Editor’s note: In his August monthly Coin World cover feature, Gerald Tebben looks back at the story of the John F. Kennedy half dollar as the numismatic community celebrates the coin's 50th anniversary. This is the last of a series of articles from this feature that will appear online at CoinWorld.com.
Make sure you read other posts in the '50 years later' series:
- John F. Kennedy half dollar a coin born from tragedy
- Jackie O asks for 'mussed up' hair on Kennedy half dollar before Congress' near-unanimous approval
- U.S. Senator 'shed a few tears' for Benjamin Franklin before Kennedy half dollar approval
- Collecting the nearly 190 coins that make up complete Kennedy half dollar set a fun challenge
- Artist’s ‘signature,’ or Communist symbol on Kennedy half dollar?
- Where were you when the Kennedy half dollar was released?
- Kennedy half dollar's 1964 release fueled the hot hobby of numismatics
What would it buy?
The Kennedy half dollar was released at a time when 50 cents had real purchasing power.
In 1964 the minimum wage was $1, an amount worth about $7.55 in today’s money.
Here are some prices from late March 1964.
In most cities, daily newspapers were 7 cents; Sunday ones, a quarter.
Newfangled tubeless car tires sold for as little as $8.21. Hi-Grade motor oil was 19 cents a quart.
A half dollar would buy two boy’s T-shirts, a six-blade pack of chin-slicing Schick double-edged razor blades or a can of I’sis hair spray.
At the grocery store, a Kennedy half dollar would buy four cans of Libby’s pork and beans, five dozen clothespins, a half-pound T-bone steak or 1 pound of bacon, halibut or frozen fish sticks.
The first Ford Mustang, THE car of the decade, rolled off the assembly line March 9, just a couple weeks before the Kennedy coin was released. It stickered for $2,368, about a tenth of the current price.
Coin prices from a half century ago, for the most part, seem like great bargains today. In a few cases, though, buyers in 1964 wasted their money on coins that are now worth just a fraction of their 1964 prices.
Here are some prices from the March 1964 issue of the long-gone Numismatic Scrapbook magazine.
Empire Coin — Q. David Bowers’ and Jim Ruddy’s company — was offering a “select fine” 1792 half disme for $650. Today the coin is worth upwards of $75,000.
Eureka Coin Shop of San Francisco was advertising Choice Uncirculated Saint-Gaudens gold $20 pieces for $51 apiece (a dollar less than Coronet double eagles). Today, Uncirculated double eagles fluctuate with the price of gold — figure $1,600.
Vikse of New York City priced an Uncirculated 1890-CC Morgan dollar at $20. Today an MS-63 1890-CC dollar retails for $800.
H&H of Phoenix advertised a Brilliant Uncirculated 1909-S Lincoln, V.D.B. cent for $325. The coin currently sells for about $2,000.
In the early 1960s, collectors and speculators put coins away by the roll and bag, figuring they’d see big profits later.
M. Hirschhorn of Long Island City, N.Y., offered 1960 Small Date cents for $350 a roll. London’s of Brooklyn, N.Y., was selling 5,000-coin bags of 1959 cents for $265.
Roll and bag collecting fell by the wayside decades ago. Both investments were dogs. Today a roll of 1960 Small Date cents sells for about $110. The bag of 1959 cents retails for about $125, and buyers are hard to find.
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