US Coins

Circulating coin shortage in U.S. market

After President 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, Coin 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 the Franklin 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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