Only 548,000 Walking Liberty half dollars were struck at the San Francisco Mint in 1921.
Production was down at all three active U.S. mints in 1921, and the Philadelphia and Denver facilities actually produced even fewer coins than San Francisco. However, despite the larger mintage, the 1921-S is the most elusive of these three key issues in today's market.
In fact, the 1921-S is the rarest issue of the Walking Liberty series in Mint State grades.
It may be that contemporary collectors saved the lower mintage Philadelphia and Denver coins in larger numbers, while the 1921-S was relatively neglected at the time of issue.
The 1921-S is the "key" date of the Walking Liberty half dollar series.
But interestingly, it is not the rarest Walker in G or VG condition, and it is not the rarest Walker in Gem condition.
The mintage of the 1921-S is a little more than double that of the 1921 and 1921-D. And indeed the 1921 and 1921-D are rarer in G and VG condition, as are the 1917-S obverse and even the 1938-D (which is rare in circulated grades, but not so rare in mint state).
But apparently the 1921-S was not saved at the time of issue because when you get to grades VF20 and higher, the 1921-S becomes the rarest and most expensive Walking Liberty half dollar. And the 1921-S is by far the rarest Walker in mint state condition.
It is not, however, the rarest Walker in Gem condition as the 1919-D is marginally rarer. But both the 1921-S and 1919-D are extremely rare in MS65 or better condition with just a handful of each known to exist in Gem condition.
The typical mint state 1921-S has soft frosty luster with somewhat of a satin look. That is of course unless the coin has toned, and there are probably as many toned mint state specimens as there are mostly white ones. Strike can be somewhat soft on this issue, though it is not the severe problem you see with the 1919-D and the S-Mints of the 1940s.
Walking Liberty half dollar coins, a series struck between 1916 and 1945.
Adolph A. Weinman's obverse design for the Walking Liberty half dollar has been hailed as one of the greatest of all time.
It depicts a full-length allegorical Liberty striding left, garbed in the stars and stripes of Old Glory. Liberty carries in her left hand branches of laurel and oak. Her right hand is outstretched as she walks toward the dawn of a new day represented by the rising sun with rays, behind some low hills. A large, plain field is on the right, at Liberty's back.
Dominating the reverse is a left-facing fearless and powerful eagle captured with his wings about to unfold to begin flight from his perch atop a mountain crag. In the foreground is a mountain pine sapling springing from a rift in the rock. Open field space occupies a very small portion of the reverse.
Weinman had a busy year in 1916. His models for the dime and half dollar won coinage design contests. They have remarkably similar heads, although the depiction of Liberty on the half dollar does not have a winged cap. The D Mint mark for Denver or S for San Francisco appears in the obverse field on all 1916 and early 1917 issue Walking Liberty half dollars.
The Mint mark was moved to below and to the left of the mountain pine near the rim on the reverse beginning later in 1917.
Various repunched Mint mark varieties are cataloged for the series.
The coins were struck at the Philadelphia Mint without a Mint mark.
A problem encountered throughout the series is the typical weak strike. The obverse facial details and hand holding a branch are typically weak. The hand is directly in line with the high points of the eagle's breast and left leg on the reverse, which is also typically either weakly struck or the first place to wear. There simply wasn't enough metal to properly fill those design elements.
There are a number of challenging key dates to seek out in this series.
Nine issues have a mintage of less than 1 million pieces each. These are 1916, 1916-S, 1917-D (on obverse), 1917-S (on obverse), 1919, 1921, 1921-D, 1921-S and 1938-D coins.
The lowest mintage of all is 1921-D half dollar at 208,000 pieces.
The Walking Liberty half dollar appears in U.S. Proof sets of 1936 to 1942. The 1936 has the lowest Proof mintage at 3,901 pieces. The highest mintage is 21,120 pieces for 1942.
There are early dated Proofs struck individually, rather than for sets. There are, as an example, at least three known Satin Finish Proofs of the 1917 half dollar.
There are two varieties of the 1941 Proof coin, with and without the designer's initials. It took seven revisions before the Weinman design could be used on the half dollar. This was due to the high relief in several places.
Patterns exist of the Walking Liberty half dollar in several stages of its development. Although officially none of these patterns were ever released, examples are known in private hands.
The design for the half dollar could be legally changed after July 1, 1941, 25 years having passed since its introduction. However, wartime demands on the Mint allowed this design to continue through 1947.
The Walking Liberty half dollar was replaced with a design depicting Benjamin Franklin in 1948.
Date of authorization: April 2, 1792
Dates of issue: 1916-1947
Designer: Adolph Weinman
Engraver: Charles Barber
Diameter: 30.61 mm/1.21 inches
Weight: 12.50 grams/0.40 ounce
Metallic content: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight of pure silver: 11.25 grams/0.36 ounce
Mint mark: (1916): Obverse below IN GOD WE TRUST
(1917): Obverse below IN GOD WE TRUST
or reverse lower left A bell ringer
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