollar PCGS MS66+ CAC

The obverse of Weinman's half dollar design featured a full length Lady Liberty striding to the left across the landscape with an American flag behind her blowing in the breeze. She carries branches of laurel and oak in her left arm, symbolic of civic and military virtue. Her right arm is outstretched in the spirit of liberty. She walks toward the dawn of a new day, with the sun rising near her feet on the periphery at about 7 o'clock. The coin's lettering was art deco style. LIBERTY surrounds the top with the date at the bottom. IN GOD WE TRUST appears in the lower right field.

1937-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar PCGS MS67 ex Sounder

On the reverse, an eagle stretches its wings from a mountain crag in a display of spirit and power. A pine branch springs from the rock at the eagle's feet, symbolic of strength. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA circles the top and HALF DOLLAR circles the bottom. E PLURIBUS UNUM is inscribed to the left of the eagle at 9 o'clock. Weinman's initials appear below the eagle's tail feathers at about 4 o'clock near the rim.

1939 Walking Liberty Half Dollar PCGS PR67

When the design was made public, the patriotic theme resonated. The 'Walking Liberty' half dollar was hailed by many as America's most beautiful coin--a label that persists today in the minds of many.

Diameter: 30.6 mm
Weight: 12.5 g
Composition: silver .90; copper .10
Edge: Reeded

1942 Walking Liberty Half Dollar PCGS MS67+ CAC

Walkers were first struck for circulation in late 1916. The design proved difficult to produce in full detail with the obverse center, particularly Ms Lib's arm and fingers, often weakly struck and exhibiting a noticeably flat appearance. The series was struck from 1916 until 1947 with some breaks in the 1920s and early 1930s. The Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco mints all struck Walkers during the series run. Proof coins were struck for collectors from 1936 to 1942.

1944-S Walking Liberty Half Dollar PCGS MS66

Collectors seeking to amass sets of business strike Walkers have several options. Some pursue the entire 1916-1947 series although this can be quite challenging due the scarcity of several early issues, particularly in high grades. The forty coin 'late date' set interests many collectors as it spans 1933 thru 1947 with all issues available in mint-state grades. Finally, there is the twenty coin 'short' set spanning 1941 thru 1947 that is very popular--particularly as a way to affordably get started in the series.

1947-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar PCGS MS66+ CAC

The Walking Liberty half is also important from a historical standpoint. The series spanned several defining periods in twentieth century America. Walkers were introduced as the US moved from peace to World War I. It was carried in people's pockets during the Roaring Twenties and the Depressionary Thirties. It remained the bulwark of everyday commerce during World War II, and exited the other side to peace once again.

War and peace. Boom and bust. The Walking Liberty half constitutes an artifact of the best and worst of times.

No comments: