1942 Half Dollar: The Ultimate Collector’s Guide
The 1942 Walking Liberty half dollar is one of the more picturesque collector’s gems within the coinage history of the United States thanks to designer Adolph Weinman’s striking portrayal of Liberty striding towards the sun on the obverse.
The Walking Liberty half dollar replaced a design by long-time Mint Engraver Charles E. Barber in early 1916.
In 1915, new Mint Director, Robert W. Woolley, was under the misperception that the Mint was required by law to replace any coin designs which had been in circulation for 25 years.
Thus, Woolley’s misinterpretation of a law (which only stipulated that coins must be in circulation for 25 years with no required end date) led to a Commission of Fine Arts-led competition to replace the previous Barber coinage – dimes, half dollars, and quarters.
Adolph Weinman’s initial design ideas led to him being commissioned to replace both the dime and the half dollar, beating out competing designers Hermon MacNeil and Albin Polasek for the commission.
Charles E. Barber was reportedly quite miffed over his exclusion from the process (despite intimations that he may be included). He reportedly carried this grudge to his untimely death just a year later in 1917.
Considered by many to be among the most beautiful circulated coins in the history of the United States, the Walking Liberty half dollar sacrificed ease of striking for pure aesthetic splendor.
Its complicated and intricate design was extremely troublesome to strike – perhaps the key impetus for the replacement of the design with the Franklin half dollar in 1948.
Mints: Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco
- Overall: 71,499,800
- Philadelphia: 47,818,000
- Denver: 10,973,800
- San Francisco: 12,708,000
Weight: 12.5 g
Diameter: 30.63 mm
Edge Type: Reeded
Composition: 0.90 silver, 0.10 copper
Designer: Adolph Weinman
Obverse Features: Thought by many to be an homage to Oscar Roty’s “Sower” designs for French coinage, Adolph Weinman’s obverse design for the Walking Liberty half dollar is undoubtedly breathtaking at first glance.
A flowing full-length figure of Liberty dominates the obverse, with the folds of the American flag catching a breeze in the background to stunning effect.
Liberty is captured in full stride in Weinman’s design, holding branches of laurel and oak which are symbolic representations of civil and military glory.
Liberty’s hand is outstretched towards the top left rim of the obverse, said by historians to represent a bestowal of the spirit of liberty upon the United States itself.
To the bottom left of Liberty’s dress is a geometrically-striking rendition of the sun – completely with spiked rays over a capturing of the Eastern horizon.
The phrase “LIBERTY” rainbows the top 3/5 of the obverse’s rim, lettering spread wide the letters “B,” “E,” and “R” obstructed by Liberty herself.
The phrase “In God We Trust” is tucked between the “Y” in “LIBERTY” and the bottom right of Liberty’s visage in two packed horizontal lines of text.
Finally, the mintage year can be found on the bottom center rim of the coin directly underneath Liberty’s visage.
Mint marks for the Denver (“D”) and San Francisco (“S”) can be found just below “In God We Trust” on the coin’s obverse.
Reverse Features: The reverse of the 1942 Walking Liberty half dollar is dominated by a regal design of the bald eagle slowly rising from a mountaintop perch.
Taking up a good 80 to 85 percent of the space of the reverse, the eagle’s wings appear to be spreading with a pine sapling in the background to the left of the eagle.
The reverse design bears a striking resemblance to one Weinman completed for a medal used by the American Institute of Architects.
However, the aforementioned pine sapling replaces a laurel used on that medal.
Regardless, the eagle itself is fantastically rendered and has been widely praised for the power it conveys by historians and collectors alike.
The phrase “United States of America” spreads along the top rim of the reverse over the eagle, whilst the phrase “E Pluribus Unum” is tucked into two dense, horizontal lines underneath the “U” of “United States of America” and above the pine sapling to the direct left of the eagle.
Finally, the phrase “Half Dollar” directly mirrors the top phrasing in similar font at the bottom rim of the coin underneath the eagle’s talons.
Weinman’s monogram can be seen on most versions of the coin near the rim at the lower right.
Errors and Variations
While there are not any Walking Liberty half dollars which are especially rare, 1942 saw two key collector’s variations caused by mintage errors.
he first is an overpunching of a “D” mint mark over an “S” mint mark in 1942 which carries a solid spike in overall value on the collectors’ market.
The other is a genuine oddity – a 1943/1942 version which is not an actual overdate.
The collector’s gem was created by a working die which was struck once from a 1942-dated master die and once from a 1943-dated die.
1942 also marks the last year that proof versions of the coin were struck for collectors at the Philadelphia Mint.
The first run lasted from 1916-17, while the second spanned from 1936-1942.
Later proof version of the half dollar (including the 1942 version) lack Weinman’s monogram on the reverse, attributed to the overpolishing of master dies.
Grading and Condition Issues
The condition of Liberty’s visage on the obverse of the 1942 Walking Liberty half dollar is extremely telling when it comes to the overall grade and condition of the coin.
Wear begin at the head, knee and breast of the figure and any clear signs of such wear will knock the coin’s grade down to Extremely Fine and below.
Coins of a lesser condition and grade will show varying levels of wear and tear on Liberty’s skirt and shirt, along with details missing on the eagle on the reverse.
Significant lack of detail on Liberty’s shirt, skirt and the bald eagle will likely place the coin at a grade of Very Good or below.
Coins below an overall grade of Good will show a partially or fully-illegible phrasing of “In God We Trust” and may be privy to a significant downgrade in value.
The 1942 Walking Liberty half dollar’s overstrike and double-strike variations carry inflated value, but regular versions of the coin tend to be valued between $10-20 unless the coin is in pristine, near-mint condition.
Rarest of all are near-mint proofs of the coin which are ten times the collector’s value of a near-mint uncirculated version.
Good (G-4): $10.00
Very Good (VG-8): $12.00
Fine: (F-12): $13.00
Very Fine (VF-20): $15.00
Extremely Fine (EF-40): $16.00
About Uncirculated (AU-50): $19.00
Uncirculated (MS-60): $39.00
Select Uncirculated (MS-63): $62.00