Walking Liberty Halves
Robert W. Woolley was appointed and approved as Director of the US Mint in March of 1915. He called for the redesign of the Dime, Quarter and Half Dollar, all of which had been designed by the Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, Charles E. Barber and had been struck from 1892 to the current day. Woolley asked Barber to prepare new designs, which he did. But they were “not acceptable.” Woolley and the Commission of Fine Arts conducted a competition among three experienced outside artists to redesign all three of these coins.
Among the competing artists, two artists were selected to design these 3 new coins. Hermon MacNeil was selected to design the Quarter after his Standing Liberty design was approved. Adolph Alexander Weinman’s designs for the Dime and Half Dollar were also selected. For the Dime, he had designed a Winged Liberty Head, which was confused for the Roman God Mercury. For the Half Dollar, Weinman created a design with Miss Liberty striding towards a rising sun.
Weinman’s Half Dollar obverse has a full-length depiction of Miss Liberty, facing left, the Stars and Stripes, now part of her gown flying in the breeze. She was taking strides towards a rising sun, with rays emanating from the core, representing a new day for America. She has branches of laurel and oak in her left arm and her right arm extends as in a greeting. The motto “LIBERTY” is in large type behind her and below is another motto, “IN GOD WE TRUST.” The date is centered below her figure and recessed.
The reverse design similarly depicted an eagle, facing left, perched high upon a mountain, wings unfolded, a small mountain pine springing through the rocks. The legend “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” surmounts the periphery with the denomination “HALF DOLLAR” just below it. “E PLURIBUS UNUM” is beneath the rocks at the base of the reverse of the coin.
Since 1840, the mintmarks on any half dollar coins had always appeared on the reverse of the coins. But with the initial 1916-year coins, both the “D” and “S” mintmarks were placed on the obverse, just under “IN GOD WE TRUST.” But in February of 1917, the mintmarks were moved to the reverse of the coin, but not before a combined mintage of 1.6 million coins were struck in January and February at the Denver and San Francisco mints.
The 1916 through 1921 years saw coins struck at all three mints, though in 1921, about one million coins were struck at the combined three mints. From that point onward, there mintages were irregular overall. There were no coins struck in 1922 and 1924 through 1926. The only coins struck in 1923, 1927 and 1928 were in San Francisco. In 1929 no coins were struck in Philadelphia, but the drought of coins continued as no coins were struck or dated in 1930, 1931 and 1932. In 1933, only San Francisco minted any Walking Liberty Half Dollars. There was little demand in those years as the Peace Dollar was plentiful and as the Depression covered the country small silver coins were more affordable and saw significant use. Between 1934 and the end of the series in 1947, all three mints struck coins with only minor exceptions.