Two factors contributed to the low mintage experienced for half dollars in 1921, and both of these factors also had an impact on other denominations. The mintages for all silver coins were heavily influenced by the massive number of silver dollars struck during the year, as required under the Pittman Act. The mints shifted their focus to the largest silver denomination striking more than 80 million silver dollars, which reduced the capacity to strike other silver denominations.
The second factor contributing to the limited mintage of 1921-dated half dollars was the economy. While usually overshadowed by the Great Depression, the United States also experienced a depression from 1920-1921. This depression is often attributed to the change in the economy from wartime to peace. The return of large numbers of soldiers and the need for factories to change their products resulted in deflation. Prices fell sharply, the Dow Jones Index lost 47% from the highest point in 1919 to the lowest point during the depression, and unemployment rates rose to over 11%. The decline in the economy led to a reduced need for circulating coinage, further contributing to the reduced production of half dollars.
The years after the depression would also have an impact on the status of the 1921 Walking Liberty Half Dollars. An unprecedented recovery occurred, which saw rising prices and improved retail business, leading to increased circulation of existing coinage. The 1921 half dollars had been released soon after their mintage and few were saved. The improvement in the economy led to the widespread circulation of the issue, leaving few higher grade or uncirculated examples available for future generations.
Coin collectors were few and far between in the United States at this time and thus very few 1921 Walking Liberty Half Dollars were saved in uncirculated condition, regardless of the Mint where they were struck. By pure coincidence some were saved, and in fact, gem survivors (pieces graded MS-65) are easier found for the lower mintage Philadelphia and Denver coins than those struck at the San Francisco Mint.
The lowest mintage of the year was achieved by the Denver Mint, which released a mere 208,000 Walking Liberty Half Dollars, followed by the Philadelphia Mint. The so-called “Mother-Mint” only struck 246,000 Walking Liberty Half Dollars in 1921. San Francisco had the largest issue of the year, although its total output of 548,000 coins is never considered to be much within the grand scheme of mintages for the series. In total, just a little over a million half dollars, from three different Mints bear the 1921 date. Given the fact that virtually all other dates within the series had higher mintages we can see that the output this year was extremely small.