Kennedy half dollars are very accessible. A collector at almost any
budget building a complete set in Mint State condition will encounter
no unobtainable coins. At the same time, collectors seeking the best
quality examples encounter many challenges locating coins. This
dichotomy of plenty and scarcity is a hallmark of collecting modern coinage.
Kennedy, Bicentennial half dollars illustrate this well. In 1975 and
1976, the Mint released a circulating commemorative half dollar. The
obverse stayed the same except for its dual date, 1776–1976. The
reverse of the half dollar replaced the Heraldic Eagle with
Independence Hall alongside the legend 200 YEARS OF FREEDOM.
The U.S. Mint made 234 million at the Philadelphia Mint and 287
million at the Denver Mint for circulation. Plentiful and worth only a
couple dollars in average Uncirculated condition, as superb gems the
coins are scarce and valuable. Only 17 examples of the 1776–1976 half
dollar are graded Mint State 67 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. and Professional Coin Grading
Service combined; these trade for more than $1,000.
At the same time, choice examples can be found in both 1975 and 1976
Uncirculated Mint sets, which trade for less than $10 each.
Uncirculated Mint sets are the likely source of many Kennedy half
dollars in collectors’ holdings. But no Uncirculated Mint sets were
issued in 1982 and 1983.
The 1982-P half dollar mintage is only 10.8 million coins. It is
quite a challenge to find in gem Uncirculated condition. The 1983-P
issue, 34.1 million struck, is even more difficult to locate in superb
grades. The Denver Mint coins from those years are generally better quality.
In complete contrast, in 1987 the Kennedy half dollar was issued
only in Uncirculated Mint sets. Since 2001, the half dollar has been
issued only for direct purchase from the Mint, in $10 rolls, $100 bags
and Uncirculated Mint sets. As the coin transitioned from currency to
collectible, mintage figures plummeted, yet high grade examples of
later issues remain plentiful — for now.
From this era, one coin stands out. In 1998, a Robert F. Kennedy
commemorative silver dollar was issued and paired in a “Brothers set”
with a 90 percent silver Kennedy half dollar struck at the San
Francisco Mint. To match the two coins, the half dollar was given a
Matte Finish. Just 62,000 were sold, making it a key date in the
For now, the Matte Finish 1998-S Kennedy silver half dollar is
unique in appearance among Kennedy halves. Likely the 2014-D silver
half dollar in this year’s 50th Anniversary Set will have a similar
Matte Finish, though. The 50th Anniversary program, unprecedented in
scope, will likely fuel interest in the other popular collectible issues.