Classic American Pieces – The Walking Liberty Short Set, 1941-1947

Through Ron …..

the freedom to walk The short series is getting hot right now, and I for one couldn’t be happier.

by Adolph Weinman The Walking Liberty half dollar is one of the finest coins ever produced in the United States, and collectors have long respected it as one of America’s great coins.

It is also solidly modern, having run from 1916 to 1947. It is the bridge between the Victorian half dollar barber and post-war Half Franklin. It circulated alongside coin designs still in existence today (such as the Lincoln pennythe Jefferson Nickel and the Washington Neighborhood), and classics like the Standing Liberty Quarter and the magnificent Saint-Gaudens $20 gold double eagle.

And for investors and silverites, it’s 90% silver.

Add to that the fact that the entire series tended to be weakly minted, and you have a coin that is not only worthy of reverence, but also a fun challenge for all levels of collector.

If you’ve never heard of the short game, or even if you’re not very familiar with the play itself, let me tell you a bit more about what it is and why it’s so collectable.

I think you will enjoy yourself.

The story

In 1915 the United States currency was about to change the designs on the penny, quarter and half dollar. It has been almost 25 years since Charles Barbier had designed them and, according to a law enacted in 1890, 25 years was the minimum time that had to elapse before American currency could be changed. Apparently there was also some confusion as to what exactly the law required, as the new Mint Director, Robert Woolleyinterpreted it to mean that it was bound to produce new models.

In any case, Barber currency was not much appreciated at the time and besides, everything looked the same. After Teddy Roosevelt and Auguste Saint-Gaudenssome in government were eager to complete the whole, so to speak, and to embellish the last remaining denominations.

So even though this was a particular (and misguided) interpretation of the law, people were ready for a change.

the Fine Arts Commission (CFA)— the agency that guides the design and aesthetics of federal buildings in Washington, D.C. — selected Weinman’s designs for the Walking Liberty Half Dollar and the penny of mercurynext to Hermon Atkins MacNeil’s Standing Liberty District.


Adolph Weinman was a German immigrant and student of the great Augustus Saint-Gaudens. But he didn’t just shoot from his teacher (look at that sun). Weinman was also greatly inspired by the work of the master sculptor Oscar Rotywhose famous “Semeuse” design on French coins looks a lot like Statue of Liberty on Weinman’s half dollar. The flowing drapes and dynamic pose immediately grab attention, although it’s safe to say that Weinman improved Roty’s placement on the piece, for while the sower’s perspective lines give this design greater depth of field, Weinman’s design makes better use of the piece’s canvas.

His Liberty is not entirely “sown” either. She holds branches and foliage in her left arm and has what could only be a very heavy American flag draped around her shoulders. Not quite the practical peasant of French coinage, but quite in tune with the allegorical approach favored in the United States.

The reverse is just as dramatic, if not more so.

Eagles on federal coinage had come a long way since the gooseneck birds of 1794. One wonders if the early engravers knew what an eagle was.

But this… this was an eagle!

The reverse of Weinman’s half dollar features a bald eagle about to take off from its perch, its wings halfway up and its body thrust skyward. The solid parts of the eagle’s body convey natural strength, and the whole composition is a miracle of aesthetic balance, all within an area of ​​approximately 1.13 square inches – a true masterpiece!


Unfortunately, the coin’s high relief – and, frankly, an overemphasis on aesthetics at the expense of the practicalities of the minting process – has resulted in a tendency for weak minting throughout the series. Charles Barber, although much of his attitude towards making the new designs may have come from sour grapes, was right to worry about the relief. He attempted several modifications, such as reducing the art and adding more space between Liberty’s head and the edge of the room.

But in the end, nothing helped produce a stronger strike.

It was the coin equivalent of a Frank Lloyd Wright building with a leaky roof.

But boy, what an opportunity!

The short set

When Whitman Edition pull out some parts folders for the series, they split it in half.

The first file covered the years 1916 to 1940. The second file ended it, going from 1941 to 1947.

The series has its share of pieces that the novice collector cannot necessarily reasonably acquire. Interestingly, however, the hardest-to-find pieces in the series all go in the first folder. This means that someone relatively new to the field of numismatics can complete the second file. It proved to be such a useful way to collect that lore made the 1941-47 Walking Liberties band a legitimate set – the “short” set.

But just because the pieces in the short game are easier to find than some of the pieces in the first folder doesn’t mean they’re not worth it. Remember that most Walking Liberty examples are not very well struck, so a strong or full strike will be worth much more than a typical specimen.

And it almost goes without saying that the same would be true for a gem or an unreleased example.


Walking Liberty certified half dollars currently available on eBay


Comments are closed.