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The History of the 1964 Silver Kennedy Half-Dollar

The History of the 1964 Silver Kennedy Half-Dollar

October 31, 20232377 view(s)

As any numismatist can tell you, a coin that's still in circulation usually isn't worth much. The Kennedy half-dollar seems to fit this bill as well.

Well, not so fast!

Sure, newly minted half-dollar coins aren't worth more than their face value. Earlier editions, however, could be a different story. This is particularly true when it comes to a few special varieties that remain rare today.

Want to know more about the 1964 Kennedy silver half-dollar value? Read on to learn about the history of this coin and how its price has fluctuated since its inception!

Historical Background

The idea for the coin came within hours of JFK's assassination. Eva Adams, director of the Mint, intended for the coin to be a tribute to the president.

After the funeral, the Mint and the Treasury started discussing the details. The Kennedy family served as consultants as well. The main candidates for the new coin were the quarter, half dollar, and dollar.

At the time, the Peace dollar hadn't been minted since 1935. Millions of them were still in the Treasury Department vaults. Replacing all this money would've been troublesome, so the Peace dollar fell out of the race.

The issue with the quarter was that it featured George Washington. Jackie Kennedy didn't want her husband to replace another president. As such, they decided to replace the Ben Franklin half dollar.

Interestingly, changing the Franklin coin required an act of Congress. The law stated that the Treasury could only change coin designs that were 25 years old. The Franklin coin was only in production for 15 years.

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Design and Engraving

Work on the new coin began less than a week after the president's death. The plan was to start producing it in January, four weeks away.

The original design was the work of Gilroy Roberts, US Mint chief engraver. At first, he believed the deadline was impossible to meet. To hasten the process, he used some existing designs as the basis for the new coin.

Kennedy's presidential medal was a clear inspiration. The profile sculpture made its way to the coin's obverse (heads) side. Assistant engraver Frank Gasparro sculpted the reverse (tails) side based on the Presidential Seal.

On December 13, the Philadelphia Mint produced the first half-dollar trial strikes. Roberts brought them to Washington for approval. Jackie Kennedy suggested that the hair was too pronounced, which led to a slight revision.

Initial Popularity

The Treasury started offering Kennedy coins on March 24, 1964. They knew that the demand would be high, so they minted no less than 90 million coins.

Fairly soon, it became clear that even these lofty expectations were too low. Before the banks opened, people were already waiting in droves. Lines stretched around every block where coins were available.

Banks tried to respond to high demand by limiting purchases to 40 coins per person. Despite that, customers managed to deplete the initial supply of 70,000 half-dollar coins by noon that day.

Recognizing the excess demand, the Mint increased its target. Still, people continued to collect the Kennedy coins as soon as they arrived. Congress had to order the Mint to keep minting 1964-dated coins into 1965.

From Silver to Copper

Why were Americans so dedicated to collecting these coins? Well, Kennedy's popularity was a big part of it, but there's more to the story.

See, the original 1964 Kennedy half dollar was 90% silver. Due to the excess minting, the government's stockpiles of silver started running low. This led to rising silver prices, so the half-dollar became even more popular.

In response to the short supply of silver, Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1965. The act allowed the addition of copper cores to silver coins. As a result, the 1965 Kennedy half dollar had its silver content dropped to 40%.

As silver prices kept rising, the Treasury soon eliminated it from use in minting. By 1971, the Kennedy coins consisted almost exclusively of copper and nickel.

Over the Years

In the past 59 years, the design of the coin didn't change much. The only exceptions were the special editions, such as the one in 1976.

Around then, the Mint announced new designs for the half-dollar and quarter. The idea was to commemorate the 1976 United States Bicentennial. The redesign featured the Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

After the high mintage of the bicentennial editions, the Kennedy coins started declining in popularity. The silver boom of 1979 didn't help, as many silver coins ended up getting melted for their metal content.

In 2014, the Mint issued another special edition for the half-dollar's 50th anniversary. There were three variations: clad, silver, and .999 gold. All coins are collector's items.

Value of the Coin

These days, it's fairly easy to find a half-dollar in good condition. To make some money on them, you'll need to have a special edition.

One interesting variety is the 1964 half-dollar with accented hair. These are the proofs struck in Philadelphia, and they feature the coin's original design. There's also the 1998 matte finish coin worth a few hundred dollars.

By far, the most valuable Kennedy coin is the SMS (Special Mint Set) edition. These coins feature well-defined strikes and a satin finish. The lack of contact marks indicates someone printed these coins one at a time.

Nobody knows for sure how many SMS edition coins exist. That said, as the rarest non-error Kennedy coin, this edition is very valuable. In 2019, one SMS Kennedy coin set a new record by selling for $156,000.

As for the original 1964 coins, their silver content makes them a bit more valuable. That said, it's hard to get more than $10 for them unless they're in perfect condition.

kennedy half dollar

More on the 1964 Kennedy Silver Half-Dollar Value

As you can see, the 1964 Kennedy silver half-dollar value can vary wildly. If you have one on your hands, you should determine its value right away. The above guide can point you in the right direction!

Interested in investing in coins and other precious metals? At the U.S. Gold Bureau, we've been helping people like you since 2003! Contact us here to discuss your investment goals or inquire about coin value with our team today!

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