Slowly but surely, Franklin half dollars are gaining respect. It certainly helps when a date like the 1952-S in MS66 condition with full bell lines sets auction records, but the truth is that Franklin halves are much better as a group than many would suspect.
Looking at the dates they were produced, one might assume that Franklin half dollars have relatively high mintages. In fact, they do not. There are none with mintages under one million pieces, but there are a surprising number of very solid dates like the 1952-S at 5,526,000. As a Franklin half dollar, that mintage is just a bit better than average, but there are a lot of factors that need to be considered regarding this date and many other lesser-known Franklin dates.
There is a seemingly widespread feeling that somehow, in the 1950s, collectors just routinely salted away rolls of every date and that these rolls (or bags, or whatever quantities) are still available today. While there was something of a roll craze going on, it is one thing to save a roll of cents and quite another to save a roll of half dollars. No doubt a few were saved, but the emphasis should be on “few.”
Even if rolls of Franklin half dollars were not saved, today’s collectors may assume that since mint sets were made, that provides a potential supply of a given date in later years. There were mint sets in 1952, but total sold was just 11,499. That is at best a drop in the bucket in terms of supplies needed for later generations of collectors desiring top-quality examples, and it assumes the coins in the set survived in top grade, which was not always the case.
Another factor worthy of consideration is that the 1952-S was not viewed as especially tough in the early 1950s. While Philadelphia and San Francisco half dollars were both lower mintage, so were many dates from prior to that year, so there was really no reason to focus on it.
In addition to not attracting collector attention when it came to saving, the 1952-S Franklin half was also not setting the numismatic world on its ear in terms of prices. In some ways it still is not, as an AU50 example lists for $44. In MS60, the price is $55.
Looking back to the start of the great 1979-1980 silver price increase, those prices were a good deal less. This was important because, with a going rate $35 to $45 an ounce, the 1952-S Franklin half dollar – even in better grades – was a coin that might have been sold for its silver value. It might not have experienced widespread destruction, as occurred with some more common dates, but the potential was there.
Simply put, these combined factors – not heavily saved, a laughable mint set total, and subject to melting – resulted in a coin that is not available in any quantity, especially in top grade. Although demand (and, therefore, price increases) over the years has been lacking, that can change. And by attracting attention, dates like the 1952-S may well help draw more attention to the Franklin half dollar series.
Over the past 20 years, single coin price movements show upward mobility. An MS60 has gone from $30 to $55; an MS63, from $36 to $60; and an MS65 with full bell lines, from $850 to $1,100. In all probability, the latter has kept price increases for MS65 examples without full bell lines (listed today at $130) at a minimum. Those who want the very best simply ignore it and seek instead an MS65 with full bell lines.
Significantly higher increases are reflected by uncirculated roll listings. Since 1998, the 1952-S Franklin half dollar uncirculated roll price has climbed from $775 to $1,500. Although this price might be fair, there is serious doubt as to whether a roll could even be found. If so, would $1,585 be enough?
More importantly, current pricing for MS65 full bell line examples puts the coin in the number three spot among $1,000-or-better Franklin halves. This is no surprise, as specialists were already well aware of the 1952-S. It is just a matter of time before the general collecting audience also catches on to the fact that this is a much tougher date in top grades than mintage would suggest.
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