US Coins

Making Moderns: Last Matte Finish coin of 1990s

This 1998-S Kennedy silver half dollar paired in a two-coin set with a Robert F. Kennedy silver dollar has the same Matte Finish as 1994-P and 1997-P Jefferson 5-cent coins included in separate, limited-edition commemorative coin sets in 1994 and 1997.

Images courtesy of Numismatic Guaranty Corp.

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 Specimen 70.

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

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