Walking Liberty half dollar

Walking Liberty half dollar
United States
Value50 cents (0.50 US dollars)
Mass12.50 g
Diameter30.63 mm
Thickness1.8 mm
Edgereeded
Composition
Silver0.36169 troy oz
Years of minting1916–1947
Mint marksD, S. Located for 1916 and some 1917 pieces on obverse to right of Liberty just under the letters "Tr" in "In God We Trust", later issues on reverse at lower left, under the tree. Philadelphia Mint specimens lack mint mark.
Obverse
Walking Liberty Half Dollar 1945D Obverse.png
DesignLiberty walking and holding branches; United States flag over shoulder
DesignerAdolph A. Weinman
Design date1916–1947
Reverse
Walking Liberty Half Dollar 1945D Reverse.png
DesignA bald eagle rising from a mountaintop perch
DesignerAdolph A. Weinman
Design date1916–1947

The Walking Liberty half dollar is a silver 50-cent piece or half dollar coin that was issued by the United States Mint from 1916 to 1947; it was designed by Adolph A. Weinman, a well-known sculptor and engraver.

In 1915, the new Mint Director, Robert W. Woolley, came to believe that he was not only allowed but required by law to replace coin designs that had been in use for 25 years. He therefore began the process of replacing the Barber coinage: dimes, quarters, and half dollars, all bearing similar designs by long-time Mint Engraver Charles E. Barber, and first struck in 1892. Woolley had the Commission of Fine Arts conduct a competition, as a result of which Weinman was selected to design the dime and half dollar.

Weinman's design of Liberty striding towards the Sun for the half dollar proved difficult to perfect, and Treasury Secretary William G. McAdoo, whose department included the Mint, considered having Barber create his own design. Mint officials were successful in getting Weinman's design into production, although it never struck very well, which may have been a factor in its replacement by the Franklin half dollar beginning in 1948. Nevertheless, art historian Cornelius Vermeule considered the piece to be among the most beautiful US coins. Since 1986, a modification of Weinman's obverse design has been used for the American Silver Eagle, and the half dollar was issued in gold for its centennial in 2016.

Inception

On September 26, 1890, the United States Congress passed an act providing:

The Director of the Mint shall have power, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, to cause new designs ... to be prepared and adopted ... But no change in the design or die of any coin shall be made oftener than once in twenty-five years from and including the year of the first adoption of the design ... But the Director of the Mint shall nevertheless have power, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, to engage temporarily the services of one or more artists, distinguished in their respective departments of art, who shall be paid for such service from the contingent appropriation for the mint at Philadelphia.[1]

The Barber coinage was introduced in 1892; dimes, quarter dollars, and half dollars with similar designs by Mint Engraver Charles E. Barber.[2] The new pieces[3] attracted considerable public dissatisfaction.[4] Beginning in 1905, successive presidential administrations had attempted to bring modern, beautiful designs to United States coins.[5] Following the redesign of the double eagle, eagle, half eagle and quarter eagle in 1907 and 1908, as well as the cent and nickel redesigns of 1909 and 1913 respectively, advocates of replacing the Barber coins began to push for the change when the coins' minimum term expired in 1916. As early as 1914, Victor David Brenner, designer of the Lincoln cent, submitted unsolicited designs for the silver coins. He was told in response that Secretary of the Treasury William G. McAdoo was completely occupied with other matters.[6]

On January 2, 1915, an interview with Philadelphia Mint Superintendent Adam M. Joyce appeared in the Michigan Manufacturer and Financial Record:

So far as I know ... there is no thought of issuing new coins of the 50-cent, 25-cent, and 10-cent values. If, however, a change is made we all hope that more serviceable and satisfactory coins are produced than the recent Saint-Gaudens double eagle and eagle and the Pratt half and quarter eagle. The buffalo nickel and the Lincoln penny are also faulty from a practical standpoint. All resulted from the desire by the government to mint coins to the satisfaction of artists and not practical coiners.[7]

In January 1915, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury William P. Malburn sent McAdoo a memorandum about the silver subsidiary coinage, noting that "the present silver half dollar, quarter, and dime were changed in 1892, and a new design may, therefore, be adopted in 1916. This can be done any time in the year."[8] In reply, McAdoo wrote "let the mint submit designs before we try anyone else" on the memorandum.[9]

