It gets so little attention that some might be surprised to learn that the 1954-S Franklin half dollar even exists. It does indeed exist, and for a variety of reasons it just might be a better coin than one would assume.
Back in 1954, the 1954-S Franklin half was a natural date to get lost in what were very exciting times. By that year, the 1950-D Jefferson nickel had been discovered to have a mintage lower than any other date in Jefferson nickel history. That may not seem all that significant today, especially considering that there were any number of Buffalo nickels with even lower mintages. But this fact was significant in the 1950s, and it set off massive hoarding and price speculation in then-current issues.
The 1954-S Franklin half did not cause massive hoarding or anything else. In fact, it was probably barely noticed at the time. Franklin halves just did not capture anyone’s attention. This was nothing against Benjamin Franklin, who was undeniably an important American figure. He might not have been as timely as Mickey Mantle, but he was seen as important.
The problem was that very few people cared about half dollars, regardless of who was on the obverse. After all, a half dollar represented a fortune at the time, especially to the emerging young army of coin collectors. For the same price, you could get a roll of cents from the bank, and in that roll might be all sorts of great coins, some of which were worth the cost of the roll. A half dollar might be nice, but it was not in the minds of most the equal of a good roll of circulated cents.
Even if there had been some interest in half dollars, however, the 1954-S would not have stood out. Its mintage of 4,993,400 is impressively low today, but at the time it was not. Just one year earlier, the 1953-S mintage had been even lower. In fact, there had been six Franklin half dollar dates with lower mintages, and the coin was only in its seventh year of production.
The only thing that might have recommended the 1954-S Franklin half at the time was that 1954 was thought to be the final year of half dollar mintages at San Francisco, as with the cent and dime mintages of 1955. This might have produced a little interest in the 1954-S, but the emphasis would have to be on “little.”
In the years that followed, there was no major increase in interest for the 1954-S or even the Franklin half dollar in general. The interest that eventually did come about was due to the Kennedy half dollar replacing the Franklin design in 1964. After that time, half dollars were only 40 percent silver. Franklin half dollars were saved in large numbers, and there would have been any number of 1954-S halves included in the saving.
The 1954-S was also included in the melting that took place in the late 1970s and early 1980 when the price of silver rose to $50 an ounce. Today, we sometimes fail to remember what that can do to coin prices. The 1954-S Franklin half currently lists for $15 in MS60. But at $50 an ounce, you can get more than $15 for any half dollar in any grade.
While we cannot say in what grades the 1954-S was melted, as at the time MS60 and MS65 were not used with half dollars, the probability is that some nicer examples were lost. There was no large reserve supply, as mint set sales back in 1954 were 25,599. That leaves us with an interesting question today about supplies of the 1954-S in various grades.
The current price for an uncirculated roll is $400, which is up from $225 a decade ago and up even more solidly from $105 in 1998. There may actually be a small number of 1954-S uncirculated rolls around, but if so they probably will not last long.
In MS65 condition, the 1954-S currently lists for $75, while an MS65 with full bell lines is at $440. This compares to $105 / $425 a decade ago and $55 / $425 in 1998. Grading service totals seem to suggest these prices are about right, as the 1954-S has been seen a bit more than might be expected until at least the MS66 level.
Even with some decent totals and in top grades, the 1954-S remains a date that could see significant pricing changes if there is increased demand. The other dates are fairly quiet, but the 1954-S remains a sleeper.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.
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