Collecting Walking Liberty Half Dollars

Posted on July 6, 2010 by

Walkers have always been one of the most popular United States issues to collect. For starters the design, by Adolph A. Weinman, is acknowledged as one of the most beautiful of any US coin. The entire series runs from 1916 through 1947 with 65 dates and mint marks. The series can be collected in many different ways and is often divided into three sub-series: the short set 1941-1947 (20 coins); the middle set 1934-1940 (19 coins) and the early set 1916-1933 (26 coins). There have been several good reference books written on the series. My favorite was written a couple decades ago by Bruce Fox, who helped me assemble a complete gem set in the early 90s.

Finding each date and mint mark in gem condition can be very difficult. The 1919-D is the scarcest date of the entire series in full gem but there are several other dates that are tough to find as well. However you can find all the coins in circulated condition without much difficulty. Once in the mid-90s I was on a business trip to the East Coast. My hotel was connected to a mall and I had a couple hours to kill so I wandered over to check it out. In the middle of the mall some guy had a couple 4×8 tables pushed together covered with a gigantic pile of half dollars. You could pick out any coin you wanted for $3 each. I pulled out over 100 pre-1934 mint marked Walkers over the next two hours! I settled up with him and loaded all the coins into my briefcase. Those were the days before 911 so you could carry anything through the airport without a problem. Years later when I was a coin dealer I would occasionally do a small show where I would have hundreds of circulated Walkers for sale and bought many circ sets as well.

In choice and gem uncirculated the most popular and affordable set is the short set from 1941 – 1947. The key day is the 1941-S, followed by the 1942-S. The secret to assembling a great set is knowing that not all gems are created equally. A fully struck 41-S is very difficult to find and is much scarcer than an average struck coin. Since no distinction is made in the pricing guides between fully struck and average struck Walkers there is a great opportunity in this series for the astute collector. [My definition of a fully struck Walker is: full thumb with knuckles showing and a rounded hand, full head and hair, and full skirt lines.] With some patience a complete short set of fully struck coins can be found. For several years I had a client who was assembling a complete set of fully struck Walkers. He would replace a partially struck MS65 in his collection with a fully struck MS63. He was also compiling striking characteristics on every date and mint mark. His study focused on three areas: the head, the hand and the skirt lines. Since I sold many Walkers for a period of time he would spend hours at my table examining every Walker in my inventory and compiling statistics on each coin. Reviewing his notes was very interesting. He promised to publish his work just as soon as he finished his collection. I hope he hasn’t forgotten that he promised me a copy of his book!

to be continued…

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Comments (3)

 

  1. […] The PCGS Blog has a nice post exploring different ways to collect the Walking Liberty Half Dollar series. […]

  2. Eric Draper says:

    Thanks for the article. I have been collecting for less than a year (late bloomer) and have purchased a few Walkers. I have mainly focused on the reverse of the coin because it has been easier for me to discern if it is BU or not by viewing the breast feathers and the leg feathers. (Being inexperienced I look mostly to my local dealer (Jeff Butler, Coins Plus, Santa Clarita, CA.) to advise me on which coins to purchase. Thanks to your article I will begin to look more closely at the hand, face and skirt lines.

  3. Nick Nichols says:

    When I began to collect coins as a kid in the early 60s I’d buy coin rolls from the bank. Sorting thru them I’d find plenty of ‘Walkers’ and, of course, Franklins galore.

    Thanks for your article.

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