Federal Reserve is ordering half dollars for general circulation
- Published: Jul 9, 2021, 9 AM
The Federal Reserve has been quietly ordering circulation-quality Kennedy half dollars for distribution into general circulation, reversing a trend that started in 2002.
It was widely believed that none of the Kennedy half dollars struck in circulation quality were routed for circulation release since 2002, and that the output from the Denver and Philadelphia Mints was all reserved for numismatic sales in bags and rolls, offered at premiums above face value.
What remains unclear is when the Federal Reserve began ordering new half dollars for circulation.
U.S. Mint spokesman Michael White confirmed to Coin World July 6 that the Federal Reserve has been placing orders for circulation-quality Kennedy half dollars. However, repeated requests for details about when orders first began have gone unanswered. Federal Reserve officials have also not responded to Coin World’s questions about its orders for half dollars.
Collector reports rolls
Coin World reported in its July 12, 2021, issue that a Washington state collector was able to purchase a $500 face value box of rolled 2021-D Kennedy half dollars from his local bank.
Since the article was published in print and online, other collectors have responded that they, too, were able to secure rolls of 2021-D Kennedy half dollars at their local banks in Washington.
So far all the circulation reports to Coin World involve 2021-D Kennedy half dollars; no 2021-P half dollars from Philadelphia Mint production were reported.
Three collectors, two in Washington and one in southern California, reported on Reddit.com being able to obtain rolled 2021-D Kennedy half dollars.
“I live in eastern Washington,” said one collector. “And actually, my area has had this happen since 2018. I dumped boxes of 2018s and [now] every circulated roll over here almost always has one 2018-D. My two boxes last week were once again 2021-Ds. I think the clear answer is there are more hobbyists than there is circulated supply. I wouldn’t be surprised if Loomis/Brink’s are actually buying direct from the Mint just to fill orders, even at a loss.”
The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco branch banks in Seattle, Washington, and Los Angeles, California, respectively serve the states of Washington and California.
Mintage figures a clue?
A comparison of annual mintage figures from 2016 to 2021 could support reader beliefs that 2018 half dollars were placed into circulation by the Federal Reserve. Mintages for the 2018 coins at both the Philadelphia and Denver Mints show a huge increase from 2016 and 2017 totals. Mintages dropped to typical levels — what might be expected for numismatic sales — in 2019. Mintages in 2020 rose above 2016, 2017 and 2019 levels; whether those increases were driven by circulation needs (remember that the ongoing coin shortage began in 2020) remains unclear in the absence of additional information from the Mint and Federal Reserve. With just half a year’s production, 2021 levels are well above the mintages registered annually since 2016.
2016 mintages were reported at 2.1 million half dollars for each Mint.
The 2017 mintages were at similar levels, at 2.9 million coins for the Denver Mint and 1.8 million half dollars for the Philadelphia Mint.
A significant increase in production was registered in 2018: 6.1 million half dollars at the Denver Mint and 4.8 million coins struck at the Philadelphia Mint. The figures seem hard to explain by just numismatic sales, and seem to support the circulation finds by collectors of 2018 Kennedy half dollars.
Mintages in 2019 fell off to 1.7 million pieces per Mint, suggesting that most if not all were for numismatic sales.
In 2020, mintages rose to 3.4 million Denver Mint coins and 2.3 million Philadelphia Mint half dollar strikes.
So far in 2021, production totals 7.7 million half dollars struck at the Denver Mint and 5.1 million pieces at the Philadelphia Mint, suggesting a possibility that the 2021 coins may be supplying orders for circulation.
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