The 1938-D Walking Liberty half dollar seems to get more interesting as time passes. As it rises in price, it raises questions that we thought we had answered years ago. That makes the 1938-D a coin that bears watching in the future while we try to figure out precisely what happened to make it more available than we thought and now perhaps less available than we suspected.
The 1938-D’s mintage is 491,600. While not that low for a Walking Liberty half dollar, it still sticks out as there has not been another business strike since 1938 with a mintage even remotely close.
There was no particular reason that we know of for the low total. It simply appears to have been a low mintage year for half dollars.
When it comes to saving in the 1930s, we have evidence that dealers and collectors were likely to save what they thought were going to be better dates based on low mintage totals.
Even as the introduction of set albums changed the approach to collecting, it cannot be forgotten that the 1938-D was a half dollar, which was a lot of money at the time. There were simply not a lot of half dollar collectors. A total of 24 complete sets of Barber half dollars were found in the “New York Subway Hoard,” begun in the 1940s from circulation. There also were better dates that in some cases would have been seen as better than the 1938-D. So while there was saving, just how good the 1938-D looked to collectors and dealers is another question.
Historically speaking, the 1938-D has always been viewed as a better date thanks to that low mintage. Just how much better was usually the question. Its prices always lagged behind the prices that might have been expected had it been from the 1920s or earlier.
In the past few years, however, the 1938-D seems to have been getting more attention. The reason is again the mintage, coupled with fairly low prices. In fact, some thought it looked like a sleeper and a well-known one, which is even better.
Since 1998 and in just the past couple of years there have been some impressive price movements for the 1938-D.
Priced at just $22 in G-4 back in 1998, the 1938-D has soared to a G-4 price of $90. It is not the most expensive Walking Liberty half dollar in G-4, but that price puts it in fourth place, which is almost exactly right based on its mintage.
In MS-60 the 1938-D had a $380 price in 1998, and that price is now $525. In MS-65 its 1998 price has increased about 50 percent to a current listing of $1,550. It is one of only three dates after 1935 in the set to be more than $1,000 in MS-65.
This gains a lot of new respect for the 1938-D, and it is probably well deserved as the amount of hoarding, while real, was always suspect because of the denomination. Today it looks better than it was in 1998, perhaps in part because we have a better idea of just how tough it really is in most grades.