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Bell lines make big difference for Franklins

You know those little lines across the Liberty Bell on the reverse of the Franklin half dollar? Those can mean the difference between a Franklin half being worth a couple hundred dollars or a couple thousand.


Denomination: 50 centsWeight: 12.5 gramsDiameter: 30.6 mmComposition: .900 silver, .100 copperActual Silver Weight: .3594 ozDates minted: 1948 to 1963Designer: John R. SinnockNote: The small eagle on the reverse was placed to fulfill a federal law mandating an eagle on the reverse of all half dollar designs.

Lee Crane, owner of L&C Coins, Los Alamitos, Calif., said that collectors tend to go after and spend more money on full bell line (FBL or FL) Franklin halves.

“In higher grades, that’s what people are looking for,” he said. “People collecting for registry sets want full bell lines.”

Collectors going after full bell lines tend to look for earlier date Franklin half dollars, he said.

“The 1958s and later are typically easy to find with full bell lines,” Crane said. “They are common, so most buyers don’t ask about them because they already have them. They like to go after the earlier dates like the 1948s and 1949s. Those tend to sell very well.

“The tough ones to find are the San Francisco Mint ones. The strikes on those are horrible. They just didn’t strike well. They didn’t replace the dies enough. The 1953-S with full bell lines is expensive because of this.”

To illustrate how rare a 1953-S Franklin with full bell lines is, the Professional Coin Grading Service has only graded 42, while the 1953-D with full bell lines has seen 4,936 designated. At the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, 11 1953-S Franklins have received the designation, compared to 1,551 for the 1953-D.

Even then, standards differ on what constitutes a full bell line Franklin half dollar.
PCGS’s website designates a full bell line Franklin half dollar as “MS-60 or better. Must have complete, uninterrupted lower lines on the Liberty Bell.”

NGC’s website states that “the full bell line designation is what NGC applies when both the top and bottom bell lines are struck fully and without interruption.”

Terence Campbell, content writer for Gainesville Coins, Lutz, Fla., said there’s another feature to help determine if the Franklin meets the full bell lines designation.

“In order for it to be full bell lines, you have to have full lines,” he said. “In addition, you have to have the full three wisps of hair on the obverse near Franklin’s ear.

“The wisp of hair on the obverse is sort of like a security feature.”

Collectors need to learn about the designation and have a good eye when dealing with full bell line Franklins, he said.

“Some have been unscrupulous by labeling a coin to make a person believe it has full bell lines,” Campbell said. “It’s almost as influential as the full head designation on a Standing Liberty quarter.”

Crane said collectors should also be mindful of how much full bell lines can cost, especially the 1953-S.

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“First thing you should do is decide what grade you want to collect,” he said. “You don’t want to go after them in MS-66 FBL and say ‘Gee, I didn’t think I’d be spending this much money on them.’ You have to take your budget into account.”

After all, there are other options.

“If you can’t afford them, collect MS-65 or MS-66 Franklins. They’ll make a really nice set all put together.”

Campbell said that collecting Franklin half dollars is great for someone looking into getting into numismatics.

“It’s perfect for someone who’s young to put together a set,” he said. “There really are no key dates.”

Some may overlook collecting the Franklin half dollar because of its short run, he said.

“It fits into that crack where it doesn’t get attention paid to it,” Campbell said. “It was supposed to take over for the Walking Liberty half dollar and, when President Kennedy was assassinated, it sort of got pushed back in history.”

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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