A Comprehensive Guide on How to Sell Walking Liberty Half Dollars for More
They say that knowledge is power. And just like anything else in life, the more familiar you are with something, the greater your likelihood of success. When it comes to collecting coins, it’s no different. There are a multitude of U.S. silver coins that have been produced over the years, but few compare to the collectability and prestige of the Walking Liberty half dollar.
In this post, we’ll highlight these desirable coins, share some of the history as to how these coins came about, including when they were produced, and who designed them. We’ll also address some of the lower mintage coins and how condition affects the value.
Our goal is to properly equip you so that you’ll experience a successful outcome when it comes time to sell your Walking Liberty halves.
Walking Liberty half dollars, affectionately known in the coin industry as “Walkers,” were minted for 31 years, from 1916 to 1947. These coins are composed of 90% silver, and unlike the Kennedy half dollar, it’s virtually unheard of to find one in circulation today. These coins also replaced the Liberty Head half dollar (aka – Barber half dollar) designed by Charles E. Barber that was minted from 1892 through 1915.
Robert W. Woolley, who became the new U.S. Mint Director in 1915, believed at the time that he was required by law to replace any coin designs which had been used for 25 years or more. As a result, he sought to replace the Barber coinage, including half dollars.
Wooley enlisted The Commission of Fine Arts to help find a new design, and so they sponsored a contest. Adolph A. Weinman, an American sculptor born in Germany, won the competition and designed not only the Walking Liberty half dollar that we know and love today but the Mercury dime as well.
FUN FACT: This winning design was also the first new image on half dollars made in the 20th century!
However, the new half dollar design had to overcome some pretty big hurdles before officially being released into circulation which makes this coin all the more intriguing.
After the initial pattern coins were struck, Weinman realized the word “Liberty” on the obverse did not turn out well due to the original design. And so, with Wooley’s approval, the obverse was redesigned.
Unfortunately, this change also meant a delay in final production. Shortly after these changes were made, Wooley resigned as U.S. Mint Director to become Woodrow Wilson’s reelection campaign director. President Wilson nominated Friedrich Johannes Hugo von Engelken as Wooley’s successor and took office on September 1, 1916.
By this time the half dollar pattern coin had been approved but issues with the Mercury dime design was found to be problematic when used in vending machines.
Records show the “fin” design had excess metal at the edge of the coin causing it to be too thick when inserted into vending machines. To add to the issue, when or if the fin broke off, the silver coins would be underweight. This was the same problem that ultimately impacted the Walking Liberty coin as well.
Walking Liberty Design Delays
All the design and delay issues caused fear for the current administration that if they were unable to successfully issue new coins, it could become a political issue for the upcoming Presidential race. As a result, Barber asked to redesign Weinman’s original works by adding a beaded border and reducing the size of the Lady Liberty.
Thankfully, Philadelphia Mint Supervisor Adam M. Joyce was able to work around the rim and edge issues by lowering the relief slightly and adjusting the force with which the Mint’s presses struck the planchets or blanks. These adjustments proved to be successful and resulted in the finalization of Weinman’s vision for the coins.
Although the adjustments were accepted and approved, all three mints had trouble with the coins and many pieces struck were noticeably weak and did not showcase the sharp detail Weinman intended.
This is an important detail to consider when collecting these lovely pieces as many of those released directly from the mint resembled a circulated coin due to the softer strikes.
Walking Liberty Half Dollar Description
Weinman’s final design of the Walking Liberty half dollar features a full-length image of Lady Liberty. She walks with a long stride and holds branches of laurel and oak, which symbolize civil and military glory. Her right hand is outstretched, in bestowal of the spirit of liberty.
The folds of the American flag fly in the wind in the background. The sun, complete with beams of light, is on Lady Liberty’s lower left side. “In God We Trust” is to her lower right. “Liberty” is engraved around the edge of the coin from above the sun on the left to the same point on the right. The coin’s year of mintage is in the bottom center of the coin, below Lady Liberty’s left foot.
The reverse of the Walking Liberty Half Dollar depicts a bald eagle with unfolded wings perched on a steep mountain crag. A symbol of America, a sapling mountain pine springs from a rift in the rock.
The Walking Liberty half dollar, arguably one of the most beautiful coins ever made in the United States, is so popular that its design was revived by the government in 1986 when a modified version was used as the image for American silver eagle coins, the most popular government-issued 1 oz silver bullion coin in the market today.
