US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for July 25, 2022: A series hiatus?

The Federal Reserve has ordered millions of 2022 Kennedy half dollars for circulation and collectors are finding rolls of them at local banks.

Images courtesy of Dan Murphy.

The revelation that the Federal Reserve has again ordered half dollars for circulation has both excited and angered collectors.

The excitement arises from the possibility of finding the coins at a local bank for face value, rather than paying a premium for them to a dealer or the United States Mint. The anger derives from finding out that your local bank does not have any and will not be ordering any, or from learning about their circulation only after paying someone a premium.

For years, U.S. “circulating” coinage has been split into two categories: coins that are struck for circulation because they are needed and coins that are struck but not needed due to low demand for the denominations.

Cents, 5-cent coins, dimes and quarter dollars are readily available in circulation; one may not find every new coin early in the calendar year, but chances are strong that eventually you will be able to find them at the bank or in the change handed to you by a cashier at the conclusion of a transaction.

Half dollars and dollars, however, had been struck for years with no chance of officially entering circulation. Until 2021, that is, when, to just about everyone’s surprise, 2021 Kennedy half dollars began appearing in circulation, thanks to the first Federal Reserve orders for the denomination in two decades.

Does it make sense to strike “circulating” coins that are unneeded in circulation? Not really. However, the Mint cannot stop producing Native American dollars or American Innovation dollars — both series are mandated by Congress, so the Mint had no choice but to strike them.

Half dollar production, however, is not mandated. The Mint could have stopped striking them circa 2001 when the Fed stopped ordering them; officials, however, chose to continue striking them for collector sales.

Would the Mint have been criticized for not striking half dollars in 2002? Probably. But U.S. coinage history is filled with examples of coinage production for denominations, like the silver dollar, the gold $10 eagle and the copper half cent, being placed on a long hiatus until a need for the coins arose anew. Maybe we need to revisit that approach.
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