The specific design of the Franklin half dollar–Founding Father Benjamin Franklin on the obverse and the Liberty Bell on the reverse–was heavily advocated for by pioneering United States Mint Director Nellie Tayloe Ross, who served from 1933 to 1953.
Unfortunately for Ross, the law required the reverse design of the half dollar to include an eagle. But she was so committed to the idea of Franklin and the Liberty Bell as two sides of a unitary design that she sidestepped the spirit of the law, which intended that the eagle be the main device, and relegated it to the right-hand field. The Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), which advised the Secretary of the Treasury concerning new coin designs, disapproved of the reverse on aesthetic grounds. Nevertheless, Ross pushed forward, stating that the “public must accept it, like it or not.”
The first Franklin halves came out in 1948, but, due to the large numbers of Walking Liberty half dollars still in circulation because of inflated wartime production, the Mint struck limited numbers of the new Franklin type for the first several years.
Yet by the late 1950s, the master dies for the Franklin half dollar were extensively worn down. Over a decade of heavy use resulted in extremely soft details on the resulting coins, even on brand new “Mint State’ pieces. That was to change for the 1960 issuance because the United States Mint finally decided to rework the master dies. By doing this, the Mint restored detail to the series and banished the comparatively soft and mushy devices of the ’50s.
While the newly reworked master dies re-introduced sharply defined details, especially on the obverse bust of Franklin, the new reverse depiction of the Liberty Bell lacked well-cut lines. Because of this, many otherwise Mint State examples have not earned the coveted Full Bell Lines designation. Additionally, many 1960 Philadelphia half dollars display either light grease stains or minor bag marks. As such, it is extremely difficult to find superb Mint State examples.
The 1960 mintages by the Philadelphia (6,024,000 pieces) and Denver (18,215,812 pieces) mints were more than enough to satisfy the nation’s booming economic demands, even after roughly 600,000 half dollars were removed from circulation that year to be melted and recoined.
The 1960 Franklin Half in Today’s Market
A conditional rarity, at the time of writing there are only five 1960 Franklin Halves in total graded as MS 67 by NGC (three) and PCGS (two). This is due primarily to the extensive prevalence of bag marks on the surfaces of many examples.
Due to this rarity, high-grade FBL examples sell for high dollars. An MS 67 piece sold for over $28,000 USD in a 2016 Heritage auction, and more recent sales topped nearly $8,000. Despite auction prices for FBL examples remaining high, many recent eBay sales for straight MS 67s are as low as $20 to $40. These low eBay prices may be a fluke because they are not reflected in the MS 66 grade.
Straight MS 66s sell for $600 to $700. Meanwhile, the FBL designation gives a 3X to 5X premium and FBL examples sell for $2,000 to $3,000. As a commonly circulating coin, one drop in grade (from MS 66 to MS 65) forces a massive decline in price to between $50 and $100 for straight grades and $100 to $200 for FBL designated examples.
As the most common grade in the combined NGC and PCGS registries, 70.6% of the total population, the price levels off for MS 64 examples. These pieces are worth $20 to $30 for the standard grade and up to $60 with the FBL designation. There are, however, a few outliers that have sold for upwards of $200. These prices hold steady for MS 63 graded pieces ($20 to $40).
At this point, the FBL designation no longer provides a true premium over straight-graded examples. In all AU grades, this type is worth between $10 to $15. Clearly, it is more expensive to grade than the coin is worth, and there are very few certified examples below AU 50. In fact, there are a total of only 18 graded pieces in AU 50 or below by both PCGS and NGC.
Below AU, the value of a 1960 Franklin half falls to the price of silver melt, which at the time of publishing is roughly $7.25.
It is interesting to note that both the obverse and reverse designs of the Franklin half dollar were rejected by the CFA. But it seems that the CFA got it wrong. The Franklin half dollar design, despite being simple in concept, has become an icon of modern U.S. coinage, with the coin’s frosted Cameo Proof strikings being highly coveted by collectors.
Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock designed both sides of Franklin half dollar. His obverse design was based on Jean-Antoine Houdon’s 18th-century bust of Franklin. The date (1960) appears in the lower-right of the obverse, while IN GOD WE TRUST curves beneath Franklin and LIBERTY curves around the top above Franklin. The designer’s initials (JRS) are located at the truncation of Franklin’s bust.
Sinnock and future Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts designed the reverse, which depicts the Liberty Bell and a small eagle (mandated by law) at right.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA arcs above the Liberty Bell while the denomination HALF DOLLAR curves beneath it. E PLURIBUS UNUM appears to the left of the bell and an eagle, its wings spread, stands to its right. Two sets of three parallel horizontal lines encircle the base and bottom of the bell, a key grading diagnostic indicative of strike quality.
Coins struck at the Denver and San Francisco Mints exhibit a small mintmark above the wooden beam holding the Liberty Bell, below STATES in UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The Franklin half dollars struck at the Philadelphia Mint were not struck with a mintmark.
The edge of the 1960 Franklin half dollar is reeded.
From 1925 through 1947, John R. Sinnock was the eighth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint. He is best known for the designs of the Roosevelt dime and the Franklin half dollar.
Gilroy Roberts was the ninth Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, serving from 1948-1965. He is best remembered for his design of the Kennedy half dollar obverse.
|Year Of Issue:||1960|
|Mint Mark:||None (Philadelphia)|
|Alloy:||90% Silver, 10% Copper|
|OBV Designer||John R. Sinnock|
|REV Designer||John R. Sinnock | Gilroy Roberts|
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