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1921-S not key, but still good in any grade

?Close but no cigar? might well be the way to describe the 1921-S Walking Liberty half dollar. It?s close to the top in virtually every grade, but it?s almost never the key date. It may be overshadowed by the key dates, but anyone who tries to assemble a Walking Liberty half dollar set quickly realizes that the 1921-S is an awfully good date no matter what the grade.

Right from the start the 1921-S emerged as a good date, but it was in the shadows of the lower-mintage Philadelphia and 1921-D. Philadelphia had a mintage of 246,000, and the 1921-D was at just 208,000. The 1921-S just did not compare with its mintage of 548,000.

The fact that the three 1921 half dollars had a combined total of barely 1 million was not lost on collectors and dealers. The reason for it was the Mint?s return to silver dollar production that year. The Secretary of the Treasury wanted at least 200 million silver dollars, and he wanted them in a hurry. Everything else was put on hold to get large numbers of silver dollars produced. In fact, no half dollars were minted in 1922, and San Francisco produced only a small total in 1923.

There was very little saving of new half dollar dates at the time. The denomination was simply too high for most collectors, and dealers were not interested.

The 1921 half dollar circulated for years before being pulled from circulation by a later generation of collectors. Since the 1921-S has the highest mintage of the three produced that year, it is no great surprise that it is the least expensive in G-4 today. It is valued at $46, while the 1921 is at $185 and the 1921-D is at $315. However, the 1921-S has made a pretty good price move. Its G-4 value was just $20 in 1998.

The 1921 and 1921-D fall behind the 1921-S in Mint State. For example, in MS-60 the 1921-S is at $14,000, while the 1921 and 1921-D are both less than $5,500. In fact, the 1921-S in MS-60 is the most expensive Walking Liberty half dollar. The problem is that, despite a current value of $105,000 in MS-65, the 1921-S trails the 1919-D?s MS-65 value of $130,000.

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has seen just over 120 Mint State examples of the 1921-S. Some could be repeat submissions. In MS-65 or better, the total is 18 and three of them are MS-66. Professional Coin Grading Company has seen just over 130 Mint State examples. Of that total, 21 were considered MS-65 or better and just one was MS-66.

Today?s supply is simply not going to satisfy an increase in demand, which is likely since the Walking Liberty half dollar is among today?s favorite collections. This increase in demand combined with a lack of high grade examples explains why higher prices are in order for the 1921-S, especially in Mint State.