Kennedy half dollar
Overview
 
Within hours of the assassination of John F. Kennedy
Assassination of John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the thirty-fifth President of the United States, was assassinated at 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas...

 on November 22, 1963, Mint Director Eva Adams called Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts
Gilroy Roberts
Gilroy Roberts was a sculptor, gemstone carver, and the ninth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint between 1948 and 1964. He designed the obverse of the United States Kennedy half dollar, which was first issued in 1964. After he retired from the U.S...

, informing him that serious consideration was being given to depicting Kennedy on one of the larger silver coins: either the silver dollar, half dollar, or quarter dollar
Quarter (United States coin)
A quarter dollar, commonly shortened to quarter, is a coin worth ¼ of a United States dollar, or 25 cents. The quarter has been produced since 1796. The choice of 25¢ as a denomination, as opposed to 20¢ which is more common in other parts of the world, originated with the practice of dividing...

. Adams called Roberts again on November 27 and authorized the project, stating that the late president's widow, Jacqueline Kennedy preferred that he be depicted on the half dollar, replacing the previous design
Franklin half dollar
The Franklin half dollar is a coin that was struck by the United States Mint from 1948 to 1963. The fifty-cent piece pictures Founding Father Benjamin Franklin on the obverse and the Liberty Bell on the reverse. A small eagle was placed to the right of the bell to fulfill the legal requirement...

 of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

.
Encyclopedia
Within hours of the assassination of John F. Kennedy
Assassination of John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the thirty-fifth President of the United States, was assassinated at 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas...

 on November 22, 1963, Mint Director Eva Adams called Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts
Gilroy Roberts
Gilroy Roberts was a sculptor, gemstone carver, and the ninth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint between 1948 and 1964. He designed the obverse of the United States Kennedy half dollar, which was first issued in 1964. After he retired from the U.S...

, informing him that serious consideration was being given to depicting Kennedy on one of the larger silver coins: either the silver dollar, half dollar, or quarter dollar
Quarter (United States coin)
A quarter dollar, commonly shortened to quarter, is a coin worth ¼ of a United States dollar, or 25 cents. The quarter has been produced since 1796. The choice of 25¢ as a denomination, as opposed to 20¢ which is more common in other parts of the world, originated with the practice of dividing...

. Adams called Roberts again on November 27 and authorized the project, stating that the late president's widow, Jacqueline Kennedy preferred that he be depicted on the half dollar, replacing the previous design
Franklin half dollar
The Franklin half dollar is a coin that was struck by the United States Mint from 1948 to 1963. The fifty-cent piece pictures Founding Father Benjamin Franklin on the obverse and the Liberty Bell on the reverse. A small eagle was placed to the right of the bell to fulfill the legal requirement...

 of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

. Kennedy's reasoning was that she did not want to replace George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

 on the quarter.

In the interest of time (the striking of the new coin was to begin in January 1964), Roberts modified the existing bust of Kennedy he had created for use on the Kennedy medal in the Mint's Presidential series, while Frank Gasparro
Frank Gasparro
Frank Gasparro was the tenth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, holding this position from February 23, 1965 to January 16, 1981. Before that, he was Assistant Engraver. He designed both sides of the Susan B...

 began modifications to the reverse he had created for the same medal. Both Roberts' and Gasparro's designs had been approved by Kennedy. After the Mint produced trial strikes
Pattern coin
A pattern coin is a coin which has not been approved for release, produced for the purpose of evaluating a proposed coin design. They are often off-metal strikes, to proof standard or piedforts...

, Jacqueline and Robert Kennedy were invited to view them. Mrs. Kennedy viewed the designs favorably, but suggested that the hair be altered slightly. It was also suggested that a full or half figure of the president be used instead of the profile, but Roberts noted that there was not enough time to produce an entirely new design because of the project's time constraints, and also that he believed the left profile would give a more attractive appearance.

