1939 Half Dollar Value (Rare Errors, “D”, “S” & No Mint Marks)

The Walking Liberty Half Dollar from the year 1939 holds a special place in the annals of American numismatics. The coin, reimagined in 1916 by Robert Woolley, the Mint Director at the time, continued to be produced until 1947. It is frequently lauded as a remarkable masterpiece of American coinage. Now, let’s delve into a detailed examination and estimation of the 1939 Half Dollar’s monetary worth.

Evaluation of the 1939 Half Dollar’s Worth

Minting Variation Condition: Barely Circulated Condition: Moderately Circulated Condition: High Quality Condition: Near Mint Condition: Fresh from the Mint Condition: Superbly Preserved Condition: Exemplary Specimen
1939 (P) Unmarked Half Dollar $15 $18 $20 $30 $45 $77 $973
1939-S Half Dollar $15 $18 $30 $87 $173 $220 Not Available
1939-D Half Dollar $15 $18 $17 $28 $49 $87 Not Available

The table above reveals that the value of the 1939 Half Dollar depends not only on the coin’s condition, but also on the minting variation. For example, the unmarked version (1939 P) in an exemplary condition fetches a handsome amount of $973. On the contrary, the same coin from the San Francisco mint (1939-S) and Denver mint (1939-D) don’t have an available value in this top condition as they weren’t produced in that quality. Thus, for coin collectors, understanding these variations in value is crucial in appraising their collections.

Read More: 18 Most Valuable Franklin Half Dollars Worth Money

A Glimpse into the Evolution of the 1939 Half Dollar

A common misconception is to pin the blame on mint engravers for a perceived lack of innovation. Yet, it’s crucial to understand that these craftsmen are bound by statutory guidelines. A clear mandate demands that specific inscriptions such as ‘United States of America’ and ‘E Pluribus Unum’ grace the reverse of the coin, while ‘Liberty’, and ‘In God We Trust’ must be imprinted on the obverse.

A broader look at the US coinage system reveals that the quarters, half dollars, and dollar coins are expected to showcase eagles on their reverse side along with their face value, a regulation not applicable to cents.

Interestingly, the rulebook prohibits the adornment of eagle symbols on coins with a face value of 10 cents or less. Additionally, these coins in earlier times weren’t mandated to display their value. This norm, however, was altered in the aftermath of the infamous incident involving the V Nickel.

Despite the seemingly monotonous nature of low relief coins, they come with their own set of advantages, primarily, an increased longevity of mint equipment. High-relief counterparts, on the other hand, necessitate several impressions, leading to a swift wearing out of the coin dies.

What often goes unnoticed is that as these intricately designed coins exchange hands in day-to-day transactions, their fine details begin to blur. Such practical considerations are often at the heart of disagreements between in-house mint engravers and external commercial designers.

Interestingly, the general public and at times even political figures express a preference for coins with elaborate design elements, reminiscent of the glorious designs seen on ancient Greek and Roman currency.

But it’s crucial to remember that those age-old coins, boasting of intricate details and deep reliefs, were crafted by hand. In contrast, today’s coinage process is mechanized, making it unsustainable to strike a coin multiple times. Frequent repairs of coin presses and production of new dies, if each coin was to be struck five to ten times, would erode the mint’s profits significantly.

A Peculiar Tale of American Coinage Evolution

One might be curious about the seeming flexibility in coin design, especially given the number of contemporary variations. However, it’s essential to note that such modifications are not executed casually; they require approval from Congress. An interesting exception is the legislative provision permitting the redesign of a coin once it’s been in circulation for a quarter of a century. This clause, incorporated into the Coinage Act of 1890, was paradoxically the key catalyst for the introduction of Barber Coinage.

This context sets the stage for the emergence of the Walking Liberty Half Dollar, a coin lauded for its aesthetic appeal but criticized for its practicality. Nonetheless, it remained in circulation for three decades before being replaced. The artist responsible for its design, Adolph Alexander Weinman, won a competition against two other sculptors. This win occurred after the Commission of Fine Arts dismissed earlier proposals by the Chief Mint Engraver, Charles Barber.

Unforeseen delays resulted in the continuation of Barber Coinage production into 1916, resolving several administrative and technical issues in the meantime. The striking of millions of these coins preceded the debut of the Walking Liberty, which was introduced to the public in November. Interestingly, the Silver Barber Coinage, consisting of 10-cent, 25-cent, and 50-cent coins, were the last to undergo redesign. This followed the earlier revamps of the gold coins (denominations of $2.50, $5, $10, $20) and the base metal coins (1-cent, 5-cent).

