The 1919-D Walking Liberty half dollar has emerged as one of the most interesting coins of the past century. It is also one of the toughest coins of the past century, at least in MS-65.
In going back to 1919 to try to determine what caused the 1919-D to become so tough in top grades, we find no clear reason beyond the fact that the 1919-D was a Walking Liberty half dollar and there were very few collecting them at the time.
In 1919 the average collector did not have holders to house a collection and was still collecting by date. The high face value of the half dollar worked against them having much popularity. Surely people must have loved the Walking Liberty design, but that doesn?t mean many were willing to shell out the $1.50 face value for one from each mint every year. In fact, dealers of the period didn?t even bother to stock current issues in many cases.
Of those who did assemble Walking Liberty half dollar collections by date and mint, many did so by finding them mixed in with all the Barber halves in circulation.
Certainly the 1919-D half dollar would not have stood out as especially promising. It had a mintage of 1,165,000, which wasn?t even the lowest Walking Liberty half dollar mintage of the year. The 1919 from Philadelphia was at just 962,000. The 1919-S was just over 1.5 million, so there was no reason to suspect that some day the 1919-D would bring enormous prices in top grades.
In 1919 most would have viewed the coins as uncirculated or circulated, not in terms of MS-65. That lack of precision in grading could have caused the best examples to be simply overlooked.
The 1919-D is better in G-4 at $18, but that is behind the 1919 and far behind the key dates. In MS-60 at $6,250 the 1919-D is still lower in price than the 1921-S, but that is the one exception. That tells us that the 1919-D was not saved in any significant numbers back in 1919.
The 1919-D?s MS-65 price of $130,000 is the highest MS-65 price for a Walking Liberty half dollar by a wide margin. The 1921-S is next at $105,000.
Naturally there have to be some interesting grading service totals to support such a price. The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation shows just four examples of the 1919-D in MS-65 out of 196 coins graded. The Professional Coin Grading Service graded 257 examples. The total in MS-65 or better stands at 10, with 9 in MS-65 and one MS-66. It is also interesting that the total number of 1919-D examples submitted is low. This is another indicator that there was not much saving at the time and supports the high MS-60 price.
We cannot be certain of precisely what happened, but the one thing we do know is that the 1919-D is a date that becomes tougher in each higher grade to the point that it barely is known at all in MS-65.