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HomeUS Coins1964 Kennedy Half Dollar : A Collector's Guide

1964 Kennedy Half Dollar : A Collector’s Guide

1964 Kennedy Half Dollar. Image: NGC / CoinWeek.
1964 Kennedy Half Dollar. Image: NGC / CoinWeek.
  • The Kennedy Half Dollar is the longest-serving half dollar design in United States history
  • Debut issue released months after national tragedy
  • Only issue in the series to be struck in 90% silver

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A Half Dollar Struck to Honor a Slain President

The Franklin half dollar entered into production in early 1948, replacing the revered but difficult to strike Walking Liberty design. Statutorily, the Franklin design would have served the nation until at least 1973, but the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, hastened the end of its run.

Within days of the assassination, Treasury Secretary C. Douglas Dillon informed United States Mint Director Eva Adams that he wanted to honor Kennedy by placing his likeness on the half-dollar coin. Congress had bestowed a similar honor on President Franklin Delano Roosevelt when it placed his portrait on the dime in 1946.

On November 27, Eva Adams instructed Mint Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts to get to work on the Kennedy half dollar as Congress drew up legislation to authorize the new design. Given the short time frame, Roberts adapted the Kennedy portrait he designed for the President’s inaugural medal. For the reverse, Roberts tasked Assistant Engraver Frank Gasparro with creating a design based on the Presidential Seal.

Production of the Kennedy half dollar got underway in January 1964, and the Treasury released the memorial coinage on March 24 to significant public interest. Lines formed around the Treasury Department’s cash window in Washington, D.C., and the Mint’s allocation of 70,000 pieces sold out quickly.

Similar scenarios played out nationwide as banks and department stores tried to keep up with demand. By the end of its 1964 production run, the Philadelphia Mint had struck 273,304,004 business strike Kennedy half dollars, while the Denver Mint had produced 156,205,446.

How Much Is the 1964 Kennedy Half Dollar Worth?

Even with a mintage of more than a quarter of a billion coins, very few 1964 Kennedy half dollars circulated. Besides the public hoarding of the coins for sentimental and patriotic reasons, the era of circulating 90% silver coins was ending.

The Coinage Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 23, 1965, eliminated silver from the dime and the quarter and lowered the silver composition of the half dollar to 40%. This debasement of the half dollar pushed the 90% coins out of circulation following the economic principle known as “Gresham’s Law”.

These circumstances directly impact the value of the 1964 Kennedy half dollar today.

As a baseline, every 1964 Kennedy half is worth considerably more than its stated 50 cents face value due to its silver composition. At the current silver spot price (as of January 2024), each 1964 Kennedy half is worth $8.63 at a minimum. Uncirculated coins sell for a premium over spot price, with the typical Choice Uncirculated example retailing for between $12 and $15.

CAC, NGC, and PCGS report a combined population of 36,800 certified business strike 1964 Kennedy half dollars. As CAC is a relatively new grading service, most ’64 halves in certified holders will have been graded by NGC and PCGS.

The typical grade of these coins is MS64 or MS65, and one would expect that most of them were submitted through the bulk or modern tier grading lines. The firms’ most experienced graders likely reviewed the coins found in the highest grades.

MS66 and MS67 coins remain affordable to most collectors, but superb gem examples at MS67+ or higher (NGC top pop, pop 1 is MS68 as of January 2024) command premiums starting at about $3,000.

1964 Kennedy Half Dollar Proofs

Before issuing its 1964 Proof Sets, the U.S. Mint had continuously produced Proof coins for collector purchase from 1950 onward. In 1965, the Mint suspended Proof production for three years while the country transitioned from silver to copper-nickel-clad coinage. When Proof coinage resumed in 1968, the Mint shifted Proof production from Philadelphia to the San Francisco Assay Office (formerly the San Francisco Mint). From this point forward, annual Proof issues typically carry the S mintmark.

1964 United States Proof Set. Image: CoinWeek.
1964 United States Proof Set. Image: CoinWeek.

With the 1964 Proof coinage being the last of the Philadelphia Proof Set issues, it is primarily considered the final set in the run of 1950-1964 sets. For the 1964 set, the Mint provided one Proof coin of each denomination (from one cent to 50 cents) and packaged them in soft plastic with a pouch to house each coin and an extra pocket that housed a paper seal of the United States Mint.

The Mint offered 1964 Proof Sets at an initial retail price of $2.10 each. In total, the Mint reported sales of 3,950,762 sets. Today, these sets sell for an average price of about $30.

A 1964 Kennedy Half Dollar Proof graded PCGS PR69DCAM. Stack's Bowers sold this coin in June 2023 for $1,680.
A 1964 Kennedy Half Dollar Proof graded PCGS PR69DCAM. Stack’s Bowers sold this coin in June 2023 for $1,680.

As a standalone coin, the 1964 Kennedy Half Dollar Proof trades as a single or certified coin, graded by CAC, NGC, or PCGS. Most of these coins should grade Proof 65 or above, with a small percentage of the issue earning the CAMEO or DEEP/ULTRA CAMEO designations, depending on the degree of frost on the coin’s devices.

By CoinWeek’s estimate, fewer than one in 20 1964 Kennedy half-dollar Proofs are struck with enough frost to earn the Deep Cameo attribution. These coins carry the highest premiums for the issue, with PR68DCAMs trading for several hundred dollars apiece on average and PR69DCAMs selling for $2,000 or more at auction.

A popular 1964 Kennedy half dollar Proof variety exhibits stronger hair detail above Kennedy’s ear. In top condition, examples of this variety can sell for at least five times more than what the more common coin in the same grade would sell for.

