The 1941-S Walking Liberty half dollar is a date people are starting to realize is much tougher than many had assumed. In the case of the 1941-S the recognition may be better late than never, but it could still be a long time before the 1941-S gets the respect it really deserves.
It has to be remembered that 1941 was a very difficult year. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor late in the year was a troubled end to the year but one that had been on the horizon for a long time.
It would be difficult if not impossible to make the case that the entry of the United States into World War II had any specific impact on collecting. Certainly some who were busily collecting went off to war and that meant putting aside their collections. But at least as far as we know there is no absolute relationship between war and a decrease in saving new coins, so there is no case to be made for the 1941-S being tougher than expected simply because of the war.
The forces at work in the case of the 1941-S are the typical suspects when it comes to tougher dates. In this case the fact that the 1941-S was a half dollar would have played a role. There were only small numbers of active half dollar collectors back in 1941. Cents or nickels might have been saved but half dollars were often too expensive for most.
It is really not until the 1940s that there appear to be any significant supplies of nicer Walking Liberty half dollars, suggesting some saving. Even then, many of the nicer coins are AU examples, likely saved not at the time they were released but rather put aside some years later, perhaps around 1948 when the Franklin half dollar made its debut.
There is very little reason to suspect the 1941-S was worth saving. The mintage of 8,098,000 was definitely low but not greatly so. After all, the 1938-D had a mintage of just 491,600, and if you look at the dates between the 1938-D and 1941-S you will find that all three coins from 1939 as well as the 1940-S had lower mintages than the 1941-S. Under such circumstances there is no reason to expect that collectors or dealers of the time would be likely to save uncirculated rolls of the 1941-S.
Also, while there might have been a few collectors in 1941 who would have looked through a number of examples of the 1941-S before picking out an especially nice one, there certainly would not have been many. The idea of asking for an MS-65 was out of the question, as the system had not even been invented yet. As a result, whatever 1941-S half dollars were saved at the time of their release were probably a rather mixed group of Mint State grades.
The lack of MS-65 examples of the 1941-S might have been relatively insignificant were it not for the fact that 1941 is the first year in the “short set” of Walking Liberty half dollars. The short set, involving dates from 1941-1947, is a way for collectors to acquire a top quality set for a smaller investment.
The dates in the short set of Walking Liberty half dollars have added demand in MS-65. For some dates that is not a major problem, but in the case of the 1941-S, it places a real strain on supplies. That is why it is $925 today and why it might well continue to go higher. It is the key date in the short set and the coin everyone examines first to see if they are getting a set where every coin meets the exacting standards of MS-65.