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1970-D Kennedy Half Dollar : A Collector’s Guide

1970-D Kennedy Half Dollar. Image: CoinWeek.
1970-D Kennedy Half Dollar. Image: CoinWeek.

The 1970-D Kennedy Half Dollar was the last of the regular-strike silver-clad half dollars and the last Kennedy half intended for circulation that contained any silver at all. Its release took collectors by surprise, as it was available only in mint sets that year. The United States Mint didn’t publicize this fact, and by the time collectors were hip to the brand new collectible half dollar, it was too late to order one. A total of 2,150,000 mint sets were produced, making the 1970-D the lowest-mintage business strike Kennedy half dollar until 2006 when the Mint could no longer wait out changing public consumption patterns.

Of course, the 1970-D probably couldn’t have come along at a better time.

Most collectors of United States coins recognize that the 1960s were a period of radical change when it came to the nation’s coinage. The post-war economic boom and the advancement of vending machine technology meant that Americans needed a lot more coins in their purses and pockets for day-to-day commerce. At the same time, global demand for silver was up dramatically. In order to preserve the market price of silver below the face value of U.S. currency so people wouldn’t exchange bills for more valuable bullion or meltdown coins from circulation, the Treasury Department began to sell off its silver reserves. This dampened but did not stop the rise in price.

Yet demand was so high that eventually, the Treasury was buying more silver than it was selling. It became clear that soon there would not be enough silver to mint the necessary amount of coins to keep American economic activity on a healthy footing. Silver would have to come out of circulation.

In 1964, the Mint instituted a date freeze on silver quarters, dimes, and half dollars until it produced what it thought were enough silver coins to meet the immediate needs of business. It also began production on copper-nickel clad coins, which had been authorized by the Coinage Act of 1965. A date freeze of sorts was in effect for the new clad coins since pieces dated 1965 were produced over the course of about 18 months. But once the Mint was confident that the full mintage of clad coinage could meet the demands of commerce, the production of silver coins ceased. Sort of.

Because while quarters and dimes were now minted according to the new copper-nickel layered composition, the silver content of Kennedy half dollars was instead reduced from 90% silver, 10% copper to 40% silver, 60% copper. The half dollar was treated this way because at the time it was the nation’s largest denomination of coin, and the federal government wanted to prevent any real or imagined harm to both the economy and national prestige.

This is where the 1970-D comes in.

Mint efforts to assuage coin shortages from the sudden penetration of vending machines and other coin-operated devices into the American marketplace–not to mention the booming economy–sometimes came at the expense of coin collectors. Besides the aforementioned date freezes, coins were issued without mint marks and neither proof nor mint sets were produced. And even though it wasn’t entirely devoid of silver, collector interest in the 40% Kennedy half was tepid.

By 1970, and much like what had happened over five years earlier to the quarter and dime, the Mint had determined that enough silver-clad Kennedy half dollars had been made for circulation that no more production was needed. Therefore, and for whatever reason, 1970 business-strike Kennedy halves were produced only for that year’s mint sets, and only at the Denver Mint. Proof Kennedy halves were still struck at San Francisco in 1970, and bear the “S” mint mark.

Regular buyers of the Mint’s annual products were caught by surprise. The ordering window for 1970 mint sets had already passed, so for the first time in several years, a modern Mint product was an eagerly sought-after collectible. Prices in the secondary market for both the coin and the mint set jumped up in response, spurred on by the fact that the 1970-D was now the last silver Kennedy half dollar (albeit at the reduced 40 percent). Starting in 1971, even the half dollar consisted of copper and nickel.

Today, the 1970 mint set still sells for more than the issue price on online marketplaces like eBay. Naturally, the price is being driven by attrition as collectors have opened or destroyed numerous mint sets hunting for the 1970-D 50¢. But the set isn’t going for the hundreds of dollars that some speculators have attempted to drive the price towards over the last 47 years. The 1970-D Kennedy half is a good example of how much hype can or cannot do.

As graded by third-party grading services, the MS-62 to -65 range is typical for the 1970-D Kennedy half. But keep in mind that any Kennedy half dollar of the period–and specifically this issue–is going to feature possibly significant contact marks on President Kennedy’s cheeks, in his hair, and around his eyes. Even an MS-66 can look rough. A survey of 2022-2023 sales shows that a decent-looking MS-66 will sell for $200-$250 at auction.

The 1970-D Kennedy half dollar is scarce in MS-67 and sells for $7,000 or more. These elusive conditional rarities will exhibit the bare minimum number of contact marks, have booming luster, and great eye appeal. Check out our Market Data section to see sales that we’re tracking. The sold PCGS MS-67+ upgraded from a PCGS MS-67 sometime after April 2020.

The same applies to the highlights of the eagle on the reverse.

This is because the silver-clad Kennedys are softer than their copper-nickel clad counterparts from later years. And it appears that people just weren’t nice to the Kennedy half dollar in general.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Top Population: PCGS MS-67+ (1, 3/2024). NGC MS-67 (19, 3/2024). CAC None Graded (0:0 stickered:graded, 3/2024).

