This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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The 1970-D Kennedy half dollar is an important and interesting coin. In today’s market, it may not seem so, but back in 1970 it had quite an impact. The 1970-D created a lot of excitement at a time when the coin market needed something exciting to happen.
What happened in the few years prior to the 1970-D Kennedy half dollar had basically not been good. In 1965 silver had been removed from the dime and quarter and reduced by 40 percent in the half dollar. Also in 1965, there were no mintmarks and no proof and mint sets in an attempt to discourage collecting.
Having a government try to discourage collecting certainly seems odd today, but in 1965 officials were trying to blame the nation’s collectors for a national coin shortage. It was not accurate as the silver decision had turned millions of Americans into small-time silver hoarders. Additionally, there was enormous saving of the Kennedy half dollar the previous year. Of course the officials did not want to admit that they had failed to recognize what might happen if they stopped making silver coins, so they just blamed the collectors. In the end, the official actions did just what they were intended to do: discourage collectors.
From 1965 to 1970, the Kennedy half dollar had a 40 percent silver composition, making it the last denomination to contain any silver. Like the other denominations, the Kennedy half had little interest after 1964. The large numbers produced of the new 40 percent silver Kennedy halves also caught up with commercial demand, so by 1970 there was really no reason to produce more for circulation. Moreover, the decision was made to eliminate silver completely as of 1971, making the decision to halt production all the easier.
What officials did not tell collectors when they ordered mint sets was the 1970-D Kennedy half dollar would not be made for circulation. By the time deliveries started, collectors realized they had a valuable set. It was a period where the Mint did not seem to think about announcing decisions until after the action had been taken. There would have been much larger mint set sales in 1970 if collectors had known they would contain a scarce 1970-D half dollar, but since they were not told until after it was too late to place an order the total sold stood at 2,150,000. Report of that 2,150,000 seemed to catch the market by surprise, and there was suddenly a mad scramble to acquire the 1970-D. The 1970-D soared in price. It was the first time there had been any real interest in a 40 percent silver Kennedy half dollar.
What goes up can come down, and that was the case with the 1970-D. In 1998 the 1970-D had dropped all the way down to $15 in MS-65, well off the peak price. Since 1998 the 1970-D has moved up again to a current listing of $50 in MS-65.
It’s ironic that 40 years after being issued the 1970-D is still volatile. With the addition of years of proof-only dates that are similar with low mintages and high survival rates, it may be that the 1970-D will become more stable but it will never be less exciting as it will always have a reputation as a highly speculative date.