The NGC Universal ID is a four digit alphanumeric that groups coins based on a unique combination of date, mintmark, denomination and striking process (MS, PF, or SP). These IDs are a simple organization of all coins prior to variety attribution and grading.
Among half dollars coined in the 20th century, the 1921 issues are the rarest, with the 1921-S representing the most important condition rarity of the group. Total mintage of half dollars for the year was 1,002,000 coins, with just over half of these, or 548,000, minted in San Francisco. Author Anthony Swiatek noted that, a few decades earlier, the 1921 (P) half dollar was considered the rarest of this trifecta, with a higher market price in the 1940s. He went on to suggest that some individuals actually removed the mintmark from 1921-S half dollars to increase the perceived value! Of course, such actions a generation ago have only increased the rarity of pristine 1921-S half dollars.
Adolph A. Weinman, who also accomplished the Mercury dime introduced to coinage the same year, prepared this design. A few years earlier, President Theodore Roosevelt was disgusted with the coin designs in circulation at the time, and made it his mission to have all the coinage redesigned. Roosevelt was especially interested in the gold coinage, commissioning Augustus Saint-Gaudens to prepared new designs for the eagle and double eagle. Bela Lyon Pratt concentrated on new designs for the quarter and half eagle denominations. At about the same time, Roosevelt contacted Victor David Brenner to prepare a coinage design for the cent, based on the artist's earlier plaque honoring President Abraham Lincoln. This left only the nickel and the silver denominations to be redesigned. The nickel had its turn in 1913, and finally, the silver coins in 1916. The Liberty Walking half dollar design is considered by many to be the most beautiful silver coinage design ever produced by the United States, and one of the two most beautiful of all coinage designs along with the Saint-Gaudens double eagle. Even the United States government gave a nod to these designs, choosing each for the recent American Eagle gold and silver coins introduced in 1986.
It was not until the 1930s that collecting 20th century coinage by date became an important collecting method. Prior to that, numismatists were concerned with 18th and 19th century issues, if they were even interested in United States coinage. Wayte Raymond produced his 'National' line of coin albums during the depression, an era of significant numismatic interest. Once collectors had an album, and knew what issues to seek, collecting the earlier issues by date and mintmark gained in popularity. This was also the time when the true rarity of some branch mint issues was first recognized. Beginning with the 1933 and 1934 Liberty Walking half dollars, interest was such that many of these were saved at or near the time of issue and survive today in high grade. Earlier issues were not saved at the time of issue to any large degree and, today, all dates from 1916 through 1929 are elusive in the highest grades.
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