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Bicentennial half dollar forerunner of commems

The 1976 Kennedy half dollar is not a rare coin, but it’s an interesting coin and it may well be that history will judge that it’s even more important than we suspect as the special Bicentennial issues of 1976 might very well have opened the door for modern commemoratives.

The Bicentennial celebration in 1976 presented officials with a problem. They needed to do something and a commemorative would have been logical, but commemoratives at the time were out of favor. Creating a commemorative that was not a commemorative was the challenge. That produced the idea of dual 1776-1976 dates on the obverse and special reverses for the quarter, half dollar and dollar.

An open contest was held for the special one-time designs and in the case of the half dollar the winner was judged to be Seth G. Huntington’s Independence Hall.

The production of the 1976 special quarters, half dollars and dollars actually started in 1975 to allow for a backlog in anticipation of heavy demand. Regular business strikes of the 1976 were created in Philadelphia and Denver with very high mintages of 234,308,000 and 287,565,248, respectively. In addition there was a 1976-S proof clad that had a mintage of 7,059,099.

The business strikes are relatively inexpensive at $22 in MS-65 for the Philadelphia and $9 for the Denver, while the San Francisco proof is at $4. The low proof price may be due in part to the large mintage and also the fact that there were proof 40 percent silver clad pieces.

There were 11 million silver clad business strikes created at San Francisco along with 4 million proofs. As it worked out, however, the mintages were too large and many were melted, leaving totals of nearly 5 million business strikes and 4 million proofs. Strangely, today the supposedly more common MS-65 is $12 and the Proof-65 $6. Were strikes so bad that many don’t make MS-65? You have to wonder.

Melting of the 1976-S silver issues in 1982 has made pricing difficult and it seems likely to evolve over time. Overall, supplies are adequate to meet any demand and until that changes it is not likely that we will see significant price movement.

The 1976-S silver issues became important as they were offered as a set and in such offers you can see the similarity in approach taken less than a decade later with modern commemoratives. The mintages were too large, perhaps, reflecting a lack of experience with the rare coin market, but a few years earlier when the Eisenhower dollars had appeared the initial authorizations in the legislation had also been far in excess of any sales.

The special Bicentennial reverses were popular. They were saved in high numbers. Most importantly, they helped open the door to modern commemoratives.

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