It was taken for granted at the time, but as the years pass we are learning more about not only the 1959 but all the other Franklin half dollars. A set that at one time seemed to be taken for granted if not simply ignored is finding a new generation of collectors who appreciate that Franklin half dollars might well be better than everyone thought.
The 1959 Franklin half dollar’s mintage stood at just 6,200,000. It seems hard to believe that it was not really a coin many cared to find back in 1959. It must be remembered that in 1959 $2.10 sent to the Mint would get collectors a proof set that was made not in San Francisco but in Philadelphia. Roughly 1,149,291 people did exactly that. It was one of the highest totals in history up to that time, but those proof sets made it seem like there was no reason to really worry about acquiring a regular 1959 Franklin half dollar.
The market of the day was dominated by young Baby Boomers who had virtually no interest in Franklin half dollars. They simply had insufficient funds to collect them. Even if they had the money, they would have probably opted for Walking Liberty half dollars, which were also still in circulation. Generally speaking, half dollars were not an active area of the market at the time.
Another factor directly related to the lack of interest on the part of young collectors was that 1959 saw the introduction of the Lincoln Memorial reverse cent. That was a big deal at the time as many of those collectors were too young to remember the last coin design change, which happened to be the introduction of the Franklin half dollar in 1948. With all the interest in a new Lincoln cent, there was even less interest in regular issues.
As the years passed, nothing happened to change the situation. The Franklin half dollar was never really established as a collection for many. It was replaced early by the Kennedy half dollar in 1964 along with the change to 40 percent silver in 1965. The Franklin half dollar disappeared from circulation, but those countless small accumulations were basically circulated examples.
The supply of the 1959 Franklin half dollar in top grades might have been fairly good if for no other reason than that the proof and mint sets sold in 1959 were later to be reduced significantly when the price of silver rose to $50 an ounce in 1980. At that price, any 90 percent silver half dollar like the 1959 was worth $15 or more.
Lest you think that does not matter, the 1959 today is $5.20 in MS-60. So the smart thing to do was to sell your 1959 no matter what grade. With other silver coins in the sets, that meant proof sets and mint sets were also broken up and sold. What that did to our supply of the 1959 is hard to estimate, but it certainly did not improve it. This may help to explain why the once-overlooked 1959 is at $110 in MS-65 and $250 in MS-65 with full bell lines, as there is no good supply.