Slowly but surely, people are starting to discover that there are actually some pretty good Franklin half dollars. Just why has it taken over 50 years for many to notice the Franklin half dollar? Maybe part of the reason is that you can still make some pretty good deals on Franklin half dollars like the 1949-S.
It must first be remembered that the Franklin half dollar was replacing a very popular coin, the Walking Liberty half dollar, and that can make a difference. Rather than saving examples of the new Franklin half dollar back in 1948, people opted instead to save examples of the last Walking Liberty half dollars. Of course, saving the design being replaced is not that unusual, but in this case it appears to have been more frequent than would normally be expected.
The half dollar was a lot of money at the time and it was safe to assume that. Even if people did save the 1948 Franklin half dollars, they were not likely to save any of the 1949s; it was too much money for most people to start collecting them.
Many times a new design will start out with large mintages. There were tons of new Roosevelt dimes in 1946, for example, but the Franklin half dollar did not start out that way. A large part of the reason was that there were plenty of half dollars at the time. The record high mintages of the 1940s during the war meant there was no shortage of half dollars, so the 1948 mintages had been low and there had not even been a 1948 production of the new coin in San Francisco.
The 1949 mintages were not much higher although there would be a 1949 mintage at San Francisco. If you combine the totals from the three facilities, the combined 1949 half dollar mintage was about 13.5 million pieces, which is pretty close to the total of just the 1943-S. The 1943 from Philadelphia was over 53 million, which gives a pretty good idea of just how low those early Franklin half dollar totals were as compared to the 1940s totals for the Walking Liberty half dollar.
Of course in 1949, even with the low totals, the novelty of the new design had worn off. There was very limited collecting of the new Franklin half dollar and probably only limited extra saving even though the mintages were low. The 1949-S was the low mintage of the year at just 3,744,000 pieces.
In the following years, as half dollar collecting increased dramatically in popularity during the 1950s, there were not many 1949-S Franklin halves pulled from circulation; it was the era of collecting lower denominations from circulation. In addition, virtually any Franklin half dollar including the low mintage 1949-S could be found fairly easily in circulation.
Over time, the 1949-S was recognized as a better date Franklin half dollar although that was not saying very much. The 1948, 1953, and 1955 had a lower mintage but the 1949-S was seen as better than most.
So, did its reputation save it from melting in the period around 1980? When silver is at $50 an ounce or even near that mark, a half dollar is worth perhaps $15 in any grade if it is 90 percent silver. At such prices, the 1949-S could have been melted but it would have been one of the last Franklin half dollar dates to be sold, as it seemed better. Whether a small amount of saving of better examples at that time has prevented the supply from the losses suffered by other dates is a possibility.
The 1949-S ranks as one of the better-circulated dates, and in MS-60, it is actually the most expensive Franklin at $75. At $120 in MS-65 and $700 in MS-65 with full bell lines, however, it is not the key and there the possibility that a small number of nicer ones were saved from destruction as we see the 1949-S is tough in Mint State but it becomes a more available date in top grades and that is hard to explain except to suggest that it was well made and perhaps for some reason saved when others were not.