[The following excerpt is published courtesy of DLRC Press and its author, Bruce Fox. This information was originally published in 1993 in The Complete Guide to Walking Liberty Half Dollars]
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Even though Walking Liberty Half Dollars were produced over a 30 year period, relatively few major design changes were made. Three of the four changes were done to improve the strikes, all in vain. There is little argument as to the beauty and artistic merits of the design but it did not strike well. Areas of high relief on one side were still opposite high relief areas on the other side.
The first design change, in 1917, relocated the mint mark from the obverse to the reverse. This was not a new hub as the design at that period was completely hubbed except for the mintmark. Mintage figures show many more of the half dollars were produced with reverse mintmarks than obverse at both the Denver and San Francisco Mints.
On February 14, 1917, mint director F.J.H. von Engelken verbally ordered the change of mintmark location from the obverse to the reverse. The reason being “the obverse mintmark had the appearance of a defect in the die and was entirely too prominent.” In April, the Philadelphia mint superintendent Adam M. Joyce wrote the new mint director, Raymond T. Baker, for a written confirmation of the order verbally given in February. On April 14, 1917, Baker issued the order in writing.
1918 was a new hub year. Assistant Engraver George T. Morgan modified the obverse in an attempt to improve the striking quality. The details of Liberty’s gown at her throat were incised However, strikes did not improve and the attempt was considered unsuccessful. This new half dollar was used through 1936.
In 1937 Engraver John R. Sinnock attempted another redesign of the obverse. This design had only one almost vertical ray touching the flag. All the other rays were thinner than in previous years. Proofs also incorporated this new design. Note differences in the number of rays touching the flag and in ray thickness.
1938 was another hub year which again changed the obverse design. The leaves and acorn high and to the right of Liberty’s cap are different in shape from the previous year and are noted in the photos below. There are other differences, pointed out by Walter Breen, related to the hair below the cap and oak leaves and more detail was engraved on the drapery at the arm below the stars. All these differences are slight. This design also had two nearly vertical rays touching the flag in lieu of one as in the pre-1937 design. It was used until the series ended in 1947.