[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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Patterns are trail or experimental pieces struck for review by government officials. Pattern pieces for any series are interesting from a historical point of view as well as having a certain mystique. There always seems to be uncertainty as to the quantity made of each design (normally very few) and what happened to them. The patterns for the Walking Liberty half dollar are no exception.
The standard reference book for patterns of U.S. coins is the United States Patterns, Experimental and Trial Prices by J. Hewitt Judd, M.D. This book lists six similar patterns for the series. All were struck in silver and have a reeded edge (Pattern photos courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, National Numismatic Collection).
OBV – Liberty in full stride, her right hand reaching out; her left holding branches of laurel and oak. She wears Roman sandals. A flag with 13 stars flies behind her the sun has 13 rays. Similar to the regular issue, but with the word LIBERTY in the right field.
REV – Eagle, with raised wings, stands on a rock. A small mountain pine is in front. Similar to the adapted design, but with the words HALF DOLLAR above the eagle and E PLURIBUS UNUM in small letters under the eagle, along the rim.
OBV - Same as J-1797.
REV - Similar to adopted design without “AW” monogram.
OBV – Similar to J-1797 but Liberty is smaller and the word LIBERTY runs along the upper rim.
REV- Same as J-1797.
OBV – Same as J-1798.
REV- The same as J-1797a.
(No Photo Available)
OBV – Similar to J-1799 but with a very large date, beaded borders and very small letters in LIBERTY.
REV – Smaller eagle and small compact letters far from border.
(No Photo Available)
OBV- Similar to regular issue, but with a very small date which does not extend beyond foot at either end.
REV – Similar to regular Issue, but without “AW”
Judd noted that other die varieties have been reported. Just recently, a new pattern was discovered and donated to the Smithsonian Institution (shown above). At the time of this writing it has not been attributed, but appears to be very similar to JUDD 1800. This could be the seventh known pattern and would make the adopted design the eighth revision.
The number made of each pattern is unknown. Supposedly, none reached the public, but were given to influential politicians and congressmen as souvenirs. These pieces were handed down or given away and eventually donated to the Smithsonian Institution. The only reference to quantities appeared in The Numismatist February 1938 issue. The pattern discussed in this correspondence was JUDD 1797. The letter and The Numismatist’s reply is as follows:
A member of the A.N.A. living in Massachusetts writes as follows:
In the April, 1937, issue of The Numismatist, on Page 312, you had a short article regarding the pattern half dollar of 1916. In the June 1937 issue on page 517, you have another article regarding this pattern which also illustrates the coin. This is very interesting, because within the last month one of these patterns showed up in Boston. That makes the fourth one known. I wrote to the mint under date of December 1st regarding this coin and sent a drawing along to prove my statement.
Here is the reply:
I wish to say that the coin which you have described is probably a pattern or experimental piece. Your description conforms with the original sculptor’s models which are at the mint. The dies for the coin described were destroyed in January, 1917. There is no record of the number of the experimental pieces struck from this design, but in all probability they were very few. They have not seen one at the mint. The sculptor, Mr. Weinman, submitted three variations for the obverse of this half dollar and two for the reverse. Trial dies were made of only two of the obverse and two of the reverse. These were the standard coin in circulation and the one which you have described. Trial or pattern pieces are made to submit to the Treasury officials and sometimes to members of the Committee on Currency in Congress for final decision as to which should be adopted.
This letter contradicts Judd, whose book describes four obverses and three reverses. If the pattern recently obtained by the Smithsonian Institution is attributed as a newly discovered pattern, there would then be five obverses and four reverses.
In 1937, Walter Nichols, a famous collector/numismatist, searched for information on one of these patterns owned by another collector. The following is excerpted from John R. Sinnock’s (U.S. Mint engraver) letter in response to Nichols’ inquiry to the Treasury Department.
Replying to your inquiry of the 24th of November regarding a 1916 half dollar, I wish to say that the coin which you have described is probably a pattern or experimental piece. Your description conforms with the original sculptor’s models which I have in my custody.
The dies for the piece described were destroyed in January 1917.
I can find no record of the number of the experimental pieces struck from this design, but in all probability they were very few. I have never seen one myself.
I did not come to the Mint until August 1917 so I have no personal knowledge of the striking of these trial pieces, and there it no one now in my department who was here then.
The sculptor, Mr. Weinman submitted three variations for the obverse of this half dollar and two for the reverse. Trial dies were made of only two of the obverse and two reverse, these were the standard coin in circulation and the one which you have described. Trial or pattern pieces made to submit to the Treasury officials and sometimes to members of the committee on currency in Congress and final decision as to which should be adopted. As you probably know, there have been many pattern pieces struck since 1793 in this country.
Should I come across any further information on this particular pattern piece, I will send it on to you.
Nichols also wrote The Numismatist in 1938 and received the first hint of the legalities in owning such a piece. The reply is from the business manager, F.G. Duffield. It is legal to own these today.
Thanks for the information on the pattern half dollar I think it best to omit name of owner in the news item. I omitted it in referring to it in the other two instances.
I don’t think you could keep it if government officials located it, and wanted to take it. Patterns have a different status from what they had years ago. They used to be sold at the Mint years ago. Now they are not supposed to leave the Mint. It seems a little odd that four of these should turn up within a year after a lapse of over 20 years.
There is a reference to at least one pattern design struck as a proof in a letter from Mint Director Woolley to Superintendent Joyce dated June 24, 1916. It says “The reverse of both the quarter dollars and half dollars, as shown on the coin struck from the polished dies, are satisfactory” (see letter on p.3). These proof patterns have not surfaced and may have been destroyed. Correspondence from that period does not reveal any further information.