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The Beauty Of The Walking Liberty Half Dollar

The Walking Liberty half dollar has won many praises and criticisms in its time. Adolph Weinman’s Walking Liberty design was more than an attempt to beautify the half dollar. It represented a concerted effort to revitalize the denomination and to get half dollars back into circulation in again. The Mint was able to churn out plenty of Walking Liberty half dollars in the design’s first year. Of the first years mintage couldn’t compare to the numbers that were minted in the 1940s.

Adolph Weinman was better known as a sculptor and medal designer. As such he won the competition to design the new half dollar. The Mint began producing the new Walking Liberty design in November, 1916. However it was January 2, 1917 before any of these dated half dollars entered into circulation.

The new half dollars debut soon brought many praises and some criticisms. The Jan 23, 1917, issue of the Elyra, Ohio Evening Telegram is quoted as stating the Walking Liberty half dollar was more “elaborate” than the old Barber half dollar. And that both half dollars shared one thing in common—they both seemed to have been inspired by some French coin designs.

For what ever reason, Weinman managed to work the American flag into the Walking Liberty half dollar design, which does seem to set it apart and gave it a more national character than other coin designs. Weinman had his own comments on the symbolism in his design:

“The design of the 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, symbolic 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 craig, his wings unfolded, fearless in spirit, and conscious of his power. Springing from a rift in the rock is a sapling of Mountain Pine, symbolic of America.”

Many bird experts were amused at the design of the eagle displayed on the half dollar. It was quite unlike any other eagle pictured on other U.S. coins. One leading ornithologist remarked the eagle looked like a “turkey.”

Very little was said about the branch of Mountain Pine. It did add a very dramatic touch to the design and is probably the coin’s most distinctive feature. The Walking Liberty is definitely the most distinctive half dollar created. In time the Walking Liberty half dollar gave way to the Franklin half dollar in 1948.

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