The face of John F. Kennedy has graced the obverse of the Half Dollar for half a century. As coin enthusiasts speculate on what the United States Mint has up its sleeve to celebrate, I wanted to look back at the exciting Kennedy Half Dollar series and what collectors should be doing now to ensure the completion of their sets!
Just over a month after Kennedy's death, Congress authorized the half dollar to change from Franklin to Kennedy. Immediately following his death, the US Mint went to work on the design. Gilroy Roberts had already designed Kennedy's portrait for his presidential medal and engraver Frank Gasparro designed the reverse which resembles the presidential seal. This allowed for the dies to be prepared quickly and production of the coins began in January 1964.
The 90% silver coins were released at the end of March 1964 and quickly disappeared from circulation. Collectors, hoarders and fans of the late President Kennedy grabbed up as many half dollars as they could. This made the US Mint increase production from 91 million to eventually minting 430 million, but still the Kennedy Half Dollar was rarely seen in circulation!
At the end of 1964, silver prices were on the rise and the silver supply at the US Treasury was low, so changes in the metal composition of all coins was enacted by Congress with the Coinage Act of 1965. This changed the Kennedy Half Dollar from 90% silver to 40% silver. Then in 1971, after much debate, silver was completely eliminated from the half dollar.
The next major milestone for the Kennedy Half Dollar was the 1976 United States Bicentennial. The Mint decided to hold a competition for a reverse redesign for the Washington Quarter, Kennedy Half Dollar, and Ike Dollar. Seth G. Huntington's design of the Independence Hall was picked for the reverse design. All the half dollars minted in 1975 and 1976 were struck with the dates "1776-1976" on the obverse below Kennedy's portrait. The Bicentennial was wildly popular with the public- 521 million Half Dollars were minted.
In 2002 the mint stopped production of half dollars for general circulation and only struck half dollars for collecting purposes. Rolls, bags, and proof sets can be purchased from the Mint directly at a premium. Though circulation demand has dropped, collectors still love the Kennedy Half Dollar series and demand is on the rise with the 50th anniversary upon us.