Intriguingly, Victor David Brenner, known for his design of the Lincoln Cent, presented unsolicited designs for the silver coins in 1914. His proposals were, however, declined with the explanation that the mint was busy with other endeavors. Perhaps, this dismissal was influenced by the fact that his Lincoln Penny, although well-received and aesthetically pleasing, was causing issues at the mint. Meanwhile, the Walking Liberty Half Dollar, despite being tough on the dies, gained much more widespread approval.

Peculiarities of the 1939 Half Dollar

Before delving into the unique attributes of the 1939 Half Dollar, we find it pertinent to familiarize ourselves with some industry-specific terminologies. These terminologies would better equip us to understand the intricacies of the coin in discussion.

Terms Utilized in Coinage Description
Coin Press A mechanized contraption used for the production of coins
Denticles Miniscule grooves or beads adorning the outermost circumference of a coin
Device The visual elements on a coin, such as an individual’s likeness, an animal depiction, and so forth
Die A two-component ‘imprint’ constructed from steel, designed for shaping coin blanks
Edges The most slender aspect of a coin, the part that flips
Field The generally vacant backdrop or background of a coin
Hub A steel prototype employed for the manufacture of coin dies
Legends/Mottos The inscription on a coin, essentially the verbiage
Numismatist An individual who professionally studies or accumulates coins
Obverse The anterior or ‘heads’ side of a coin
Planchet Blank metallic discs, created from punching sheet metal, subsequently used in coin production
Reverse The posterior or ‘tails’ side of a coin
Ribs Engraved ridges found on the periphery of certain coins
Rim/Collar The elevated boundary encircling the majority of coins and medals
Smooth/Plain A coin’s periphery devoid of ribs
Strike The act of impressing patterns onto a metallic surface for coin design

Now that we’ve deciphered this numismatic vernacular, it would be easier to appreciate the physical nuances of the coin in question.

A Close Examination of the 1939 Half Dollar’s Front Side

In 1939, a remarkable Half Dollar was minted, and its front side displays a compelling representation of Lady Liberty. She strides confidently towards a rising sun, arm extended towards the horizon, as if embracing the dawn of a new day. The sun appears to climb from a mountainous terrain, located on the lower left side of the coin, casting its warm radiance over the American flag that elegantly drapes over Lady Liberty’s shoulder.

Interestingly, the flag discreetly obscures the inscription ‘Liberty’, which forms a perimeter around Lady Liberty from her knee upwards. ‘In God We Trust’, the country’s motto, is located on the coin’s right side, positioned subtly behind her trailing leg. Lady Liberty is also portrayed holding two symbolic branches—an oak and a laurel, standing for martial valor and societal resilience respectively.

It’s worth noting that the location of the mint mark changed over time. While initial mintings included the mark on the front, it was later relocated to the rear side of the coin. The year of mintage is stamped on the ground just beneath Lady Liberty’s footfall.

Delving into the 1939 Half Dollar’s Rear Side

On the rear side of this half dollar, an eagle is prominently displayed. It appears ready to soar into the sky, perched atop a mountain peak, with a mountain pine branch grasped in its leading talon. As the bird prepares to take flight, it starts to spread its wings, with the wingtips grazing the inscription ‘United States of America’, punctuated by dots on both ends.

Situated above the mountain pine branch, towards the coin’s left side, one can spot the Latin phrase ‘E Pluribus Unum’. Below the branch, a minuscule mint mark indicates the coin’s place of manufacture. Running along the coin’s lower edge, ‘Half Dollar’ signifies the coin’s denomination, separated by a dot. On the coin’s lower right side, following the denomination, a distinctive ‘AW’ monogram represents the identity of the coin’s designer, Weinman.

A Closer Look at the Unique Traits of the Half Dollar Coin from 1939

The Half Dollar coin that made its appearance in the year 1939 had its distinctive characteristics. Composed of an amalgamation of nine parts silver to one part copper, it presented an interesting aspect of numismatic history. This disc-shaped medium of exchange spanned across a diameter of 30.63 millimeters, while maintaining a thickness of 1.8 millimeters. This elegantly designed coin tipped the scales at 12.5 grams and boasted a ribbed circumference.

However, not everyone was smitten by its design, a sentiment reminiscent of the public’s reaction to the overtness of the designer’s mark on the Lincoln Penny. This critique was even more pronounced for the Mercury Dime, another coin from the same era. Despite these protests, the artist’s signature persisted in its original form, a subtle yet indelible mark of its creator.

