- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The edge of the 1964 Kennedy half dollar is reeded.
|Kennedy Half Dollar
|90% Silver Type
|Year Of Issue:
|Half Dollar (USD)
|273,304,004 (Business Strike); 3,950,762 (Proof)
|90% Silver, 10% Copper
|Business Strike, Proof
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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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