The value of most Walking Liberty half dollar pieces is often around $10, but this number is affected by the price of silver, which can change quite often and quite quickly.
Other variations in value can also occur by way of subtle grading points, the specific demands of coin collectors, and other important dealer needs. It is possible to use a step-by-step method to assess the condition of the coin and to identify the rare date and mintmark combinations. Walking Liberty half dollar pieces are some of the most popular and avidly collected coins.
Step 1: Identify the Date and Type of Mintmark
U.S. coins from early years like 1916 to 1947 can be especially valuable, and the mintmarks on these coins can be used to identify these types. Original mintages, the date, and usage in circulation can all affect the surviving numbers and condition of these coins. Due to the popularity of the series and the need for each mint and date in a set, rare coins are quickly recognized by collectors.
- "S" Mintmark: The San Francisco mint had an initial mintage of about 500,000 pieces. Rare coins are from this early year of mintage, as well as from 1916, 1920, and 1921. The S Walking Liberty Half Dollar coinage shows a small "S" mintmark on the reverse. You can find it along the rim, on the front side of the eagle, and just under the pine branch.
- "D" Mintmark: The D Walking Liberty Half Dollar mint totals just over 87 million pieces. Minting of the half dollars was not carried out each year so there remain large gaps in production. The most notable lowest coinage year and mintmark variation is the 1921 Denver, now one of the key dates in the series and one of the highest in value. The small "D" mintmark is tucked next to the rim on the reverse, in front of the eagle and under the pine branch.
- No Mintmark: The Philadelphia Mint was the primary supplier of Walking Liberty half dollars with over 264 million pieces. Not all years are represented within the series, and there is a 12-year span of no Philadelphia variety Walking Liberty pieces. Early era Philadelphia halves are rare today with the second era coins (1934 to 1947) having large mintages and available in large quantities. Philadelphia did not place a mintmark on the coinage during the entire series.
Step 2: Identify the Grading Condition
In general, Walking Liberty design coins that are in better condition are more highly prized by coin collectors. Coins need to be carefully examined and separated by grade. The difference in Walking Liberty half dollar value from the lower grades to the higher and more collectible grades can often be very large indeed.
For example, a greater level of detail in the gown and skirt lines of Lady Liberty separates a coin in “Fine” condition from one in the lower “Good” condition. Sharply detailed coins with only the slightest amount of wear can be described as “Extremely Fine”.
The highest grade is “Mint State” (or “Uncirculated Condition”), which is a classification reserved for coins that show no signs of wear at all. When a coin enters circulation, wear removes some of the fine texture that produces the shine or luster.
The presence of luster on all surfaces indicates a Mint State Walking Liberty half dollar. No amount of smoothing or dulling would ever be found on a coin that is considered “mint state.” Certain features can be used to identify “Mint State” coins from the reverse view.
For example, the eagle on the reverse shows luster when the coin is tilted and rotated under a light. Raised edges of the feathers remain without any flat spots. At the top of the eagle’s head above the eye, there is no flattening. The eagle’s right wing above the head remains finely detailed, with no flat or smooth spots.
Certain features can be used to identify “Extremely Fine” coins from the obverse view. For example, the Liberty head is becoming indistinct. Her cheek, forehead, and hair details are faded and almost gone, although the separation between her jawline from her neck remains.
As the olive and oak branches cross her arm, all are well defined with no merging of details. The leaves show a small flat area to the tips only. Certain features can be used to identify “Extremely Fine” coins from the reverse view. For example, the eagle retains a large amount of detail.
Wear is confined to the upper edges of the feathers and the head of the eagle is still sharp with an eyebrow visible. The upper right wing is lightly worn on the tops of the feathers, with all details separate and still visible. Certain features can be used to identify “Fine” coins from the obverse view.
For example, Lady Liberty has lost most identifying features throughout the middle of the design. A worn area with a completely flat surface is from the foot to the neckline. Lines representing strips are missing over the upper area of her right leg.
The forward wave of her gown has no line details, and a flat surface connects to her waist. Certain features can be used to identify “Fine” coins from the reverse view. For example, wear is moderate on most of the design. A continuous flat area now extends from the neck and head of the eagle with flatness connecting to the chest and leg, and no feather details can be seen in the central area of the eagle.
Certain features can be used to identify “Good” coins from the obverse view. For example, Lady Liberty’s chin line is now missing and there is no separation of cheek, jaw, and neck areas. The once raised areas of the cheek and neckline are now flattened and connected across her neck.
The date is readable with the "19" strong. Certain features can be used to identify “Good” coins from the reverse view. For example, lines of separation are missing from most feathers on the eagle's left wing. Only three major rows of feathers are visible, even though they are faint.
The rim is now weak in places but it remains disconnected from the tops of the letters. The motto - E Pluribus Unum - is complete. The letters "E" and "U" are full and they are fully disconnected from the rim.
Step 3: Look for Other Special Qualities
Collectors support the high valued coins and recognize the aesthetic qualities that separate bullion silver coins from others. Walking Liberty half dollars have three main qualities that need identifying. Each quality represents a distinct separation in terms of the half dollar's value and popularity in the market.
- Rarity: many pieces are recognized as rare dates that are difficult to find. These top-end rarities have a long history as collectible coins. For example, the 1921 issues were quickly noticed as rare early after they were minted. Coin collectors were quick to spot the low mintages and these rare dates have enjoyed premium values for a long time. Rare coins are sought in all grades.
- Condition: subtle differences in condition can have a huge effect on the coin’s desirability. Walking Liberty halves are collected by all types of collectors. A starting point for a beginning collector is a set of lightly circulated examples. This way, they can learn more about the half dollar series and then advance to the more high-end Mint State grade coins.
- Bullion coins: an extremely high increase in face value is found with bullion quality half dollars. A strong wishlist exists for collectors of large quantities of Walking Liberty silver. It is irrelevant that there are common dates with large quantities available or coins that are heavily worn if they are silver bullion quality. Dates with mintages in the tens of millions, mostly the 1940’s coins, are the bulk of these Liberty silver half dollar specimens. They are almost as popular as the American Silver Eagle coins or the peace dollars.
To get more details on how to properly identify all of these types of coin values, it can also be a good idea to refer to the 1918 to 1847 United States Mint Annual Reports, the 1948 U.S. Mint Annual Report, and the U.S. Mint Catalogue of Coins of the United States.
You can also learn more about the Certified Acceptance Corporation (CAC), a coin certification company that evaluates certain numismatically valuable U.S. coins already certified by the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) or Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). All of these resources should prove to be very helpful for numismatic purposes.