Walking Liberty Half dollar
The Walking Liberty Half dollar designed by Adolph A. Weinman is a masterpiece of sorts for coin enthusiasts now. It broke quite a few stereotypes at the time of its release!
Liberty Half dollar - History and design
After the 'Seated Liberty' Half dollar designed by Christian Gobrecht in 1839; the half dollars ran with the design for almost 50 years. 1892 saw the Liberty head or Barber head design by Charles Barber. For nearly three decades, the Barber coinage was being used but not really liked by the public. Most designs were a spin-off from the Greek and Roman coins and none truly representing the American life and spirit. Every President wanted better coins, but it seemed out of reach for some time. The other denominations were more or less similar designs.
Robert W. Woolley, the new Mint director in 1915 wanted new designs for the Half dollar, Dime and the quarters. He wanted beautiful coinage; something that other Mint directors couldn't achieve before him. He gave a chance to Barber to redeem himself with new designs. But at the age of 75, Charles Barber was almost at the end of his retirement and his designs failed to impress. Wolley decided a 'coin design' competition (totally unheard of then!) was the way to go. Well-known sculptors of the time, Adolph Weinman, Hermon MacNeil and Albin Polasek were asked to submit designs. Woolley hoped that each of them would get one coin design to their name. But only Weinman's and MacNeil's designs were chosen.
Weinman's designs were selected for the dime and the half dollar. He portrayed a glorious Lady Liberty walking toward the rising sun, carrying branches of laurel and oak, symbolizing civil and military glory. The hand of the figure was outstretched in bestowal of the spirit of liberty. Art historian Cornelius Vermeule considered this ‘half dollar’ design by Weinman one of the most beautiful U.S. coins.
With so much history behind it and its iconic image in public minds, the ‘Walking Liberty’ design was revived much later for the Silver dollar. The reverse of the American Silver Eagle designed by the twelfth Chief Engraver of the U.S. mint, John M. Mercanti in 1986, depicted the heraldic eagle with 13 five-pointed stars symbolizing the first 13 colonies.
The Walking Liberty Half dollar was struck from 1916 to 1947. There was some difficulty in striking the coins, which led to multiple adjustments to the dies. But then it was finally replaced by the Franklin dollar in 1948.