Congressional approval was required for any design change within 25 years of the last. In early December, Representative Henry Gonzalez (Democrat
Democratic Party (United States)
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

-Texas) introduced a bill for Kennedy to appear on the half dollar. On December 10, the new President, Lyndon Johnson, endorsed the call for a Kennedy half dollar, asking Congress to pass the legislation promptly to allow striking of the new piece to begin early in 1964. President Johnson stated that he had been moved by letters from many members of the public to agree with the plan. The bill to authorize the Kennedy half dollar passed on December 30, 1963. Work was already underway on coinage dies; the use of the already-available designs allowed for the completion of the first dies on January 2, 1964. Only proof coins were initially struck. The first Kennedy half dollars intended for circulation were struck at the Denver Mint on January 30, 1964, followed by the Philadelphia Mint the next week. A ceremonial first strike was held at both Philadelphia and Denver on February 11, 1964.

Initial popularity

The Treasury Department made the coins available to the public beginning on March 24, 1964. A line a block long formed at the department's windows in Washington to purchase the 70,000 coins initially allocated for public sale. Although the department limited sales to 40 per customer, by the end of the day, the coins were gone, but the line had not shortened. Banks in Boston and Philadelphia quickly rationed supplies, but still sold out by noon. Sales in New York did not begin until the following day, and rationing was imposed there as well, to the disgruntlement of the head of the coin department at Gimbels, the largest dealer in the city, which had hoped to sell the coins at a premium.

The coins were popular overseas as well. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs G. Mennen Williams
G. Mennen Williams
Gerhard Mennen "Soapy" Williams, , was a politician from the US state of Michigan. An heir to a personal grooming products fortune, he was known as "Soapy," and wore a trademark green bow tie with white polka dots....

 distributed plastic-encased specimens to presidents and foreign ministers of African nations and to the U.S. ambassadors serving there "to win friends for the United States in Africa". Shortly after the coin's release, the Denver Mint began receiving complaints that the new coin depicted a hammer and sickle
Hammer and sickle
The hammer and sickle is a part of communist symbolism and its usage indicates an association with Communism, a Communist party, or a Communist state. It features a hammer and a sickle overlapping each other. The two tools are symbols of the industrial proletariat and the peasantry; placing them...

 on the bottom of Kennedy's truncated bust. In response, Roberts stated that the portion of the design in question was actually his monogram, a stylized "GR".

The Mint struck Kennedy half dollars in large numbers in an attempt to meet the overwhelming demand. The Treasury had initially planned to issue 91 million half dollars for 1964, but raised the number to 141 million. However, a public announcement of the increase failed to cause more coins to actually circulate or to decrease the prices on the secondary market. By late November, the Mint had coined approximately 160 million pieces, yet the coin was almost never seen in circulation. Silver prices were rising, and many coins were being hoarded. Hopeful that issuing more 1964-dated coins would counter the speculation in them, the Treasury requested and received Congressional authorization to continue striking 1964-dated coins into 1965. Eventually, almost 430 million half dollars dated 1964 were struck, a sum greater than the total struck for circulation in the sixteen years of the Franklin half dollar series.

These minting operations were rapidly depleting the Treasury's stock of silver. Prices for the metal were rising to such an extent that, by early June, a dime contained 9.33 cents worth of silver at market prices. On June 3, 1965, President Johnson announced plans to eliminate silver from the dime and quarter in favor of a clad sandwich with layers of copper-nickel on each side of a layer of pure copper. The half dollar was changed from 90% silver to 40%. Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1965
Coinage Act of 1965
The Coinage Act of 1965, , eliminated silver from the circulating dimes and quarter dollars of the United States, and diminished the silver content of the half dollar from 90% to 40%...

 in July. The new half dollars retained their silvery appearance, due to the outer layer being 80% silver and 20% copper. The coin was also minted with an inner layer of 21% silver and 79% copper. The first clad half dollars were struck at the Denver Mint
Denver Mint
The Denver Mint is a branch of the United States Mint that struck its first coins on February 1, 1906. The mint is still operating and producing coins for circulation, as well as mint sets and commemorative coins. Coins produced at the Denver Mint bear a D mint mark...

 on December 30, 1965. They bore the date 1965; the date would not be changed for US coins until the coin shortage was eased. Beginning on August 1, 1966, the Mint began to strike 1966-dated pieces, and thereafter it resumed the normal practice of striking the current year's date on each piece. Despite the proclaimed end to the coin shortage, Kennedy half dollars circulated little, a scarcity caused by continued hoarding and a dip in production, with the Treasury reluctant to expend more of the nation's silver holdings on a coin which did not circulate. According to coin dealer and numismatic author Q. David Bowers
Q. David Bowers
Quentin David Bowers is among the best-known and most noteworthy numismatic authors of the last 50 years. Beginning in 1953, Bowers’s contributions to numismatics have continued uninterrupted and unabated to the present day. He has been involved in the selling of rare coins since 1953 when he was...

