If you want the keys to a Walking Liberty half dollar collection, the general belief is that you need simply turn to the three 1921 dates.
That has changed in recent years, as the 1919-D has been discovered to be the true key date in MS-65 and up. Moreover, there are some other good dates, but the 1921 Walking Liberty half dollars still stand out.
The 1921-D and 1921, pictured at left, Walking Liberty half dollars had mintages of less than 250,000 each because the nation?s mints were busy making silver dollars.
The U.S. mints were too busy to make many half dollars because the Secretary of the Treasury decided that the priority in 1921 was to make silver dollars. There was a good reason ? the melting of just over 270 million silver dollars as a result of the Pittman Act in 1918 had meant that Silver Certificates had to be replaced, as they promised payment in the form of a silver dollar.
There were no longer enough silver dollars, so new issues had to be released and they were backed by notes paying 2-percent interest. That was lost money in the mind of the Secretary and he wanted it stopped immediately. To do that, he needed new Silver Certificates and to have them, he needed new silver dollars.
In the process, the production of all other denominations suffered. The 1921 half dollar mintages showed the Philadelphia at 246,000, while the 1921-D was at 208,000 and the 1921-S was at 548,000, meaning the three combined had barely topped the 1 million mark.
In later years, there would have been heavy saving and hoarding of such low-mintage dates, but this was 1921. Less than a decade earlier, half dollars for three straight years had mintages of less than 200,000. Moreover, there were relatively few who were interested in circulating half dollars ? the denomination was simply too high for most collectors.
The result was that the 1921 half dollars were never saved in large numbers back in 1921. In addition, they were not saved for many years, as there was no influx of collectors to want them and without collectors, there was no reason for the dealers of the day to tie up funds with low-mintage half dollars.
That took a toll on the coins in terms of their grades and makes the 1921 issues tough in upper circulated grades.
In fact, with limited interest, the lower-grade prices for dates like the 1921 were not especially high for a long time. Back in 1998, it listed for $73 in G-4, which is really not that much when you consider the mintage. Today, however, the G-4 price is $175, although that is still $100 lower than the 1921-D.
In the case of Mint State examples of the 1921, we have also seen increases. Back in 1998, it was $2,850 in MS-60, with an MS-65 at $12,000 as recently as 2002. Today, however, the MS-60 price of the 1921 is $4,350, while an MS-65 is at $18,000 although those levels are still well below the other 1921 dates and the 1919-D, 1918-D and a few others.
If the grading service totals are accurate, the 1921 still has room for higher prices, as NGC reports just 27 examples graded MS-65 or better, while the PCGS total is 62 in MS-65 or better.
With any sort of additional demand, the 1921 could not only increase in MS-65, but in most other grades, as well. The roadblock to higher prices for the 1921 has always been limited demand.
With time, that could change and it could mark a new day for the 1921 and other better Walking Liberty half dollars. In the meantime, the 1921 has to be seen as a better-date Walking Liberty half dollar.