Collecting Walking Liberty Half-Dollars from the 1930s

The Walking Liberty Half-dollar, introduced in 1916 as a 90% solid silver coin, replaced the Barber Half-dollar and is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful of 20th century American coins. Not minted between 1929 and 1932, production resumed in 1933, though at historically small levels until production ramped up in 1934. While many millions of Walking Liberty coins were produced throughout the 1930s, there are a few Walking Liberty from the 1930s coins that routinely show up on rare coin projections, becoming more valuable every day.

Of course, the overall numbers of silver coins still in the hands of collectors and dealers is far lower than the number of coins minted. Many millions of silver coins, including a fair number of the Walking Liberty Half-dollars were melted down in the 1970s when the price of silver skyrocketed when the Hunt Brothers tried to (and very nearly did) corner the silver market.

Add to that the relative scarcity of half-dollar collectors during the Depression, and there are actually rather few large-scale collections of the Walking Liberty to be found, making very high quality coins hard to find, further increasing the value of rare coin projections for those years.

The production of Walking Liberty silver half-dollars in the 1930s was also notable for being the first half-dollar that had proof sets produced in any particularly large numbers, specifically for collectors. Several thousands were produced each year from 1936 and the beginning of the US involvement in World War Two, in 1942. This particularly well-liked design by St. Gaudin's pupil, A.A. Weinman, proved very popular among new collectors as the effects of depression waned in the late 1930s.

However, these proof sets are not the most highly valued Walking Liberty Half-dollars. The most collectible coin of this series is the 1938-D, commanding prices as much as 20 times other mintages from the 1930s when found in extra fine (XF-40) condition. This is largely due to the tiny number of coins minted in Denver that year. Fewer than 10% of the over 4 million Walking Liberty Half-dollars produced in 1938 were minted in Denver. Experts are at a loss as to why so few Walking Liberties were stuck at Denver that year, but rare coin projections show that the availability of these coins may be even more restricted than previously thought, further driving up the price.

Other Walking Liberty Half-dollars that were produced in relatively small numbers include the 1933-S and 1937-D mintings. There were never more than a million or so coins minted in these years, making them relatively rare compared with the many millions of Walking Liberty coins that were struck in the mid- to late-1930s.

The numismatic price of these low-mintage coins has climbed during the aughts. Though coins from the teens and early 20s command even higher prices than most mintages from the 1930s, even coins from low-production years that are in in merely Good (G-4) condition can command prices as high as $90. Coins in even slightly better shape can fetch prices of several hundred dollars. A Walking Liberty from the 1930s, even relatively common years, that is graded at MS-60 can fetch a price ranging from just $40 to over $600! It certainly pays to see which dates you have in your collection.

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Stewart Lawson

March 12, 2009

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