In some respects it’s a key date and it others it is just a semi-key, but when you are talking about the best Walking Liberty half dollar you have to at least consider the 1921 as it is a special coin ranking as one of the best of the 20th century.
The situation in 1921 was custom made for better dates. The country was in a steep recession following a post-World War I economic boom. Coin demand was down sharply.
Silver dollar production was beginning again for the first time since 1904. The mission was to replace 270 million dollars melted under the terms of the 1918 Pittman Act. The recovered silver had been shipped to India to bolster the rupee. India belonged to Great Britain and Britain was a crucial ally in World War I against Germany.
Dollar coins produced in 1921 and later were expected to sit in vaults as backing for Silver Certificates.
Production numbers for other denominations depended on demand from the banking system. It is obvious from the mintage, that demand for the 1921 half dollar was not high. Philadelphia cranked out just 246,000 of them. Normally, that would stand out and collectors and the public would save them in the expectation they would be scarce, but the 1921 actually had a higher mintage than the 208,000 Denver output. The 1921-S had a mintage of 548,000. Under the circumstances, it was hard for a coin like 1921 to attract attention.
Saving half dollars was an expensive proposition in 1921. It was two hours’ pay for most workers. For most collectors, the idea of collecting half dollars was not even on the radar screen. The coins basically did their job by going into circulation.
From the vantage point of today, it is easy to wonder why a coin that is priced at $165 in G-4, ranking it number two in the series, did not quickly rise to prominence. The 1921-D is $310 in the same grade.
In Mint State grades the 1921 is overshadowed by even more dates. The 1919-D is $5,950 compared to $4,500 in Mint State-60. The 1921-S is $12,950. The 1919-D is just $25 in G-4, so it is obvious even fewer of this date were saved in top grades compared to the 1921. The gap gets even larger in MS-63 where the 1919-D is $18,650 and the 1921 is $8,850 and the 1921-S is $26,500. By MS-65, the 1919-D is priced at a staggering $130,000 while the 1921 is $19,500. The 1921-S is also $130,000 in MS-65.
If you look at Coin Market you see the 1921 has the fourth highest price as an MS-60 and sixth highest as an MS-65.
At the Professional Coin Grading Service they have seen just under 250 examples of the 1921 in Mint State while the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation total is similar. This might sound like a lot but it is not for Walking Liberty half dollars where totals are many times in the thousands.
Based on the grading service numbers, the 1921 is never going to catch the leaders in terms of price, but what also is very clear is the 1921 is still a far better than average Walker. It is also a classic coin from a very unusual year in the history of the U.S. Mint. That makes it a great coin to own.
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