The Walking Liberty half dollar is one of the three most collectible U.S. half dollar coins, with the others being the Kennedy half dollar and the Franklin half. This historic coin is not only very collectible, it’s also a beautiful and beloved American coin. Let’s talk about how the Walking Liberty half dollar came to be and what it’s worth to coin collectors today.
Early 20th Century Coin Revamps
In the early years of the twentieth century, several U.S. presidential administrations were motivated to update the coinage with designs they thought were more beautiful and modern than the Barber coins in circulation. In 1890 Congress had passed legislation regulating the design and issue of new coins, putting a 25-year limit on when the treasury could replace old designs for new. The Barber half dollar and other denominations were introduced to the American public in 1892, so the U.S. Treasury instigated the design process for a new half dollar in January of 1915.
In 1916 sculptor Adolph A. Weinman and two other sculptors were invited to submit their proposals for the Walking Liberty half dollar. The treasury selected five of Weinman’s sketches and used them for the new Mercury, or Winged Liberty Head, the dime, the Walking Liberty half dollar, and the reverse of the quarter.
The Design of the Walking Liberty Half Dollar
Some numismatists, as well as art historian Cornelius Vermule, consider Weinman’s Walking Liberty to be one of the most beautiful silver coins ever minted. Its attractiveness certainly had an impact on its enduring popularity. Some believe that Weinman was inspired by Oscar Roty’s design of “Sower” French coins featuring a provincial woman walking and sowing grain.
On the obverse of his Walking Liberty coin, Weinman’s Lady Liberty is clothed in the American flag. Its folds wave in the breeze. She walks towards the dawn of a new day and carries in one hand laurel and oak branches that symbolize civil and military glory. Her other hand is outstretched in a sign of liberty. The letters of the word LIBERTY are arranged in an arch above her, with IN GOD WE TRUST appearing just above her calf and foot. The mint year is at the bottom of the obverse.
On the reverse of the half dollar is an eagle perched on a mountain with its wings outstretched. A pine sapling springs from the rock underneath one claw. Above and below the eagle are the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and HALF-DOLLAR. To the left of his head is the motto: E PLURIBUS UNUM.
The Walking Liberty was first issued late in 1916 and continued to be minted until 1947. While the design is lovely, it never struck very well and so was replaced by the Franklin half dollar in 1947. Four decades later a modification of Weinman’s eagle design would reappear on the one-ounce American Silver Eagle bullion coin. It was also issued in gold in 2016 on the centennial anniversary of the Walking Liberty.
Value of Walking Liberty Coins
All of the Walking Liberty coins are made from an alloy composed of 90% silver and 10% copper which means they have inherent value. Even in very poor condition, they will be worth more than $10 each. Many heavily circulated coins minted from 1934 to 1947 are worth only spot metal prices for their silver content.
Numismatic pricing for Walking Liberty half dollars will vary widely depending on condition and rarity. The earlier coins are rarer and more valuable. If they are in mint condition, some are valued at five or six figures. The most valuable Walking Liberty coin is the 1921-S, closely followed by the 1921-D. Because there are so many different varieties of Walking Liberty half dollars in varying condition, there are plenty of options for collectors with different budgets. You can start with a small collection of affordable varieties and expand if you decide you would like to collect more or you have more money to invest.
If you would like help collecting different varieties of the Walking Liberty half dollar, call us at Grand Rapids Coins. We would be happy to help you assemble a limited or comprehensive collection of these beautiful coins.