Coin of the Month

1964 Kennedy Half Dollar

1964 Kennedy Half Dollar

Everyone who was alive at the time remembers where they were when they heard the news on November 22nd 1963. The tragedy shook the nation. The beloved President was dead. Within hours of the assassination Eva Adams, the Director of the Mint called Gilroy Roberts, the Mint Chief Engraver about a Kennedy coin. It was Jacqueline who chose the half dollar (because she didn't want to remove Washington from the quarter). Roberts and Frank Gasparro, assistant to the Chief Engraver, began working feverishly on the project. It was already December 1963 and President Johnson didn't want any 1964 Franklins to be minted. Roberts worked on the obverse (front), using the President's inaugural medal as a model. It had been designed and engraved by Roberts himself in 1961 and JFK had approved of it. Gasparro used the Presidential Seal for the reverse image. The designs were presented to Adams on December 13th. A few days later they were shown to Jackie and Robert Kennedy, the President's brother, for their approval. With minor modifications, the coin was ready to mint. *

President Johnson, meanwhile, was tackling another obstacle. According to the Coin Act of 1890 each coin design had to run a minimum of 25 years. The Franklin half dollar had only run 16 years. It literally took an act of Congress to override this law. Within a couple weeks The House of Representatives and the Senate approved a bill called Public Law 88-256 and Johnson signed it into law on December 30th 1963. Kennedy halves began to be minted in February of 1964 from the Philadelphia and Denver mints. When the new Kennedy halves were finally released on March 24th, the public stood in blocks-long lines outside banks and the Treasury to be the first to receive these new Kennedy half dollars commemorating their fallen president. The Treasury sold out their 70,000 coins in one day. Banks, even though they were rationing the coins, sold out within hours. Most of these coins ended up in trunks and cigar boxes. They were 90% silver. In 1964 the silver value began to exceed the face value of U.S. silver coins. People began to put the silver coins aside (this was the last year the Mint would issue 90% silver coinage). The fact that these coins were not being spent added to the already crippling shortage of circulating coins. The original plan to mint 90 million coins was soon modified to 140 million, then to 160 million. The Mint was determined to continue minting these coins until people began spending them. They were also trying to deter hoarders and speculators. On September 3rd 1964 Congress passed a bill which allowed the Mint to continue minting these 1964 dated 90% silver coins through 1965 and into 1966. It took three years and an overwhelming 433 million coins, but people finally started spending them. To give a comparison, the total number of Franklin half dollars minted over the course of 16 years was less than 466 million. Interestingly, during 1965 and 1966 over 170 million more Kennedy halves were minted with the correct dates but with less that half the silver content (40%). Today, 54 years later, JFK's image is still found on the U.S. half dollar. Two things can be gleaned from this story. One, this President was greatly admired, and two, Congress at one time could act quickly. The 1964 Kennedy half dollar is 90% silver, 10% copper. It contains a total of .36169 ounces of silver, has a diameter of 30.6mm, with a total weight of 12.5 grams.

Mintage numbers for the 1964 Kennedy half dollar are as follows.

Philadelphia Mint in 1964: 87,488,004
in 1965: 144,182,000
in 1966: 41,674,000
Denver Mint in 1964: 114,411,608
in 1965: 41,793,838

The Philadelphia Mint also produced 3,950,762 proof coins in 1964.

As plentiful as these 1964 half dollars are, there are two rare varieties.

* It is rumored that Jackie didn't like the way JFK's hair looked over his ear. Roberts softened the look. The only coins being minted at this point were proofs. It has been estimated that 1% - 3% of the proofs had already been minted before the changes were made. This "accented hair" variety is rare and commands a premium. In 2017 a PF68 deep cameo sold for $19,975. There are four major indicators that differentiate between regular proofs and accented hair proofs (see pics below). There are also "transition proofs" where the obverse has been updated but the reverse hasn't.

The second variety is the 1964 Special Mint Set half dollar. It is extremely rare (they are not suppose to exist). They are thought to have come out of Eva Adams estate after her death. It's possible as many as 50 of these 1964 SMS finish Kennedy halves exist. These special finish coins are thought to be prototypes of what the 1965-1967 SMS coins would look like. They seldom come up for auction but in September of 2016, one sold at Heritage Auctions for $47,000 dollars! They are by far the rarest and most valuable of all Kennedy halves.

These are the "accented hair" variety indicators:

Accented hair above ear

Blunted lower left serif on I in Liberty

Broken rays above the eagle's head

FG (no horizontal serif)

Smoother hair, restored serif

Solid rays, well defined shield

FG (horizontal serif restored)