In 1998, the United States Mint sold a Matte Finish Kennedy 90
percent silver half dollar. Today, the coin remains the lowest mintage
Kennedy half dollar.
Twice already during the 1990s the Mint had sold special Matte
Finish versions of circulating coins in sets alongside commemorative
dollars. In 1994, the Mint offered a Matte Finish 1994-P Jefferson
5-cent coin with the 1743-1993 Thomas Jefferson 250th Anniversary
dollar. In 1997, it sold a Matte Finish 1997-P Jefferson 5-cent coin
in a set with a Botanic Gardens silver dollar. Both programs were
oversubscribed. Immediately after their release these 5-cent coins
traded for hefty premiums.
Hoping to boost sales of the forthcoming 1998 Robert F. Kennedy
silver dollar, the Mint again employed a similar tactic. It offered a
two-coin set that included the silver dollar and a silver Kennedy half
dollar. To match the appearance of the commemorative coin, the half
dollar was struck from sandblasted dies that imparted a Matte Finish.
The Mint was unable to predict what demand for the half dollar
might be. Rather than set a fixed mintage figure, it decided to
produce as many of the sets as it could sell during a six-week period.
The two-coin “Kennedy Collector’s Set” went on sale Jan. 1, 1998. All
orders had to be received by Feb. 13, 1998. The set was priced at $59.95.
During that same time window, the Uncirculated Robert F. Kennedy
silver dollar was available individually at a pre-issue price of $30,
putting the net price of the half dollar in the set at $29.95.
Working in the coin’s favor was the Matte Finish 1997-P Jefferson
5-cent coin. By the start of 1998, it was trading for as much as $300.
That coin had a very limited mintage of just 25,000, but numerous
comparisons were made between the two coins.
Final sales of the set, and therefore the mintage figure of the
half dollar, are variously reported between 62,000 and 63,500. Despite
its high initial offering price, such low production indeed made the
coin a winner.
Today, uncertified examples trade for about $150. The grading
services call these coins “Specimen” finish because of their special
handling. Examples grading Specimen 69 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp.
sell for about $190 and coins grading Specimen 70 trade for as much as $500.
The coins are very well made and usually beautiful. Irregular,
sometimes dark spotting and high-point luster grazes are the most
common grade-limiting factors that hold back a coin from grading
Scott schechter is a grader at NGC and co-author of 100
Greatest U.S. Modern Coins. He can be reached by email directed
to him at email@example.com.