Collecting Walking Liberty Half Dollars (part II)

Posted on July 20, 2010 by

Once the short set (1941-1947) is complete many collectors graduate to the middle set. This set runs from 1934 – 1940. The toughest date to find in fully struck condition is by far the 1935-D. It will take some patience and luck to find a fully struck 35-D. You should be prepared to pay a substantial premium as most dealers seem to be aware of the striking characteristics of this date. A little easier to find but still difficult to locate with a full strike is the 1934-S. This can be obtained with little premium. It will take a lot of looking, but the middle set can be assembled in full or nearly full strike. I had a client who assembled a middle set and short set over a period of several years. He would often stop by and we would go through my inventory and upgrade his collection if we could. He ended up with a really top notch, fully struck set. To his credit he sold me the set, in trade for gold, just before gold began its big run up. I sold the coins. Boy, do I regret that now!

The early set, from 1916-1933, is where it gets really interesting. Supposedly all the dates can be found in gem although the 1919-D is nearly impossible. When I assembled my set in the late 80s – early 90s I could not find a 1919-D or a 1921-S in full gem. Based on my experience, in gem condition the 1919-D and 1921-S are followed in scarcity by the 1918-D, 1917-S Obverse, 1917-D Reverse and 1919-S. Also, many early dates are rarely seen fully struck. It has been speculated that there was a period of time during which the Denver mint deliberately spaced dies slightly farther apart in an effort to prolong their useful life. The 1918-D, 1919-D and 1920-D all are typically very poorly struck. The only nearly fully struck 1919-D that I have ever seen was a PCGS AU58. Several of the S mint dates were weakly struck as well including those made in 1923, 1927 and 1928. Well struck examples will bring a large premium. I remember going after a nearly full strike 1927-S a few years ago in auction and watching as it brought nearly 4 times what I thought it would. All the P mint dates can be found well struck and in gem as can all the coins minted in 1916 and 1917 (except the two mentioned). Coins from 1929 and 1933 can also be found well struck in gem. Assembling a top notch early set will take a great deal of time and a fair amount of money.

When I was putting my set together I searched for a 1921-S in gem for years. I got impatient (one of the most common collector mistakes) and bought a coin in MS62. I never liked it. Then one Friday night Bruce Fox came by my house with a gorgeous, blast white, very well struck, MS64 1921-S. Eureka! It wasn’t an MS65 but it was close. I was overjoyed and quickly wrote the check for $19,500. The following Monday morning I received a call from another dealer who knew I was looking for a 21-S. “Don, I have found a special coin that you need. It’s in the mail and you should be getting it in a day or two.” When I opened the package it was another 21-S in MS64. It looked to me like the spitting image of the one that I had just bought. After searching for that date for so long I couldn’t pass it up and bought it as well (after talking him down to $19,500). I now owned three 1921-S coins! My entire set was MS65, all graded by PCGS, except for the 1921-S and the 1919-D (the best example I could find was MS63). What a beautiful site it was to lay out on the dining room table the entire set of blast white, well struck products of this gorgeous design!

A couple of things that I always look for when buying Walkers, besides the strike, are: I avoid coins with the dark spot of Liberty’s left breast. This is often seen, even on very high grade examples. I avoid coins with marks in the rays of the sun. I find them very distractive. I also avoid coins with hash marks on Liberty’s head. Liberty’s head is a high point and many coins have 2-3 heavy marks running horizontally through her head. I look for blast white coins – not dipped out – but coins with full halo luster. They are special. Of course some of the early dates in gem are nearly impossible to find all white.

I hope you have fun collecting this great series. I know I did.

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