,

Where the hundreds of millions of them went remains somewhat of a mystery today. In the meantime, Washington quarters, the same design used since 1932, became the highest value coin of the realm, in terms of circulation use. These were particularly popular for vending machines, arcade games, and the like. Today, this continues to be the case, and Kennedy half dollars as well as the later mini-dollar coins, are almost never encountered."

Switch to base metal

In May 1969, the Treasury sought authorization to eliminate the half dollar's silver content, changing it to the same copper-nickel clad composition as the dime and quarter. The Treasury also sought approval to strike base-metal dollar coins, which would fill a need for gaming tokens in Western casinos. Former president Dwight Eisenhower had died recently, and there was discussion of placing Eisenhower's portrait on the dollar. The Treasury hoped that with the removal of the silver content, the coin would cease to be hoarded and again circulate. Despite the support of President Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon
Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. The only president to resign the office, Nixon had previously served as a US representative and senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961 under...

, some Republicans in the House of Representatives
United States House of Representatives
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

 initially scuttled the legislation, disliking the idea of putting Eisenhower on a base metal
Base metal
In chemistry, the term base metal is used informally to refer to a metal that oxidizes or corrodes relatively easily, and reacts variably with diluted hydrochloric acid to form hydrogen. Examples include iron, nickel, lead and zinc...

 coin. The dispute dragged on for over a year before Nixon signed a bill on December 31, 1970 which authorized the Eisenhower dollar and eliminated silver from the half dollar. As a result of the delay, in 1970 half dollars were only made in Denver and released solely in mint sets. With a mintage of 2.1 million the 1970-D Kennedy is considered the "key" to the series, although enough were produced to keep prices modest. The Mint did not announce that 1970 half dollars would not be struck for circulation until after mint set ordering had closed.

By the time silver was eliminated from the half dollar, it had been out of circulation for so long that banks had eliminated the slot for the denomination from machines. The Mint anticipated a comeback for the denomination, but in July 1971, Mint Director Mary Brooks
Mary Brooks
Mary Elizabeth Thomas Peavey Brooks directed the United States Mint from September 1969 to February 1977.Brooks was appointed by President Richard M. Nixon, the third woman named to the post...

 disclosed that the Treasury was holding 200 million of the new base metal half dollars, as commercial banks expressed little interest in ordering them. "I can't understand the population. They're not using them." According to Brooks, most of the over one billion Kennedy half dollars containing silver had been hoarded by the public. Brooks theorized that because the silver Kennedy half dollar never circulated much and few half dollars were struck in 1970 in anticipation of the authorization to eliminate silver, the public had become accustomed to not seeing the half dollar in trade. Brooks suggested, "If the country knew there were plenty of them around, they'd probably start hoarding them, too."
On March 5, 1973, Brooks announced that the Mint would be soliciting new reverse designs
United States bicentennial coinage
The United States Bicentennial coinage was a set of circulating commemorative coins, consisting of a quarter, half dollar and dollar struck by the United States Mint in 1975 and 1976...

 for the half dollar and dollar to commemorate the 1976 United States Bicentennial
United States Bicentennial
The United States Bicentennial was a series of celebrations and observances during the mid-1970s that paid tribute to the historical events leading up to the creation of the United States as an independent republic...

. On October 18, President Nixon signed Public Law 93-127, which provided for new reverse designs for the quarter, half dollar, and dollar. The designs were to be emblematic of the Bicentennial era. The Mint announced a competition open to all American sculptors. Seth G. Huntington's design depicting Independence Hall was selected for the half dollar. All half dollars struck in 1975 and 1976 bore the double date 1776–1976 on the obverse and Huntington's design on the reverse. Over 521 million Bicentennial half dollars were struck for circulation.

