An examination of a nation’s currency and how it has evolved can give you insight into that nation’s culture and history like no textbook ever could. While the United States is fairly young compared to some of the world’s other prominent nations, its currency has taken a fascinating journey, with some pieces standing out from others for their beauty and numismatic value. The Walking Liberty half dollar is such a piece.
Walking Liberty half dollars are 50-cent pieces that fall just short of being sterling silver; they contain 90% silver as opposed to sterling’s 92.5% silver. While their precious metal content is a far reach from bullion purity, the history and nostalgia that they carry make them worth collecting.
The United States Mint produced Walking Liberties from 1916 to 1947 (except in 1922, 1924-1926, and 1930-1932). Production began because the head of the U.S. Mint, Robert W. Woolley, believed that the law required that coin designs that had been in use for at 25 years or more be replaced. Thus, coin designs by Charles E. Barber were set aside in favor of new ones.
The Commission of Fine Arts held a competition that sculptor Adolph A. Weinman won. He gained the privilege of designing the nation’s new half dollar. Weinman’s designs also appeared on the dime and the reverse of the quarter.
Weinman’s design for the Walking Liberty half dollar is deeply patriotic, with symbolism that reflects some of the primary ideals of the United States' founding fathers.
The coin’s obverse features a full-length image of Lady Liberty striding toward the sun, her robe ruffled by a gentle breeze. Stars and stripes serve as her background. With her she carries branches of laurel and oak, which represent civil and military prestige. One of her hands stretches forward in a welcoming gesture of liberty.
The Walking Liberty’s reverse features another image closely associated with American patriotism: an eagle. It perches on a mountain crag, its wings extended in a display of strength and dignity. A sapling mountain pine, symbolical of the nation, is also part of the design.
While some experts throughout the years have criticized aspects of the design (such as that Lady Liberty appears to walk east, toward Europe, which struggled under the yoke of war at the time), the overall opinion of numismatists is that the Walking Liberty is one of the most beautiful and meaningful coins ever produced.
In 1948, a new half dollar stepped onto the scene, the Franklin half dollar. The U.S. Mint’s director, Nellie Tayloe Ross, admired Benjamin Franklin and wanted to see him honored on a coin. Thus it was that Lady Liberty ended her occupation of U.S. half dollars.
Perhaps another reason for the replacement is that many Walking Liberty coins did not strike very well and thus lack sharp details. Weinman’s design, however, was not retired forever. The Walking Liberty image has graced the obverse of Silver Eagle bullion coins since 1986.
Numismatists all over the world love Walking Liberty coins for their historic value. Each of these 12.5 gram coins is worth much more than its face value and the value of the silver used to make it, which makes it a worthwhile purchase not only for coin enthusiasts but also for savvy investors.
Around 485 million Walking Liberty half dollars were struck, and many of those coins are up for grabs today. From JM Bullion, you can buy bags and rolls of Walking Liberties that have face values ranging from $1 to $10. If you want some of these historic coins in which you can take pride, invest in a $10 roll of BU Walking Liberties or our smaller denomination items like the $1 face value Walking Liberty bag.