Early in the twentieth century, President Theodore Roosevelt led America to a new level of intellectual consciousness, emphasizing the importance and artistic merits of the nation’s coinage. In 1916, when the Barber design had run its course of 25 years,Roosevelt encouraged mint director Robert W. Woolley to look outside the mint staff for potential talent. Woolley subsequently invited several renowned sculptors to create templates for three silver coins. These coins would eventually become the Mercury Dime, the Standing Liberty Quarter, and the Walking Liberty Half Dollar. In 1916, designer Adolph A. Weinman was awarded for his work, and his depiction of the Walking Liberty was selected for the new Half Dollar design. The Walking Liberty was issued in 1916, and received wide acclaim for its intricate artistry and stylistic design.
The obverse of this 90%silver, reeded-edge coin features a full-length figure of Lady Liberty walking toward a rising sun. Around the sun, thirteen rays reach out, symbolizing the dawn of a new day. Liberty has an American flag draped across her shoulders that billows around her. She wears a flowing gown and simplesandals. In her left hand, she carries a bouquet of laurel branches, symbolizing military power, and oak branches, symbolizing civil glory. Her right hand is outstretched before her, opening her up to the possibilities of the world. Behind her is a 13-star U.S. flag.
The reverse depicts an eagle perched on a rocky crag with its wings raised. The eagle faces left, and assumes a defiant stance. It is an extremely realistic portrait of an eagle, perhaps the most life-like of all coin designs. A sapling of mountain pine grows from a split in the rock, symbolizing the birth and growth of the nation. Weinman’s “AW” monogram is below the eagle’s tail at the bottom right of the coin. This imagery exudes a powerful and majestic quality that complements the peaceful dynamic on the obverse.
During the first years of issue, the Denver and San Francisco half-dollars carried the mintmark on the obverse. However, in 1917, the mintmark was moved to the lower left of the reverse. The U.S. Mint ceased production of half-dollars from 1930 through 1932, due to the Great Depression. Half-dollar production resumed in 1933. While there are no extreme rarities in the series, the earlier issues (1916 - 1929) are rather difficult to find. Walking Liberties are typically collected as either a complete set, a “short set” of the final twenty coins issued from 1941-1947, a “long short set” of the final twenty coins issued from 1934-1947, a proof collection of coins from 1936-1942, or by type.
The design of the Walking Liberty Half Dollar has been a favorite with numismatists since its time of issue, and many consider it to be one of the most beautiful images ever created on a circulating coin. The obverse design proved so popular that it was used
again in 1986 for the American Silver Eagle Bullion Coin. The Walking Liberty Half Dollar was minted from 1916 until 1947, spanning a period of time that included World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II. With the coin’s powerful sense of hope and strength, both the obverse and reverse proved quite fitting for the time. And while its stylistic and strong representation of the United States has made this coin a part of history, its unique beauty and aesthetic superiority have made the Walking Liberty a truly timeless piece of America’s history.