In April 1915, Robert W. Woolley took office as Mint Director. On April 14, he asked Joyce to request Engraver Barber, then in his 36th year in office, to prepare new designs. The same day, Malburn requested the opinion of the Treasury Department's Solicitor concerning the Mint view that it could strike new designs for the three denominations in 1916. On April 17, the Solicitor's Office responded that the Mint could change the designs.[10] At the time, the Mint was intensely busy producing the Panama-Pacific commemorative coin issue, and immediate action was not taken.[9] In October, Barber was summoned to Washington to discuss coin designs with Woolley, although it is uncertain whether or not he had by then prepared sketches for the new coinage.[10]

On December 3, Woolley met with the Commission of Fine Arts. Woolley asked the Commission to view sketches produced by the Mint's engraving department. Barber was present to explain the coinage process to the Commission members. Woolley suggested to the members that if they did not like the Mint's work, they should select sculptors to submit designs for the new pieces. It was Woolley's intent to have distinct designs for the dime, quarter and half dollar—previously, the three pieces had been near-identical.[11] The director informed the Commission that as the existing coinage had been in use for 25 years, it would have to be changed—which numismatic historian David Lange calls a "misinterpretation of the coinage laws".[12]

The Commission disliked the sketches from the Mint (submitted by Barber)[13] and selected sculptors Adolph Weinman, Hermon MacNeil and Albin Polasek to submit proposals for the new coins. The sculptors could submit multiple sketches. Although the Mint could decide to use a design on a denomination not intended by its sculptor, the designs were not fully interchangeable—by statute, an eagle had to appear on the reverse of the quarter and half dollar, but could not appear on the dime. Woolley hoped that each sculptor would be successful with one piece.[14]

The 1916 United States Assay Commission met on February 9 and February 10, 1916 to test coins from the previous year to ensure they met specifications. Among the members and Mint officials shown were Mint Director Robert W. Woolley (standing fourth from left), Engraver to the United States Mint in Philadelphia Charles E. Barber (standing third from left) and Philadelphia Mint Superintendent Adam Joyce (standing at far right).

The three sculptors submitted design sketches in mid-February, and on February 23 met with Woolley in New York City to make presentations of their work and answer his questions. After discussions between Woolley and McAdoo, Weinman was notified on February 28 that five of his sketches had been selected—for the dime and half dollar, and the reverse of the quarter. The same day, Woolley wrote to MacNeil to tell him he would sculpt the quarter's obverse, and to Polasek to inform him of his lack of success.[15] Members of the Commission persuaded Woolley that so much should not be entrusted to a single artist, and MacNeil was allowed to design both sides of the quarter, subject to the sculptor producing a design satisfactory to Woolley.[16]

On March 3, the new coins were publicly announced, with the Treasury noting, "[d]esigns of these coins must be changed by law every 25 years and the present 25-year period ends with 1916."[17] The press release indicated that the Treasury hoped production of the new coins would begin in about two months, once the designs were finalized. The same day, Woolley wrote to Mint Engraver Barber, telling him that his sketches were rejected and that models from Weinman and MacNeil would arrive at the Philadelphia Mint no later than May 1.[17] According to numismatic historian Walter Breen, Barber became "sullen and totally uncooperative".[18] Lange notes that "numerous delays were encountered as the artists fine-tuned their models while simultaneously avoiding obstacles thrown in their path by Barber. While his observations regarding many aspects of practical coinage were quite accurate, they clearly could have been presented in a more constructive manner."[19] In his book on Mercury dimes, Lange notes that Barber, by then aged 75, had been "compelled over the past ten years to participate in the systematic undoing of a lifetime's achievements"; he had to participate in the process which resulted in coins designed by others replacing ones designed by him.[20]

With the new pieces, all American coins would have had a recent change of design (the Morgan dollar was not then being struck).[21] According to a column in The Art World magazine later in 1916,

Since that day [the 19th century] much artistic progress has taken place in our coinage. Sculptors of reputation have been employed with admirable results ...And now we are to have a new half dollar and a new dime by Weinman and a new quarter by McNeill [sic]. Altogether, in the retrospect, it seems an incredible achievement.[22]