The design of the 1939 Half Dollar bears an uncanny resemblance to some of the other artistic pursuits of its designer, Weinman. His contribution to the Union Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Baltimore is quite notable, where he depicted Lady Liberty cradling branches. In a similar vein, Weinman also designed a commendation medallion for the American Institute of Architects, featuring an eagle clutching a laurel branch. Intriguingly, Barber, another noteworthy coin designer, had the fortune—or misfortune—of being a pupil under the illustrious Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

An Overview of the Worth of the 1939 Half-Dollar Coin

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The special identifier on a coin, usually referred to as the mint mark, can often add to the value of the coin. This is because collectors often look out for certain attributes like the year of minting, peculiarities in design, and the mint location. Mint marks were traditionally the last thing to be engraved on a coin and were manually placed until the year 1989, leading to possibilities of interesting errors like the mark being re-struck or misplaced. To start off, let’s discuss the three prominent mint locations of interest.

The Philadelphia Mint’s 1939 Half-Dollar with No Mint Mark

In 1939, the Philadelphia Mint produced a total of 6,820,808 Walking Liberty Half-Dollar coins, and among those, fewer than 9,000 were proof coins. The notable fact about these coins is that they don’t bear a mint mark. To illustrate their value, an MS 68+ Walking Liberty Half Dollar from this series was auctioned off at a staggering price of $49,938 in April 2022. However, it’s worth noting that coins graded by NGC may not necessarily command the same prices as those graded by PCGS. For instance, a month later in May 2022, a similarly graded Half Dollar fetched only $10,800.

The Value of the 1939-S Half Dollar from the San Francisco Mint

The San Francisco Mint, in 1939, churned out 2,552,000 pieces of Walking Liberty Half-Dollar coins. Historically, coins from San Francisco have been known for their less-than-perfect impressions, making the task of finding them in pristine condition a rarity. A prime example of its value occurred in September 2019, when an MS 68 coin was auctioned off for $13,800. Then in October 2022, an MS 67+ coin was sold for $3,878. Despite the limited availability of these coins, with only 32 of them graded by PCGS, the expected value is pegged at around $6,250.

Valuation Trends of the Half Dollar Coin from Denver Mint, 1939-D

Back in the year 1939, a total of 4,267,800 pieces of the Walking Liberty Half Dollars were struck at the Denver Mint. The coin, especially in its top condition, holds a significant value in the numismatic market.

An anecdote worth sharing is the unprecedented record sale that occurred in the frosty winter month of January, 2016. During this auction, a specimen graded MS 68, a rarity in its own right, fetched an impressive $25,850. PCGS, the renowned coin grading service, currently has this particular variant evaluated at a whopping $30,000.

However, a careful observation of recent transaction trends reveals a surprising disparity. For instance, as of June 2022, a coin with a slightly lower grade of MS 67+ found a new owner for just $4,560. This remarkable price difference, considering the marginal difference in coin grade, paints a rather interesting picture.

The scarcity of these coins in their top condition partly accounts for this intriguing phenomenon. To put things in perspective, only 3 specimens of the MS 68 grade are known to exist, contrasted against the 31 recorded instances of the MS 67 coins. Thus, the incredible allure and value of the 1939-D Half Dollar continue to captivate collectors and investors alike.

The Intriguing Journey of the 1939 (P) Proof Half Dollar

A fascinating interplay between matte and gloss defines the visual appeal of proof coins, a special class of currency. The United States Mint, from 1909 to 1917, solely manufactured proof coins with a matte finish, providing a perfect canvas for the vividly detailed high-relief designs. However, a prolonged hiatus followed from 1918 until 1935, with the mint resuming its production of proof coins in 1936.

The creation of proof coins is not merely an aesthetic endeavor, but a meticulous quality assurance process. These coins serve as a prototype for the main production run, allowing the mint to verify the precision of coin dies and intricate designs. This assurance process often leads to the crafting of coins that flaunt a polished, mirror-like appearance, offset by the contrasting texture of a frosted imprint. This convention, however, has seen a shift in recent times, with some contemporary coins featuring a frosted backdrop and a shiny imprint.

An interesting consequence of this proofing process is that these coins often find a place in national archives and museums, standing as a testament to the mint’s artistry and craftsmanship. A bulk of the proof coins, nevertheless, finds their way into the hands of enthusiastic collectors, who are more than willing to pay a premium for these unique artifacts, thus providing an additional revenue stream for the mint.

A close look at the making of proof coins reveals a fascinating series of steps. The coin blanks, known as planchets, are first subjected to a vigorous polish using stainless steel balls, resulting in a highly reflective surface. Following this process, the planchets are carefully cleaned to remove any residual substances.

