The U.S. Mint has released details about its 50th anniversary program for the Kennedy half dollar, but it is difficult to get too excited about the Mint’s unprecedented commemoration of a coin’s anniversary, especially a coin that several generations have rarely used in circulation.
The half dollar is one of those orphan denominations — authorized by U.S. law but essentially unneeded in circulation. The Federal Reserve hasn’t had to order from the Mint any 50-cent coins for circulation since 2001, so low is the demand for the half dollar. Many Americans are probably unaware that we still produce half dollars. That’s why the decision to commemorate the coin’s anniversary is so unusual.
A 2013 program marking the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, featuring the half dollar and the Mint’s presidential medal for Kennedy in a special set, would have seemed more logical — the assassination is one of the Baby Boomer generation’s pivotal historical events.
Instead, we are going to get a 50th anniversary half dollar program that, if we want to be cynical, seems aimed mainly at enticing collectors to buy an ever increasing number of coins with special finishes.
The 50th anniversary program adds seven finish and Mint mark variants of the half dollar to the six variants already available from the Mint.
A four-coin 2014 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half Dollar Silver Coin Collection set will contain four silver coins unique to the set: a regular Proof coin with P Mint mark, a Reverse Proof coin with W Mint mark, an Enhanced Uncirculated coin with S Mint mark and an Uncirculated coin with D Mint mark. A two-coin 2014 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half Dollar Uncirculated Coin set will contain copper-nickel clad coins from the Philadelphia and Denver Mints.
All six coins will bear a restored version of the Gilroy Roberts portrait of Kennedy in its original 1964 higher relief (the restoration of the original Kennedy portrait is a bright spot in this program).
And then there’s the gold half dollar. The Mint is using what it cites as existing authority to produce a .9999 fine gold half dollar struck at the West Point Mint, with a 1964–2014 dual date and the higher relief 1964 portrait. The logic behind this coin is hard to understand. We’ve never had a gold half dollar before and the Mint’s legal authority to issue it is open to debate. When the Mint struck gold versions of the 2000 Sacagawea dollar and announced plans to sell them to the public, Congress stopped the Mint, stating that Mint officials lacked constitutional authority to issue the dollar coin in gold.
Ultimately, collectors will decide whether the Mint has made good decisions in commemorating the Kennedy half dollar.