Walking Liberty half dollars could still be found in change as late as 1966. The oldest half dollar I received in change was a 1943-D, still in nice condition. Once the Kennedy half dollar was introduced in 1964, half dollars all but disappeared from circulation. When clad coinage began, silver coins could still be found with regularity for a few more years.
The Walking Liberty half dollar is considered to be the most beautiful United States silver coin. Minted from 1916-1947, it was the last regular-issue coin to feature Miss Liberty. It’s a good-sized set, with different ways of collecting, including a short set (1941-1947) and proofs. At one time, it may have been possible to assemble a full set from circulation. But in later times, dedicated collectors have found ways to find these coins.
A local coin shop had albums filled with different dates of half dollars, many in better grades, some with claims to Mint State. A good number of Walkers were displayed in these albums. Nearly all were World War II era coins, from 1941-1945 and a few later dates. I put together a short set this way.
The 1941-S half dollar, known for weak strikes, had a typical weakness on the obverse. The 1944-P was pretty, and so was the 1945-S.
Another dealer had an attractive group of Walkers to look through. Again, these were mostly dated 1941-45, but conditions were much better than average. Even a fussy type collector could have found a nice specimen for a set.
Proofs were struck from 1936-1942. The lovely design, with full details and mirror-like surfaces, really showed this coin to best advantage. During the 1960s, I heard stories of Walkers being polished with jeweler’s rouge to simulate a brilliant proof. Close study will show that these coins are not genuine proofs.
Browsing through an antique store can yield some surprising finds. I spotted a few well-worn half dollars in one store. And I had to look closer at one coin. Did I see a “1” in the date, as in 1921? I bought the coin for a few dollars, got it home, and examined it carefully. Not 1921, but 1941. This coin had seen heavy use and really did the job it was created to do. I’d never seen any coin from the 1940s that was so worn.
A few 1916 patterns are known to exist. These pieces have subtle differences in the design and positioning of the mottoes. One pattern illustrated in a guidebook shows extensive wear. I wonder how many of these patterns got out and circulated, passing through many hands, until pulled by a numismatist who recognized it. Maybe one or two of these were melted in the silver melt of 1980.
Walkers are plentiful at shows. I have seen displays of assorted dates to pick from, and they are not always the expected 1941-45 coins. No 1938-D in these hoards, but a good variety of dates, mintmarks, and conditions.
Once in a while, a full set is offered for sale. The lovely design is even more impressive in an album or holder with the other coins. I once saw a better-than-average circulated set at a show that was attractive and a nice buy for someone who admired the coin but couldn’t spend big bucks for super Mint State coins.
Collectors who appreciate this design have another collecting goal: a set of silver Eagles from 1986 to date. The obverse was brought back for this one-ounce silver piece. Don’t forget the gold restrike minted in 2016, to honor the 100th anniversary of this coin. It’s true to the original, down to the last detail.
This most beautiful silver coin can be collected in many different ways and can be a challenge for years to come. The days of finding a set, even a short set, out of circulation is long past. But looking through many of these coins, checking hoards and displays, and keeping a collector’s eyes open can bring great results.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.
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