Gerald Tebben, a Coin World columnist for more than 30 years, also contributes to Coin World’s Coin Values and edits the Central States Numismatic Society’s journal, The Centinel. He collects coins that tell stories.
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Five valuable firsts from the Mint
While production of Kennedy half dollars actually started quietly weeks before, first strike ceremonies were conducted simultaneously in Philadelphia and Denver on Feb. 11.
The $100,000 gold Kennedy half dollar raised eyebrows in and outside the hobby. The coin’s claim to fame is that it is the first gold Kennedy SOLD by the United States Mint.
Mint firsts have commanded attention and sometimes big bucks for more than a century. Here are five Mint firsts, started with the latest.
2014 – Los Angeles collector Nick Yadgarov was first in line Aug. 5 when the gold Kennedy half dollar went on sale at the American Numismatic Association World's Fair of Money. He paid the $1,240 issue price for the first piece and promptly sold it to David Hendrickson from SilverTowne and California dealer Kevin Lipton for $5,000 plus a replacement coin. The pair had the coin slabbed Proof 70 Deep Cameo by Professional Coin Grading Service and sold it two days later to an unidentified collector for the eye-popping figure of $100,000.
2000 – In 1999 as the Mint geared up production and promotion of the Sacagawea dollars, West Point struck 12 gold specimens and Philadelphia struck 5,500 gold-colored copper pieces, all dated 2000. The gold coins traveled aboard a July 1999 space shuttle mission as a publicity stunt. They are currently stored at the Fort Knox Gold Bullion Depository in Kentucky. The gold-colored copper pieces were struck on the same planchets as later strikes but have different tail-feather detail than later coins. The coins, which were distributed in Cheerios cereal boxes to publicize the new dollars, are differentiated from later strikes by a raised center line in the tail feather shaft. These “first” coins fetch about $6,000 at auction.
1964 – While production of Kennedy half dollars actually started quietly weeks before, first strike ceremonies were conducted simultaneously in Philadelphia and Denver on Feb. 11. The first four coins struck at each mint during the ceremonies were given to President Johnson, who presented them to the late president’s widow, Jacqueline. The coins, which have dropped out of sight, are likely impounded in a museum. On the market, the Kennedy connection would make them priceless, even though they were not actually the first half dollars struck.
1892 – At 10 a.m. Nov. 19, Philadelphia Mint foreman Albert Downing, under the watchful eye of Chief Engraver Charles Barber placed a silver planchet in a coining press and pulled a lever to strike the first Columbian Exposition commemorative half dollar. “Unfortunately, the first attempt was a failure,” the New York Times reported the following day. The coin was rejected because of a flaw and, The Times reported, it was “battered” with a hammer and consigned to the scrap box. The second coin struck was better. It was placed in a box with a certificate of authenticity signed by Mint Superintendent O.C. Bosbyshell claiming it was in fact the first coin struck.
The official first coin struck was sold to Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict, makers of the Remington typewriter (a primitive analog word processor) for the incredible sum of $10,000. Q. David Bowers in his Commemorative Coins of the United States estimates the sum was about equal to a common worker’s lifetime earnings. The coin was donated to the Columbian Museum, now the Field Museum of Natural History. At auction, the coin would undoubtedly attract a terrific sum. While most Columbian half dollars are worth very little, high grade Proofs have topped $40,000.
1878 – About 3 p.m. March 11, 1878, the first Morgan dollar was produced at the Philadelphia Mint by Downing. This coin, too, proved flawed and was discarded. A second “first” coin was produced at 3:17 p.m. and set aside for President Rutherford B. Hayes. The coin, an 8-tail feather VAM-9 (Comprehensive Catalogue and Encyclopedia of U.S. Morgan and Peace Silver Dollars by Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis), is permanently impounded in the Rutherford B. Hayes Museum in Fremont, Ohio. It, too, is an incredibly valuable coin in a hyperhot series. Its value is likely several times over that of the $100,000 gold Kennedy half.