Walking Liberty

A coin with stories of success and tragedy



Thank you for sending me an image of your 1945 Walking Liberty half-dollar silver coin. Numismatics (the study of currency) has long been an important field of collecting and there is evidence that it started in ancient times with the advent of coinage. Your coin tells the tale of an interesting artistic history and a Hollywood saga of tragedy.

The Walking Liberty half-dollar coin, in production at the United States Mint from 1916 to 1947, was designed and created by sculptor Adolph Alexander Weinman. Weinman also designed the Mercury dime (minted from 1916 to 1945), as well as many medals and larger scale sculptures and statuary. Born in 1870 in Germany, Weinman immigrated to the United States when he was 10 years old. He settled in New York City and studied at the Cooper Union School and Art Student's League, as well as with noted American sculptors Daniel Chester French and August Saint-Gaudens.

In 1916 Weinman won a competition held by the United States Mint seeking a new half-dollar coin design. Weinman's design features on the obverse (front) side the iconic Lady Liberty draped in the United States flag, holding laurel and oak branches and walking towards the rising sun in the East; the reverse side features a bald eagle ready to take flight from his mountain perch.

The Walking Liberty coin also connects to a Hollywood tale of tragedy. In 1916, Weinman hired the model Audrey Munson to pose for the Walking Liberty design. Munson was a famous model based in New York in the early 1900s. Her popularity increased during the Panama Pacific International Exposition, where she was the model for the majority of the sculptures on exhibit. She was also the first woman to appear fully nude in a movie. This series of silent films was a story about a sculptor's model; the controversial films were not banned as they were considered to be art.

Soon thereafter, Munson was associated with a murder (which she did not commit) and her popularity and modeling career ended. She unsuccessfully attempted suicide; at the age of 39 she was committed to an asylum where she remained until her death at 104 years of age.

Your 50-cent piece tells quite the story even though it does not have a great monetary value. Coins prior to 1964 were made of silver, and your Walking Liberty has a silver value of around $12. Walking Liberty coins that are in great or uncirculated condition can sell into the hundreds. Because of its condition, your coin is only worth around $14 and its value can fluctuate with the price of silver.

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