On Thursday, November 17, at noon, the Mint will release the third and final coin in the commemorative trio honoring the historic U.S. coin designs of 1916. The first coin in the series was the Mercury Dime Centennial Gold Coin, issued on April 21 and honoring the 1916 Winged Liberty design by Adolph A. Weinman. This was followed on September 8 by the Standing Liberty Centennial Gold Coin, honoring Hermon A. MacNeil’s 1916 quarter-dollar design. The third and final coin commemorates Weinman’s Walking Liberty 1916 half dollar.
The original coins, issued in 1916 as a welcome change from 25 years of Barber designs on the dimes, quarters, and halves, were business strikes in 90% silver, and were struck at the Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco Mints. In 1936, the Philadelphia Mint began to strike Proofs as well as business strikes; this continued through 1942. By that time, MacNeil’s Standing Liberty quarter had been replaced with the now-familiar Washington quarter (in 1932), so the P-Mint Proof quarters from 1936 to 1942 were of the Washington design. (However, a few specimen strikes of the 1917 Standing Liberty quarter are known to exist.)
All of the new designs were well received, especially the half dollar and the dime. The July 16, 1916, “Report of the Director of the Mint” describes Weinman’s half dollar:
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, symbolical 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 crag, his wings unfolded, fearless in spirit and conscious of his power. Springing from a rift in the rock is a sapling of mountain pine, symbolical of America.
The diameters of the original circulating coins were 17.9 mm for the silver dime, 24.3 mm for the silver quarter, and 30.6 mm for the silver half. For the 99.99% fine gold commemoratives, the Mint was aiming for weights that would be symbolic of each denomination; this meant altering the coins’ diameters slightly. Thus, the 1/10-ounce dime was struck at 16.5 mm; the 1/4-ounce quarter, at 22 mm; and the 1/2-ounce half, 27 mm. The gold commemoratives, like their 1916 counterparts, have a business-strike finish.
As noted, the original circulating coins were very well received. The responses to the gold Centennial commemoratives, however, have been mixed. The first release—the Mercury Dime Centennial—had a mintage limit of 125,000 and a household order limit of 10. The Mint’s stock of the coins (which were naturally the smallest and thus least expensive of the trio, priced at $205), sold out within about 45 minutes of the noon release. In subsequent weeks, the initial sales figures were adjusted and returns accounted for, leaving the adjusted net demand at 116,096. It is unclear whether the remaining mintage limit of 8,904 will be released or the coins will be declared officially sold out.
The second coin—the Standing Liberty Quarter Centennial—did not fare as well. The mintage limit of 100,000 was more attractive, but the relatively high price ($485) of the larger coin, coupled with a household order limit of 1, contributed to tepid sales after launch. Lowering the limit was a natural response for the Mint, which received criticism from collectors who were left out in the cold by the dime’s quick sellout. A couple of weeks later the Mint removed the order limits, which was helpful, but the proverbial ship had sailed. The ample supply of remaining stock (more than 45,000 coins) was discouraging for resale prospects, and in any case many collectors had already used their annual budget on the Mint’s numerous 2016 offerings.
Thursday’s Walking Liberty Centennial Half Dollar still has a chance to do well. Weinman’s design is a perennial collector favorite. The mintage has been reduced yet again, to 70,000; and the household order limit—although not a generous 10 or zero—is 3, which is better than the SLQ’s original limit of 1. On ebay, a quick search pulled up 28 presale results; after subtracting three extreme outliers (two at $1,995 and one at $1,790, along with one unscrupulous gold-plated offering of $129.99 for the entire set of three), the average presale price is $1,163—about 30% or more above the anticipated Mint price. (As of 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, the Mint has not yet announced the sales price of the Walking Liberty Centennial Gold Coin. Collectors who are well versed in the Mint’s pricing grid are looking for a final price of $865 or $890, based on the London Bullion Market Association’s average gold value.)
Another potential factor: at this time of year, many consumers are planning their budgets for the holiday season. Whether the average budget will allow for an $865 coin purchase remains to be seen. ❑