?Kennedy half dollars are back in the news, thanks to the discovery of a rare transitional error for the 1971-D Kennedy half dollar, as reported by Paul Gilkes.
Transitional errors generally occur when a mint is making a change in composition. They have a coolness level that is hard to match, particularly since they can be found in circulation when the coin’s composition is in the process of being changed, or even discovered years later as with this newly reported piece.
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The most famous U.S. transitional errors are the 1943 Lincoln cents struck on copper-alloy planchets from 1942 rather than on the one-year-only zinc-coated steel planchets. Even some in the noncollecting public are at least vaguely aware of the 1943 errors, though many think the steel cent is the error and not the copper one.
The period from 1964 to 1971 offered ample opportunity for the production of transitional errors for the dime, quarter dollar, and half dollar. The switch from 90 percent silver to copper-nickel clad for the dime and quarter dollar, while not popular with collectors, was a financial necessity. Since production of 1964 and 1965 coins continued well past the ends of those two calendar years, even concurrently, planchets of both compositions were on hand, and not surprisingly, coins of either date were struck on the wrong planchets.
The transition of the half dollar was a two-step process. Silver proponents wanted a “prestige coin” to survive, so the half dollar’s alloy was switched to a silver-copper clad composition — with a reduction in silver content to 40 percent from 90 percent. Again, transitional errors became possible as this first switch was made.
By 1970, however, silver’s value had risen to the level that even a content of 40 percent was not viable. The last half dollars struck for circulation in a silver alloy were the 1969-D coins. In 1970, no half dollars were struck for circulation, though the 40 percent silver composition was used for the 1970-D coin for the Uncirculated Mint set and for the 1970-S half dollar for that year’s Proof set. In 1971, when production of the denomination resumed for circulation, the half dollar was made of the same copper-nickel clad composition as the dime and quarter dollar.
The discovery more than 40 years later of a 1971-D Kennedy half dollar presumably struck on a leftover 1970 silver-copper clad planchet is a reminder that great coins can still be found.
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