December 5, 2000
Reprinted with permission from David Hall's Inside View
In this issue of the INSIDE VIEW, we're taking a look at one of the world's most beautiful and important coins. The Walking Liberty half dollar is revered by collectors across the United States and around the world. It is the ultimate triumph of coin design from the Renaissance period of American numismatics that also brought us the Standing Liberty quarter and the Mercury dime in the same inaugural year of 1916.
The Walking Liberty half dollar was designed by A.A. Weinman and issued from 1916 through 1947, although some years were skipped in the 1920s and 1930s. These magnificent coins were minted at Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco. The Denver and San Francisco half dollars carried the mintmark on the obverse in 1916 and early 1917 and were the first half dollars with obverse mintmarks since 1839.
The series spanned the two World Wars, the Roaring '20s, the Great Depression, and the beginning of the Baby Boom. This coin represents and symbolizes much of what was the United States in the first half of the 20th century.
This series is collected five different ways. In this Special Report we'll explore all five collecting options, along with the coins that offer the best potential for future price appreciation.
Walking Liberty half dollars, frequently called "Walkers" by collectors and dealers alike, are collected as a complete set, as a "short set" comprising the final 20 coins issued from 1941 - 1947, as a "long short set" from 1934 - 1947, as a proof collection covering the years of 1936 - 1942, and by type.
Total number of coins in the set: 66
Total number of sets that can be assembled in PCGS MS65 or better: 7
Total number of sets that can be assembled in PCGS MS66 or better: 1
Keys to the series in order of rarity in MS65 or better: 1919-D,1921-S.
After the first two keys, the next eight key coins are of virtually the same rarity, with populations ranging from 24 to 29 coins: 1917 - D (Reverse), 1917-S (Obverse), 1917-S (Reverse), 1918-D, 1918-S, 1920-D, 1921-D, 1923-S.
Also highly worthy of mention are the 1917-D (Obverse), 1919-S, 1920-S, 1921, 1927-S, and 1928-S, all with populations of less than 45 coins in MS65 or better.
In a set that is filled with condition rarities of the highest order, it is not surprising that collecting alternatives have been sought, created, and put to use. We'll discuss those alternatives later, but first a few words about the complete set.
As prohibitive as the complete set might seem at first, it's a challenge that has been accepted by many collectors. Some have chosen to purchase the key dates in MS63 or MS64 to keep the cost of the set within their collecting budget, but more and more collectors are looking to complete the set in MS65 (or better) as the prosperous 1990s come to a close.
Since the market peak of May 1989, the prices of the key dates of the series have undergone major changes both ways, as the PCGS Population Report separated the scarce from the rare from the ultra-rare. Yes, the "Pop Report" was around in 1989 just as it is today, but the numbers of today are an assessment of many more coins and are more indicative of the true rarity of these coins. In contrast to the thinking of the pessimists, the numbers have not increased at a logarithmic rate; instead, they have slowed to a snail's pace. As one PCGS grader noted recently: "We're not seeing gem quality key Walkers any more. They've dried up." You can check a "Pop Report" from a few years ago, compare it to today, and see the validity of that observation.
The best performer has been, and may well continue to be, the 1919-D. This tough, tough coin is up a remarkable 95.2% since the last market peak. No, not from the market bottom, but from the market PEAK!
This doesn't mean that the series isn't filled with opportunities. Many key dates have been in a "sleeper" mode in recent years, and prices are almost irresistibly attractive in some areas. For instance, while the 1919-D has soared, the 1917-D (Obverse) is still down 42% from the last market peak, the 1917-S (Obverse) is down 48.8%, the 1919-S is down 26%, and the 1928-S is down over 18%. All of these price performances have been tracked by the Coin Universe Market Movement Report.
Total number of coins in the set: 20
Total number of sets that can be assembled in PCGS MS65 or better: 1,138
Total number of sets that can be assembled in PCGS MS66 or better: 83
Total number of sets that can be assembled in PCGS MS67 or better: 0
Keys to the series in order of rarity in MS65 or better: 1941-S, 1944-S, 1942-S, 1943-S. The key date in MS66 is the 1942-S. The only dates not available in MS67 from the "short set" are the 1942-S and 1947-D.
