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 one 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:
Fueling a hot hobby
Coin collecting was a hot hobby in 1964, fueled by new designs on circulating coins, rising silver prices and the prospect of finding valuable coins in change.
Numismatics captured the public’s intense interest in 1959, when the 50-year-old reverse of the Lincoln cent was changed from Victor D. Brenner’s wheat ears to Frank Gasparro’s Lincoln Memorial. Red Books and blue folders set sales records as more and more people, including Baby Boom children, started collecting coins.
The next year, the entire nation was checking change as reports started circulating that the Mint had released a valuable variety of 1960 cent. Daily newspapers ran articles detailing the differences between Small Date and Large Date cents and speculating that the scarcer Philadelphia Mint Small Date cents were worth as much as $20 apiece.
Coin magazines were filled with stories of circulation finds, including a September report that a New Orleans drug store had received three bags — 15,000 coins worth as much as $300,000 — of the scarce cents.
The change-checking frenzy occurred amid a background of rising silver prices. On Sept. 9, 1963, the metal crossed the $1.29-an-ounce mark, the point at which circulating silver coins were worth more as metal than as money.
Collectors and speculators besieged Treasury offices, exchanging silver certificates for silver dollars. Dollars, some dating back as far as 1850, poured out of government vaults. It was front-page news across the country when the Treasury Department pulled the plug on the dollar deluge on March 25, 1964, the day after the Kennedy half dollar was released.