The coin die itself undergoes an equivalent transformation. Horsehair brushes are employed to polish the die, imparting a glossy finish. To create the distinct frosted texture, an intriguing process was employed until 1970: the die’s less polished areas were treated with an acid solution. This, however, had a downside — the acid wash’s effects diminished with each coin minted, meaning only the earliest few coins displayed a striking contrast.

When examining numismatic specimens, certain classifications are given by PCGS and NGC, reputable coin grading entities. The premier designation, known as Deep Cameo (DCAM) or Ultra Cameo (U-CAM), is applied to coins demonstrating strong contrast between mirrored fields and frosted relief elements. Traditionally, this effect would gradually diminish over time, but with the advent of laser etching operated by computer systems in 1971, this issue was mitigated. Hence, contemporary proofs uniformly achieve this highest level of designation.

Simultaneously, other terminologies such as PL and DPL are used in the numismatic world, signifying Proof-Like and Deep-Proof-Like respectively. These are mirror-like, standard mintage coins which haven’t undergone the polishing process prior to being struck. You may encounter such specimens among satin-finish coins or in mint uncirculated sets. These sets are carefully curated by the minting personnel, who cherry-pick the top quality business strike coins to offer to collectors, ensuring these coins don’t suffer the wear and tear of circulation.

Turning our attention to historical data, consider the year 1939. The Philadelphia Mint produced a total of 8,800 proof half dollars in this period, notably without any mint marks. Imagine one of these coins, beautifully preserved and receiving a grade of MS 68+. Such a coin was sold in an auction for $40,800 in April of 2020. Conversely, a coin two grades lower, a 1939 PR 66 CAM, was sold for a meager $274 in February 2019. Interestingly, PCGS has graded only a single PR 65 CAM coin, appraising it at $4,800, while a regular PR 68+ coin holds an astonishing estimated value of $45,000.

Discovering the Worth of Half Dollar Coins from 1939: Unearthing Errors

As coin collectors, we understand the allure of the half dollar coins minted in 1939, and more so, the excitement attached to identifying errors that could increase the value of these coins manifold. The foundation of this intrigue is nestled within the minting process itself.

Imagine a prototype, about 8 inches in diameter, a creative blend of plaster, rubber, and epoxy. This prototype is miniaturized into a steel primary model, known as a master hub, through a process requiring several days. The master hub then imprints its design on a master die, initiating a chain of replications.

These master dies serve as the template for crafting working hubs, which further create working dies. These working dies then create impressions on blank metal disks known as planchets, finally producing the coins. Every single stage demands a minimum of two impressions, barring the SMS coins, for which only one high-pressure impression suffices. Any deviations in the metal position during these impressions can lead to errors that can enhance the coin’s value. Other issues like alignment discrepancies or foreign substances can also add to the coin’s uniqueness.

The Curious Case of the 1939-D Half Dollar DDO Error

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One interesting error is the DDO or the doubled-die obverse error found in the 1939-D Half Dollar coin. This occurs when the die doesn’t maintain its position consistently during the hub impressions, leading to slightly displaced impressions. Consequently, this defect gets replicated in all coins made with the erroneous die. Considering that a single die can produce thousands of coins, this error can become quite widespread. A specimen with a mint state of 65+ was priced at $1,364 in October 2014, while a higher-rated one, an MS 66, is currently pegged at around $1,500.

Read More: 1925 Stone Mountain Half Dollar Value (Rare Errors)

Intrigue Surrounding the 1939-D Half Dollar D/D RPM Error

The RPM or re-punched mint mark error is another fascinating anomaly in the 1939-D Half Dollar coin. It’s a manifestation of doubling error, which happens when the second strike misses its mark during minting. This misstrike leaves vestiges of the original mint mark underneath, creating a unique “D over D” appearance and adds a special charm to the coin. A coin in an MS 64+ state fetched $1,293 in September 2017, but it dropped slightly to $1,087 by January 2020.

Essential Knowledge: The 1939 Walking Liberty Half Dollar

The Position of the Minting Indicator on the 1939 Half Dollar Piece

You can find the mint sign, the unique mark representing where a coin was minted, cleverly tucked away on the tail side of the 1939 Walking Liberty Half Dollar. Imagine the coin as a miniature landscape painting; this symbol sits gracefully beneath the pine tree on the coin’s bottom left quadrant.

By contrast, if you were to journey back in time to 1916 or the early part of 1917, the mint mark resided on a different part of the coin. Picture it as a quiet inscription residing beneath the powerful phrase ‘In God We Trust’ on the front side of the coin. This relocation of the mint mark over time presents a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of coin minting and its nuances.