What is the "short set" all about? Originally, the coin albums of yesteryear divided the Walking Liberty half dollar set into two different books. The first book (or album) covered the years of 1916-1940. The second book contained the coins of 1941-1947. These final 20 coins became known as the "short set." The fact that the PCGS coin boxes also hold exactly 20 coins hasn't hurt the perpetuation of the "short set" as a favorite collecting option.
Because of the extremely high popularity of the "short set," there are some prices that might seem aberrant at first. After all, how can the rarer 1940-S cost only 30% as much as the more common 1941-S? Because the 1940-S isn't part of the "short set!" Some purists shudder at this perceived price distortion, but it's a reality that the collector rules, and the collector LOVES the "short set."
Current prices of the coins in this set show an admirable price performance since the market bottom of January 1995, but prices are still only a pittance of the market highs of 1989. The key date 1941-S is up more than 70% since 1995, but it's still down a staggering 69.1 % over the past decade. Many of the more common dates show losses exceeding 80 % since 1989.
Can significant and positive changes in the "short set" market take place? Absolutely! Why? The collector base is growing at an unprecedented rate due to the Internet, shop-at-home cable shows, increased interest in tangibles, positive publicity for numismatics in general, attractive prices, and other factors.
Total number of coins in the set: 39
Total number of sets that can be assembled in PCGS MS65 or better: 155
Total number of sets that can be assembled in PCGS MS66 or better: 11
Keys to the series in order of rarity in MS65 or better: 1934-S, 1935-S, 1935-D, 1934-D.
This "set" has become an extension of the "short set," as the collector seeks to add to his or her Walking Liberty holdings without getting into the ultra-expensive dates. The coins in this "long short set" are beginning to become a challenge at this point, the set now fills two PCGS boxes (except for one slot), and it's becoming more exciting and fun every day. Frequently it's just a matter of time until the collector adds the 1933-S and starts thinking about the 1929-D, 1929-S, and (is it possible?) a complete set of gem quality Walkers.
Price performance? The 1934-S is down only 5.3% from the previous market peak, but it's the exception. For the most part, prices are still 60% to 70% less than the 1989 highs, with even the other keys showing losses of 33% to 68%.
In a series filled with great values, the 934-D, 1935-D, and 1935-S are standouts in the "opportunity" department.
Total number of coins in the set: 7
Total number of sets that can be assembled in PCGS Proof 65 or better: 409
Total number of sets that can be assembled in PCGS Proof 66 or better: 118
Total number of sets that can be assembled in PCGS Proof 67 or better: 8
Total number of sets that can be assembled in PCGS Proof 68 or better: 1
Keys to the series in order of rarity in Proof 65 or better: 1936, 1937, 1938.
Beautiful! Awesome! Gorgeous! After a 20-year hiatus the proof coin returned to the world of numismatics in 1936, and what a coin the proof Walking Liberty half dollar turned out to be! If you've never seen a glittering Gem proof Walker, or a magnificently toned specimen with dazzling eye appeal, then your life (at least your numismatic life) is the lesser for it.
The collector interest in this series is obviously extremely high. There are only seven coins needed to complete the set, and prices are attractive almost to the point of disbelief.
Price performance in Proof 65 shows a pattern that is in accordance with the mint state Walkers. Prices are up (or down slightly) since the market bottom of 1995, but are still only a whisper (a distant echo?) of the 1989 highs. The "best" performer is the key date 1936, which is down more than 56% since 1989. The other dates are down 76% or more.
All of the dates except for the 1936 (up 57.7% since 1995) show a basically flat performance in the past five years. This is surprising considering the attractive prices and collector interest, but it is viewed as a continuing opportunity rather than a never-to-change-again trend. Throw a dart at this series and hit a long-term winner.
Total number of PCGS MS67 or better Walking Liberty half dollars: 1,136
Total number of PCGS Proof 67 or better Walking Liberty half dollars: 930
Total number of PCGS MS68 or better Walking Liberty half dollars: 41 (zero better)
Total number of PCGS Proof 68 or better Walking Liberty half dollars: 73 (one better)
Of course, you don't need an MS67/Proof 67 or MS68/Proof 68 Walker to fill the requirements of a quality Walking Liberty type coin, but prices are so reasonable in relation to rarity in this lofty grade why not go for the best?