Value of Walking Liberty Half Dollars
When setting out to sell Walking Liberty half dollars, it’s essential to be aware of the value of the individual coins. Most of these coins are traded in bulk and are commonly referred to as “junk silver.” This simply means that the value is derived from the underlying silver content as opposed to any collectible or numismatic value.
However, this doesn’t mean that all Walking Liberty silver half dollars trade merely for their silver value. In fact, there are a handful of coins that regularly trade well above these rates, which we’ll highlight below.
1921 Walking Liberty Silver Half Dollars
- In general, Walking Liberty half dollars produced in 1921 tend to be the most valuable coins. This is because they were among the lowest minted coins in the Walking Liberty half dollar series.
- All combined, less than one million half dollars were produced by the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco mints. The lowest minted of the three was the 1921-D half dollar with a mintage of 208,000, followed by the 1921-P half dollar with a mintage of 246,000, and last but not least, the 1921-S half dollar with a production of 548,000.
- As you would expect, the lowest mintage of the three coins is the most valuable, but interestingly, the 1921-S Walking Liberty half dollar is the most valuable in uncirculated condition. As we’ve highlighted in previous articles, the San Francisco mint had a reputation of poorly struck coins, which is why fewer uncirculated specimens of this coin exist.
1916 Walking Liberty Silver Half Dollars
- While not as rare or valuable as the 1921 half dollars, 1916 Walking Liberty half dollars are also a lower mintage series of coins that sell for a premium above their silver content.
- 1916 half dollars were produced at more than double the clip of 1921 half dollars with a total mintage of 2.13 million coins. The rarest of the three is the 1916-s, with a mintage of 508,000. The next lowest mintage is the 1916-P with a production of 608,000 coin and finally the 1916-D, which had a total mintage of over 1 million coins.
- Similar to the 1921 coins, the lower the mintage, the higher the value. Considering that the lowest mintage of the three coins was the San Francisco-issued coin and San Francisco-minted coins tended to be weaker struck than their Philadelphia and Denver-issued counterparts, this is the most valuable of the three coins in uncirculated condition.
1938-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar
- The last Walking Liberty half dollar that trades at a premium in circulated condition is the 1938-D half dollar. This coin had a production run of 491,000, which is on par with some of the other coins that we’ve highlighted above.
- The relatively low mintage of the coin translates into a higher value, with prices starting at $25. Values jump to the $300 range, or more, in uncirculated condition. Needless to say, this is a difficult coin to find in uncirculated condition, and for that matter, just a harder coin to find in general. In fact, it’s typically one of only a few coins missing when we purchase an incomplete Walking Liberty half dollar set.
As we alluded to above, the condition of Walking Liberty half dollars matters. Even if a common date coin, you should expect to receive a premium when you sell Walking Liberty half dollars in almost uncirculated (AU) condition or above.
Additionally, many of the other coins in the Walking Liberty coin series are considered common coins in average circulated condition but jump substantially in price when in AU condition or above.
Unfortunately, a thorough discussion of each of these coins is beyond the scope of this article. See the image below to get you started in determining the grade of your Walking Liberty half dollars.
If you have a complete collection of Walking Liberty half dollars with every date and mintmark, congratulations! This is quite an accomplishment for any collector. Typically, mostly due to financial constraints, many coin collectors will assemble short sets, which means the dates and mintmarks span only a few years, such as from 1941 through 1947 or focus on one of the three mints – Denver, San Francisco or Philadelphia.
Remember, not all Walking Liberty half dollars are created equal. In particular, the 1921 and 1916 series, along with the 1938-d trade at the highest values in circulated condition. Other coins, even if produced in large quantities, will sell at a premium in high-end condition, not to mention the handful of coins that trade at substantial premiums when in AU condition or better. It’s important to be aware of these particular coins prior to selling your Walking Liberty half dollars so that you maximize the value when the time comes to sell your coins.
Several options exist if you’re in the market to sell Walking Liberty half dollars such as jewelry stores, pawn shops and “we buy gold” stores. However, many of these options are not coin experts, and you’re not likely to receive a premium for low mintage and high-end condition coins.
While auctions are also an option, they can be quite costly and are less reliable than other means. We do suggest identifying a reputable local or online coin dealer to whom to sell your coins.
The coin experts at Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers carefully review all Walking Liberty half dollars to ensure that you’re being paid a fair price for your coins. While most of the coins we purchase fall under the “junk silver” category, that’s not the case with all of them. Don’t leave money on the table by selling to just any coin dealer.
Contact us today at 678-498-6165 to receive more and to see why we’re the preferred coin dealer in the Southeast.
Happy Treasure Hunting!