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1938-D Walking Liberty Half Dollars

The Renaissance of U.S. Coinage began in 1907 with the adoption of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ design for the $20 Gold Double Eagle. President Roosevelt was the catalyst for these changes, moving from a more staid and traditional style of coinage to one that encompassed a more beautiful and artistic rendering. Roosevelt wanted a change from “heads of Liberty” on one side and “eagles on the other” to a more beautiful style, like that of the classical Greek and Roman coinage, with their allegorical representations of liberty and freedom.

The Barber Half Dollar had been widely minted since its inception in 1892. The design was characteristic of Charles Barber – a symbolic “head of Liberty” on the obverse, with a stationary American eagle on the reverse. Barber’s design had been in production for 25 years, from 1892 to 1916, so legally, a design change could be offered and accepted.

In 1915, U.S. Mint Director Robert Woolley began the search for a new design for the coinage to be produced. The dime, quarter and half dollar would all require new designs, but the half dollar coin was the biggest priority. Woolley had the Commission of Fine Arts conduct a competition to design these three coins and Adolph A. Weinman was the clear winner.

Weinman’s design displayed Miss Liberty, walking in a flowing gown. The motion Weinman captured made the design seem to come alive. Likewise, on the reverse, Weinman had the eagle in motion and that design, too, was very well received.

The coins were struck beginning in 1916 and ran until 1947. Production was typically in the millions of coins for each year and mintmark, with the 1943 Philadelphia specimen alone striking over 53 million. But atypical of those mintages was the 1938 coin from the Denver Mint. Only 491,600 were struck due to the mint staff having difficulty with several dies. As the year progressed and the dies wore even more, it became too late in the year to produce another suitable die to be used. 

This mintage figure is the lowest since 208,000 were struck at the Denver Mint in 1921, making the 1938-D dated coins one of the keys to the entire Walking Liberty Half Dollar series. Even in a low-grade, Good-4 condition, the 1938-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar is worth more than $50! Finding a well-struck Brilliant Uncirculated 1938-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar is a treasure.

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