Design

Obverse:

Gilroy Roberts adapted the Kennedy half-dollar obverse from his work on Kennedy’s Inaugural medal. Kennedy’s left-facing portrait is the design’s central motif. Wrapping around the upper portion of the rim is the inscription LIBERTY. The national motto, IN GOD WE TRUST, is inscribed in a straight line that extends from the left edge to the right edge of the coin, with GOD and WE separated by the truncation of Kennedy’s neck. The date 1964 wraps around the bottom of the design. Gilroy Roberts’ designer’s initials appear on the truncation of Kennedy’s neck above the word WE.

Reverse:

Frank Gasparro adapted the Kennedy half dollar reverse design from the Seal of the President of the United States. A heraldic eagle is splayed, its chest protected by the Union shield. Clutched in its beak is a ribbon emblazoned with the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. A glory of rays, clouds, and stars fan out from behind the eagle. The 13 stars represent the original British American colonies, while the rays and clouds signify heaven and the divine providence the founders believed inspired the formation of the United States. The eagle’s talons grip an olive branch in its dexter and a spray of arrows in its sinister. Fifty stars surround this central motif.

The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA wraps around the top of the design. The denomination, HALF DOLLAR, wraps around the bottom. Frank Gasparro’s initials “FG” appear between the eagle’s left leg and tail feathers.

Edge:

The edge of the 1964 Kennedy half dollar is reeded.

Coin Specifications

Kennedy Half Dollar 90% Silver Type
Year Of Issue: 1964
Denomination: Half Dollar (USD)
Mint Mark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: 273,304,004 (Business Strike); 3,950,762 (Proof)
Alloy: 90% Silver, 10% Copper
Weight: 12.5 g
Diameter: 30.6 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer Gilroy Roberts
REV Designer Frank Gasparro
Quality: Business Strike, Proof

 

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References

Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.

Guth, Ron and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Yeoman, R.S and Jeff Garrett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

24 COMMENTS

  1. In retrospect it’s arguable that in creating the Kennedy half, the Mint and Congress set in motion a perfect storm for the disappearance of the denomination. As the article pointed out nearly all of the 64’s vanished as mementos, and the foolish decision to continue minting in clad silver until 1969 sealed its fate. The latter led to an enormous amount of “myth”information; even 4 decades later I still encounter people who are hoarding post-1971 halves in the mistaken belief that those coins contain silver as well.

    I’m afraid that once the cent vanishes as it has in Canada and Australia, we’ll be making change using only 3 denominations.

    • I just read your comment, which I know was made almost a year ago. I must say that I am in complete agreement with you. My great grandmother in her 80’s use to buy a roll of half dollars every month with her SSI check. When she passed away, she left behind probably $500 in coins. In any given store, you will not find a designated slot for half dollars in the cash register. The denomination is rarely ever seen in use. Cash for that matter is a dying medium of exchange as more people prefer to use a credit or debit card. So what does this mean for the future of coins? Time will tell.

  2. I ha e a 1964 kennedy half dollar no mint mark. It also has a third set of ignitals. “GR” is on the right side between the eagles leg and the bottom if olive branch where the mintmark should be. Do you have information on the origins of this coin?

    • @Alex jervis As B.R. Geiser noted, the initials on the reverse are FG; GR is on the front. If you check the “Coin Specifications” section of this article GR is the monogram of designer Gilroy Roberts and FG is the monogram of Frank Gasparro.

  3. Uhmmm… Eventually, almost 430 million half dollars dated 1964 were struck, a sum greater than the total struck for circulation in the sixteen years of the Franklin half dollar series.

  4. I’ve got 9 1964 that my buddy found in his attic in a bank bag dimes nickels quarters halfs all in total 200.00 face vale coins were between 64-1967 with a drivers license that expired in 1967

  5. Bring back Ben. He was short CHANGED having only gotten 16 years instead of the required 25.
    This was & still is the law that governs the minting of all denominations ……….. Period !
    I’m not going to politicize the merits of how Ben was a truly greater American & a founding father BUT, Kennedy was dirty & this has nothing to do with his hygiene regiment. I’m saying 60 years is ENOUGH already

  6. I have a 1943 and 1944 steel pennies. I also have a 1944 copper penny I would like to sell I appreciate any help I get I have over 100 wheat pennies and I have corns going back into 1800s.

  7. Where can I find a book and those plastic containers that you put coins in to keep them from getting damaged. Been looking around and can’t find them

  8. Temu has them Mary E. Knudsen I have a.it of old time penny’s and others I need appraised and put in a auction somewhere good ! One of those is a 1970s which I ,now one ,ike this sold way up there at auction at heritage auction, and I have plenty more of coins , my husband came home one day with two of the 5 gallon buckets full of coins lol so it’s took me two years to clean them up and I’m still have some that’s not finish, lol

  9. I have a kennedy half that was in a roll of quarters. Guessing it’s worth a quarter. Someone made a huge mistake. About all you can see is his head. Acquired it around 1968. Made the local newspaper!!

  10. I have several Kennedy coins, and a Benfranklin. Wondering how to market them for sale and what route would bring the most money.

    • @Velma Hughes ALL silver coins are worth more than face value, at a minimum they’re worth their melt value for their precious-metal content. But you still need to know the standard criteria of denomination, date, mint mark, and condition to determine if they’re worth more as collectibles.

    • @Anne M Desir A guick image search will tell you the coin is brass rather than gold, and isn’t from 1817. It’s a modern presidential dollar minted in 2008. Unless it’s uncirculated or proof it’s only worth face value.

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