John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, the nation
mourned. Not long afterward the Treasury Department and the Mint
decided to replace the design on the Franklin half dollar, in use
since 1948, with a portrait of Kennedy.
Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts created the
Kennedy portrait on the obverse, and his assistant, Frank Gasparro,
designed the reverse. The first coins were released in March 1964 and
created a sensation. In Europe they found a ready sale at about $5
each, and many dealers shipped quantities to agents there. Stateside,
they were gobbled up as soon as they were released.
In the meantime the worldwide price of silver was rising. By 1965 it
cost more than face value to mint a dime, quarter dollar, or half
dollar. The 90 percent silver standard was abandoned. For dimes and
quarter dollars a new silverless “clad” alloy was devised. For half
dollars, a different clad formula with a smaller amount of silver was used.
Millions of citizens tried to find and keep every silver coin in
sight. Dimes, quarter dollars, and half dollars were in short supply.
The excitement of hoarding multiplied, and cents and 5-cent coins were
sought as well. Soon, some stores were offering to pay more than face
value for quantities of “pennies” to make change.
Eva Adams, director of the Mint, blamed numismatists for all of
this! To punish us, in 1965 she mandated that the Denver Mint no
longer use Mint marks. As if this were not enough, Proof sets were
discontinued. In truth, collectors had little if anything at all to do
with the hoarding.
Month in and month out,
World Editor Margo Russell was on the telephone with Adams and
Treasury officials, with banks, with coin dealers and collectors, and
others. Coin World readers watched this latest crisis as it unfolded.
Meanwhile, in 1964, entrepreneur Joseph Segel
started the General Numismatics Corp. (which later changed its name to
Mint). In a coup, he hired Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts to be
president. In a later year the Franklin Mint was the hottest security
on the New York Stock Exchange. Roberts became a multimillionaire. Las
Vegas, Nev., gaming tables lacked silver dollars, but Franklin Mint
dollar-size tokens served in their place.
Again, all of this was reported by Margo and her staff as it unfolded.
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