Walking Liberty half dollars of the 1940s are often treated as a group rather than as individual dates and mintmarks.
It’s natural since in some cases they had very high mintages. In other cases, they were heavily saved. Certainly for the 1940s issues there were simply more collectors and also more dealers willing to save some extra examples as opposed to the situation a couple decades earlier where the dealers would have felt there was no interest in Walking Liberty half dollars.
By the standards of the 1940s, the 1942-S had a fairly large mintage for a branch mint coin. Its total was 12,708,000. While the war year mintages at Philadelphia were sometimes at record levels, the totals from San Francisco and Denver were usually much lower. In all cases after 1945 we see far lower mintages because no additional half dollars were needed.
In circulated grades the 1942-S is basically an available date. That is the story of all dates starting with 1941 as those dates are the ones included in the so-called “short set.” These are oftentimes assembled by collectors who want high grade examples of Walking Liberty half dollars, but who are unable to afford the high prices of earlier dates like the 1919-D and 1921-S. As a result, the short set of 1941-1947 becomes a collection by itself and within it comparisons can be made.
What you find is that in the short set dates, the 1942-S suddenly looks much better. It is not the key date in a short set, but its prices of $37 in MS-60 and $610 in MS-65 put it among the top few dates.
It must be remembered that the numbers seen of these dates are not going to be anywhere near the low levels of earlier dates. Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has seen 911 examples of the 1942-S in MS-65 and just over 160 in MS-66. That seems high but it is not when compared to other Walking Liberty half dollars from the 1940s. In fact, it is a low total.
One of the characteristics of the 1942-S, as well as other San Francisco dates, is that many times it was softly struck. We do not know why this happened, but we know that many of the half dollars produced by the facility in the 1940s came out appearing flat. This means few coins make MS-65.
Considering the high number seen by NGC in MS-65, some might question whether the 1942-S has much of a future in terms of price increases. It’s a fair question. While the numbers are low compared to other dates from the 1940s, they are high when compared to Walking Liberty half dollars from the 1920s and earlier.
However, the short set is popular, which adds to the demand. The 1942-S is needed for a regular Walker set as well as a short set. Moreover, there is strong demand because people especially want a Walking Liberty half dollar with a great design in high grade. So don’t count the 1942-S out for future increases, as there is strong demand to test that good supply in top grades.