Following the high mintage of the Bicentennial piece, the number of pieces struck per year declined. However, in 1979, Mint Director Stella B. Hackel indicated that the Mint would continue to strike them. "We really don't think many half dollars are being used in commerce. They do go somewhere, though, so someone must want them." By then, more than 2.5 billion Kennedy half dollars had been struck, more than all previously struck half dollars combined. The New York Times numismatic columnist Ed Reiter suggested that hoarding had continued even into the base-metal era, accounting for the shortage of pieces in commerce. The late 1970s saw the destruction of many early Kennedy half dollars, as high silver prices caused extensive melting for the metal content.

The coin continued to be struck through the remainder of the twentieth century, and mintage numbers remained relatively steady until in both the Philadelphia and Denver mints until 1987, a year in which no half dollars were struck for circulation; the Treasury had accumulated a two-year supply of the pieces, making further production unncessary. Demand for half dollars dropped, and casinos (where they were commonly used) increasingly began producing fifty cent tokens to use in place of the coins. With mintage numbers remaining low, beginning in 2002, the Kennedy half dollar ceased to be struck for general circulation. Rolls and bags of the current year's pieces may be purchased from the Mint.

Collecting

With the exception of 1965 through 1967, proofs have been struck each year in the same metallic composition as regular issue pieces. The first Kennedy half dollar proofs were struck in early January 1964. Early strikes depicted Kennedy with heavily accented hair; an estimated 100,000 coins were struck with this feature. This was altered for the remainder of the mintage of nearly four million proof coins. Due to the coin shortage, the Treasury Department announced that no proof sets would be struck in 1965. Instead, Special Mint Sets would be struck to satisfy collector demand. Coins for these sets, minted at the San Francisco Assay Office
San Francisco Mint
The San Francisco Mint is a branch of the United States Mint, and was opened in 1854 to serve the gold mines of the California Gold Rush. It quickly outgrew its first building and moved into a new one in 1874. This building, the Old United States Mint, also known affectionately as The Granite Lady,...

, were struck with no mint marks early in 1966 with heavily polished dies dated 1965. Similar sets bearing the dates 1966 and 1967 were also struck. A few of the 1966 halves from the Special Mint Sets are known with Gasparro's initials "FG" missing from the reverse, apparently because of an overpolished die. The first year's production was sold in soft plastic packaging; the 1966 and 1967 issues were sonically sealed in hard plastic cases. In 1968, regular proof coinage was resumed, although production of proof coins was shifted to San Francisco and the "S" mintmark added.

In 1973, Congress authorized silver-clad collector versions of the Bicentennial coins; in April 1975, the Mint began to strike them. The coins were issued in both proof and uncirculated quality. Copper-nickel clad Bicentennial coins were placed in both the 1975 and 1976 proof sets, while their silver clad counterparts were sold in three coin sets.. Since 1992, the Mint has struck Kennedy half dollars in 90% silver for inclusion in special silver proof sets. 1964 proofs were struck in Philadelphia, and since 1968, proof coins have been struck in San Francisco only. In 1998, some silver proof pieces were struck to a matte
Gloss (material appearance)
Gloss is an optical property, which is based on the interaction of light with physical characteristics of a surface. It is actually the ability of a surface to reflect light into the specular direction. The factors that affect gloss are the refractive index of the material, the angle of incident...

 finish for inclusion in a set along with a Robert Kennedy commemorative
Commemorative coin
Commemorative coins are coins that were issued to commemorate some particular event or issue. Most world commemorative coins were issued from the 1960s onward, although there are numerous examples of commemorative coins of earlier date. Such coins have a distinct design with reference to the...

 silver dollar. Since 2005, uncirculated pieces included in mint sets have received a matte finish, which differentiates them from the pieces sold in bags and rolls.

See also

  • Kennedy half dollar mintage figures
    Kennedy half dollar mintage figures
    The Kennedy half dollar began mintage in 1964 and is currently being minted. The first year of production, 1964, was minted in 90% silver and 10% copper. From 1965 through 1970, the Kennedy half dollar was minted in a 40% silver and 60% copper composition. After 1970, the coins were minted in...

  • Coins of the United States dollar
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