As it turned out there were not one but two different 1917-S Walking Liberty half dollars. That is not all that unusual; however, what is unusual is that both 1917-S Walking Liberty half dollars are good and both are really special in top grades.
In 1917, the designs that were first released in 1916 were getting some additional attention. This is not all that surprising since the dime, quarter and half dollar all received new designs in 1916.
As 1917 dawned, the Walking Liberty half dollar production continued at San Francisco. It would produce a total of 952,000 examples of the old style that featured the “S” mintmark on the obverse under “TRUST.” The relatively low mintage would make it a better date today at $27 in G-4.
It must be remembered that the second year saving of a new design is usually much lower than the first as the novelty of the new design has worn off. The Professional Coin Grading Service reports nearly 400 Mint State examples of the obverse mintmark 1917-S, but only 38 were called MS-65 or better. The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation reports less than 150 examples of the obverse mintmark 1917-S in Mint State, and just 17 were called MS-65 or better.
The combined total of 55 examples in MS-65 or better is certainly not a large one. It might be enough to keep the prices of the obverse mintmark 1917-S from climbing rapidly, but there is certainly not enough to guarantee satisfaction of future demand.
The situation in 1917 was complicated by the fact that both the Walking Liberty half and the Standing Liberty quarter received modifications. The quarter changes involving covering Liberty’s exposed left breast are more famous, but the fact remains that both the quarter and half dollar had some small changes, probably produced by the haste of production in 1916.
The most obvious change to the Walking Liberty half dollar was that the mintmark was taken off the obverse and placed on the reverse at about the 8 o’clock position near the rim. The mintage of the 1917-S with the reverse mintmark was 5,554,000. Today it is at $9.70 in G-4, $330 in MS-60 and $13,850 in MS-65.
It is worth remembering that while not considered a different type by most, the obverse mintmark did stand out, so they were saved as a novelty. The reverse mintmark 1917-S did not have that advantage but with its large mintage it was likely to be found in some numbers, at least in circulated grades.
In Mint State we find that the 1917-S with reverse mintmark has appeared about 370 times at NGC with an MS-65 or better total of about 17. At PCGS it has been called Mint State more than 390 times and of that total, 38 were named MS-65 or better.
With both grading services in agreement that the two are nearly identical in availability in MS-65 or above, today’s price difference is hard to justify except for the fact that the obverse mintmark may have greater demand because of its novel appeal.