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50 years of memories in Kennedy

The 50th anniversary of the Kennedy half dollar was celebrated with a three-quarter ounce gold version.

The approach to collecting Kennedy half dollars is different from other series. Searching through change will not produce any results; half dollars disappeared from circulation decades ago. Since these are modern coins and actually quite common, bidding at auctions and attending major conventions will not help much.

Acquiring rolls of half dollars from banks and looking through these rolls can result in the building of a nice set. Surprises can be found in these rolls. Lots of searching, and a tendency to keep looking and not give up, can work well.

When the Kennedy half dollar was released in March 1964, banks allotted two per customer. People who loved and remembered the late President lined up to get their coins. Many were put aside as souvenirs. From this time on, half dollars were almost never seen in circulation.

Not long after, clad coinage began. Although silver was removed from dimes and quarters, half dollars still contained some silver, 40 percent instead of the previous 90 percent. Much of the general public believed that all silver coinage ended at this time.

The first year of Kennedy halves were 90 percent silver coins, with the 1965-1970 issues being 40 percent silver. The 40 percent silver coins often turn up in bank rolls.

When I was doing research for my clad coinage book years ago, I could not find enough half dollars to have a meaningful search. I compiled lists of dates and mintmarks of dimes and quarters that turned up in change, and looked through many rolls over a six-month period. I did find a bank that had rolls of half dollars separated by date. I asked what was the oldest date, hoping for 1966, or even 1964. The oldest was 1974.

Some half dollars would appear now and then. I saw a good number of 1974-D and 1971-D. I found a 1987-D, a collector-only issue, in a roll. And I heard many stories of 1970-D half dollars, a silver collector-only coin, showing up in rolls with a better frequency than I thought possible.

On rare occasions, I’d see a half dollar show up in change. No one wanted them. They were too big, and vending machines did not accept them. When I attended many White Sox games in the early 1980s, I once received a half dollar in change. It was a 1982 without the FG initials on the reverse, a very popular error at the time.

My neighbor had an accumulation of Kennedy half dollars and asked me to look through them. Most of them were 1964 and 1964-D, probably put away when they were released. There were also a few 1966 and 1967. Many people still save Kennedy half dollars, some because they admired the President, others because they think they are all rare. With mintages in the millions, they certainly are not rare, but are not seen in everyday transactions.

In 2002, the Mint began striking half dollars only for direct sale to collectors. In 2014, as part of the 50th anniversary efforts, the portrait as well as the rest of the design was restored to all its 1964 glory.

Attending coin shows can provide a good exposure to just how big this set is. At the World’s Fair of Money in 2014, the gold Kennedy half dollar, struck on the 50th anniversary of its issue, was the talk of the show. It is beautifully made, housed in an attractive holder. Fans of the minting process could find a set of four silver half dollars struck at the four mints in different finishes: proof, Mint State, reverse proof, enhanced uncirculated. Don’t forget the 1998-S matte finish, perhaps the key to the set. And there are the long-neglected Special Mint Set half dollars of 1965-1967, not exactly proof quality but nice in their own way.

Half dollars have been minted just for collectors since 2002. The series continues. They are sold in roll and bag quantities by the Mint directly to collectors.

Kennedy half dollars have been around for over 50 years. They can be found in silver, clad, 40 percent silver and in different finishes. They can be found in bank rolls or in family hoards. None are truly well worn. It’s a handsome coin with sentimental value for many people and a worthy collection for a numismatist.


This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.


More Collecting Resources

• Are you a U.S. coin collector? Check out the 2019 U.S. Coin Digest for the most recent coin prices.

• Check out the newly-updated Standard Catalog of World Coins, 2001-Date that provides accurate identification, listing and pricing information for the latest coin releases.

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