Walking Liberty History
The Walking Liberty half dollar was a silver 50-cent piece or half dollar coin issued by the United States Mint from 1916 to 1947; it was designed by Adolph A. Weinman. 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.
According to Secretary McAdoo in his 1916 annual report, The design of the walking liberty half dollar bears a full-length figure of Liberty, the folds of the Stars and Stripes flying to the breeze as a background, progressing in full stride toward the dawn of a new day, carrying branches of laurel and oak, symbolical of civil and military glory. The hand of the figure is outstretched in bestowal of the spirit of liberty. The reverse of the half dollar shows an eagle perched high upon a mountain crag, his wings unfolded, fearless in spirit and conscious of his power. Springing from a rift in the rock is a sapling of mountain pine, symbolical of America.
Although the dime’s debut on October 30, 1916 had seen considerable publicity, the Mint had little comment on the release of the half dollar and Standing Liberty quarter the following January. There were few newspaper mentions of the new walking liberty half dollar; the United States was moving towards war with Germany, and the dime release had exhausted much of the public interest in the novelty of new coins. The quarter dominated what public attention there was with argument over whether the eagle on its reverse was portrayed accurately. Despite the minimal publicity, according to a January 1917 report from Mint Adjuster Chaffin, all three mints initially had trouble keeping up with public demand for the new half dollars. The New York Times noted on January 3 that the new pieces had been received by the Sub-Treasury and would be released two to a customer, starting on January 9. It stated that the Mint was working as hard as possible to keep up with demand, but that initially quantities would be limited. Banking, the journal of the American Bankers Association stated that “The designs of the new coins have been highly praised by those having expert knowledge of such matters.” A Connecticut newspaper predicted readers would like the new half dollar five times as much as the new dime. The Huntsville (Alabama) Mercury, however, expressed its dislike of the new half dollar. In a piece entitled “New half dollar is sick”, it stated: The new coin is radically different from all other monies produced by the government mints. A suffragette is shown sowing small stars in a western field that hasn’t been plowed very deeply. The sun is setting and the old girl looks rather tired from her day’s labors, in fact perspiration can be seen trickling from her forehead. The lady wears sandals and her feet are rather dusty. She also appears, to have on overalls under her thin dress. She carries a load of firewood in one arm and wears a large napkin around her neck which leads to the belief that she left a small child at the house. The wind is blowing from the north and the sun has a blizzardly appearance. In great letters LIBERTY is spelled, extending more that half way around the entire surface. On the other side appears an eagle, grown to enormous size and marching madly toward Mexico, a cactus bush being shown in the background. The eagle has raised his wing, as if to strike; the old fellow looks like he could put up a good fight if aroused but he has a swell crop of feathers on his legs.