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Premier Coin Galleries Walking Liberty Half Dollar

According to Secretary McAdoo in his 1916 annual report,


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.


Weinman’s obverse bears a resemblance to Oscar Roty’s “Sower” design for French coins; according to numismatic historian Roger Burdette, “Weinman has taken the ideal of a nineteenth century provincial figure and turned it into an American icon.” Burdette ties both the appearance of the head of Liberty and of the branches which she carries to Baltimore’s Union Soldiers and Sailors’ Monument, designed by Weinman. The sculptor may also have drawn inspiration from a 1913 bust he did of his tenant, Elsie Stevens, wife of lawyer and poet Wallace Stevens. Elsie Stevens is generally believed to have been a model for Weinman’s Mercury dime; her daughter Holly wrote in 1966 that her mother had been the model for both coins. The reverse is similar to Weinman’s medal for the American Institute of Architects, although the sculptor replaced the laurel on the medal with a pine sapling. Weinman’s work on the medal had been widely admired for the power of the depicted eagle.


Breen, in his comprehensive volume on US coins, said of the half dollar, “Ms. Liberty wears the American flag, anticipating a rebellious counterculture by half a century.” Though admiring the piece generally, he noted that Liberty is striding towards the east, that is towards war-torn Europe, and wrote, “she points into the sky at nothing visible (perhaps aiming a warning at German warplanes?)” Breen objects to the use of the mountain pine on the reverse, calling it not particularly American nor especially notable except for an ability to thrive near the tree line.


Art historian Cornelius Vermeule says that the Walking Liberty half dollar “really treat[s] the obverse and reverse as a surface sculptural ensemble. The ‘Walking Liberty’ design particularly gives the true feeling of breath and scuptural services on the scale of a coin.” Vermeule notes the resemblance of the half dollar to Roty’s “Sower” but states that Weinman’s piece “is an original creation, not a slavish copy”. On the reverse, Vermeule admires the eagle, which dominates but does not overwhelm the design, and states that the bird’s feathers are “a marvelous tour de force”, showing the influence of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, under whom Weinman studied. In summary, Vermeule finds the Walking Liberty half dollar to be “one of the greatest coins of the United States—if not of the world”.


Article Source:  en.wikipedia.org


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