Prices are down 85 % for the MS67 pieces such as the relatively common 1942, but even this date has a population of only 38 specimens, with four higher. Does such a precipitous drop make sense to you? Me neither!
Proof 67 Walkers have fallen 80.8% for the 1941 date (as an example), but the population is limited to 102 coins, with eight higher. Obviously, the market highs were truly HIGH, but this is much of an abnormality in the other direction.
High quality Walkers? Definitely!
As usual, all recommendations and comments only apply to coins that have been graded by PCGS. If you buy coins that haven't been graded by PCGS, you may be getting less than the best.
It is obvious that we're quite bullish on the Walking Liberty half dollar market, with the potential for various dates ranging from excellent to virtually unlimited. Here are the dates and grades that we especially like:
1916 50C (MS65 pop: 115, 1989 high: $3,850, current price: $1,400). The first-year-of-type coin is what the "rookie card" is to sports cards and the "first edition" is to book collecting. A high demand coin.
1917-D 50C, Obverse (MS65 pop: 38, 1989 high: $11,200, current price: $6,500). This important issue has proven its rarity, yet the price remains relatively stagnant when compared to the market bottom. A great buy at current levels.
1917-S 50C, Obverse (MS65 pop: 25, 1989 high: $33,000, current price: $16,500).This date isn't quite the prohibitive rarity it was perceived to be in the 1980s, but the price decline is a severe overreaction. There are still only 28 coins in MS65 or better.
1919-D 50C (MS65 pop: 6,1989 high: $62,000, current price: $120,000). In the new millennium the key date coin will rule, and this one is definitely the #1 key to this great series.
1921-S 50C (MS65 pop: 18,1989 high: $69,500, current price: $70,000). This is no longer the "king" of the Walkers in terms of condition rarity, but it's the #2 key to the set and will almost certainly remain there for generations to come.
1934-D 50C (MS65 pop: 244, 1989 high: $2,626, current price: $825). A wonderful coin in MS65, especially so at these attractive levels. An absolute BARGAIN!!!
1935-D 50C (MS65 pop: 209, 1989 high: $2,925, current price: $1,450). Another key to the "long short set" that is quite worthy of your attention.
1935-D 50C (MS66 pop: 11, 1989 high: $11,900, current price: $6,250). This is the key to the "long short set" in MS66, with a minuscule population of only ELEVEN coins! From 19=c)-D through 1947-D, this one is the toughest in MS66.
1935-S 50C (MS65 pop: 157, 1989 high: $3,050, current price: $1,850). There are 187 coins in MS65 or better, but the demand for the complete set and the "long short set" gives this coin plenty of potential.
1938-D 50C (MS66 pop: 131, 1989 high: $7,025, current price: $850). With a population in MS66 or better exceeding 150 coins, this selection might not seem to fit, but the LOW mintage makes this coin extremely popular and in high demand.
1941-S 50C (MS65 pop: 1,008, 1989 high: $4,450, current price: $1,025). Is it too high or too cheap? We vote that it's too cheap, as demand for the major key to the "short set" overrides the relatively high population.
1942-S 50C (MS66 pop: 83, 1989 high: $6,125, current price: $1,850). This is the key coin of the "short set" in MS66, surpassing the 1941-S as a condition rarity. This fact appears to be overlooked by the market, but we fully expect that to change.
1936 50C (PR65 pop: 292, PR66 pop: 112; PR65 1989 high: $8,775, PR66 1989 high: $19,500; current price PR65: $3,450, PR66 $4,350). The entire proof series is a tremendous value for your numismatic dollar, but the number of sets that can be completed will always and forever be dictated by this key date. A wonderful buy at current prices.
MS67 Type Coins. (1989 high: $4,400, current price: $665). Condition rarity is still an important aspect of the rare coin market, and type coin demand, while relatively soft at the moment, will come roaring back with a vengeance. A small position in this type/grade could be quite rewarding.
MS 68 Type Coins. (Price information is limited.) There are few examples available of any date, and historical (and present) price data are as rare as the coins themselves. Only 41 coins exist in all dates combined, and at least one belongs in your portfolio.
1917-D Walking Liberty Half Dollar