Insights

After 50 years of circulation, how much do you know about the Kennedy half dollar?

Making Moderns column from the June 9, 2014, issue of Coin World
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 05/23/14
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One of this year’s most eagerly anticipated releases from the U.S. Mint is a special version of the Kennedy half dollar being issued to commemorate the coin’s 50th anniversary.

While it has been reported that a .9999 fine gold version of the half dollar struck at the West Point Mint will be offered, the United States Mint has made no official announcement of the program nor set any release date. Details about this coin are scant at best.

But how much do you know about the Kennedy half dollar, which turns 50 this year? Following is part one of a survey of the series’ highlights:

Congress authorized the Kennedy half dollar on Dec. 30, 1963, just five weeks after the president’s death. The first coins struck were Mint Chief U.S. Mint Engraver Gilroy Robert’s original design; the coins had deeply incised hair detail. Today, these coins are known as 1964 Kennedy, Accented Hair half dollars. Shortly into production, the design was modified and the hair detail softened. 

In 1964, Proof set sales soared to record levels, owing to demand for the last 90 percent silver coins and the new Kennedy coin. Nearly 4 million sets were sold. But only about 120,000 coins, 3 percent of the Proof 1964 Kennedy half dollar mintage, are thought to be the Accented Hair variety. They are highly coveted today. 

A popular variety also emerges from the coins issued for circulation this year. The 1964-D/D half dollar shows a prominently doubled Mint mark, one of the best repunched Mint marks among all modern U.S. coinage. In 1965, as 90 percent silver coinage was replaced with copper-nickel clad, a special provision was made for the half dollar. It would be struck in silver-copper clad (40 percent silver) until 1970 to help relieve hoarding pressure for those who desired silver coinage. Several important Kennedy half dollars were produced in this era. 

First among the circulation issues is the 1970-D half dollar. To meet demand for silver, some 672 million Kennedy half dollars were struck for circulation from 1967 through 1969. That was enough. By 1970, demand abated and the 1970-D half dollar was struck solely for inclusion in Uncirculated Mint sets and not for circulation, the first such noncirculating coin of the modern era. It has a mintage of only 2.15 million pieces. 

A key condition rarity also can be found among the halves of this era, the 1969-D half dollar. In 1969, the entire burden of producing Kennedy half dollars fell to the Denver Mint. Although they churned out 130 million coins, today gem Uncirculated examples are considered scarce. Mishandling, mushy strikes and yellow-spotting — typical for these silver-copper clad coins — all limit their grades. Superb gem (Mint State-67) examples trade for thousands of dollars. 

Next: Special Mint set coins and key copper-nickel clad issues.

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2 comments
anonymous
anonymous May 27, 2014 7:20 AM
Should have made $50 1 ounce gold Kennedy for 50 years of Kennedy half dollar.