  • PCGS MS-67+ #40685810: As PCGS MS-67 #38881507. GreatCollections, April 5, 2020, Lot 812689 – View. Pale gold and blue toning. As PCGS MS-67+ #40685810. GreatCollections, March 14, 2021, Lot 829176 – View. Upgraded 1/2 point. Top pop, pop one when sold.
  • NGC MS-67 #6819194-008: GreatCollections, September 24, 2023, Lot 1346225 – View. Brilliant.
  • NGC MS-67 #6100293-002: GreatCollections, July 30, 2023, Lot 1398060 – View. Bright and Brilliant. PQ coin.
  • PCGS MS-67 #25214551: Heritage Auctions, February 2016, Lot 3263 – $4,700; Heritage Auctions, July 15, 2022, Lot 3776 – $5,280. Mostly brilliant. Light tarnish along the periphery of the obverse. More scattered tarnish on the reverse. Tiny nick on upper cheek. Horizontal scratch on the base of the shield. Very clean fields.
  • PCGS MS-67 #25285583: Heritage Auctions, August 7, 2014 – $4,112.50; “The Mile High Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 5, 2017, Lot 4936 – $3,760; Heritage Auctions, February 25, 2022, Lot 3600 – $3,360. Mostly brilliant. Flecks of tarnish on the obverse and reverse. Numerous contact marks on the face, neck, and hair. 
  • NGC MS-67 #5859374-006: GreatCollections, May 16, 2021, Lot 909617 – View. Borderline PL. Brilliant. Deep contact mark above designer’s initials. Horizontal scratch across middle of shield.
  • PCGS MS-67 #25001792: “The Maltese Collection,” Heritage Auctions, October 16, 2020, Lot 3445 – $6,300. Brilliant with light tarnish. Contact marks on bust truncation. horizontal mark above RUS. Diagonal mark at the bottom of the shield. Contact mark on right-side of eagle’s tail feathers.
  • PCGS MS-67 #25376024: Heritage Auctions, October 30, 2015, Lot 4689 – $4,935. Vennekotter Collection on insert. Brilliant. Discoloration on nostril. Light hits in hair. Dark reflectivity at highest point of cheek going down to jaw. Light scuffs at the base of the shield.
  • PCGS MS-67 #5446856: Heritage Auctions, September 19, 2003, Lot 7403 – $2,300. Brilliant. Hit at the corner of the lip. Small die gouge on reverse below star below IC of AMERICA.

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Design

Obverse:

The obverse of the Kennedy half dollar was designed by Gilroy Roberts, Chief Engraver at the United States Mint from July 22, 1948, to February 11, 1965. Roberts also designed President Kennedy’s inaugural medal, which served as the basis of the present design.

The central motif is, of course, an effigy of the 35th President of the United States, the late John Fitzgerald Kennedy. A war hero and (at the time) the youngest person ever to serve as president, Kennedy was inaugurated on January 20, 1961, and assassinated on November 22, 1963. The nation’s grief was such that Congress and the U.S. Mint rushed through a design change on the half dollar denomination to commemorate the bereaved president.

In the right context, the strong, smiling image of President Kennedy is indeed moving.

Atop the upper half of the rim is the inscription LIBERTY, with Kennedy’s hair covering the bottom portions of the letters “B”, “E” and “R”. The date 1970 is cradled at the bottom of the coin, while the national motto IN GOD WE TRUST is inscribed in a straight line above the year but divided by the sharp truncation of Kennedy’s neck. The mint mark “D” is found on the right side of the point of this truncation.

Gilroy Roberts’ initials are located on the truncation line of Kennedy’s bust, above the “WE” on the bottom right side of the coin.

Reverse:

1970-D Kennedy Half Dollar ReverseRoberts’ assistant Frank Gasparro designed the reverse. He based the eagle on the presidential coat of arms from the Seal of the President of the United States, which itself is based on the obverse of the Great Seal of the United States. The presidential seal in its current form was finalized by President Harry S. Truman in 1945, though the number of stars on the seal (and hence the coin) went from 48 to 50 as the states of Alaska and Hawaii entered the Union.

The heraldic eagle’s wings and legs are spread in four directions. The left talon (viewer’s right) holds a bunch of arrows, a symbol of war, while the right claw (viewer’s left) holds an olive branch, a symbol of peace. It is tradition to have the eagle face one side or the other relative to national circumstances at the time of striking; in this instance, the eagle faces towards the olive branch despite America’s involvement in Vietnam and other conflicts around the world.

Frank Gasparro’s initials (“FG”) are located between the eagle’s left leg and its tail feathers.

A Union shield covers the eagle’s breast. Vertical bars representing the 13 red and white stripes of the American flag run down most of its face, the stripes representing the original 13 colonies of the United States. The top of the shield (a horizontal band is otherwise known in heraldry as a chief) features no stars.

Immediately above the eagle’s head is a scroll featuring the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. The design behind and above the eagle, which consists of 15 rays, nine stars and a mass of clouds, is called a glory, and is a common design element of both heraldry and an earlier period of numismatics.

The inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA runs clockwise along the top rim of the reverse, while the denomination HALF DOLLAR runs counterclockwise along the bottom. Dots are placed between the two inscriptions at both ends. Surrounding the eagle is a ring of 50 stars, representing the 50 states of the Union at the time of the coin’s production.

Gasparro became Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint on February 11, 1965 after Roberts’ work with the Franklin Mint caused the United States Mint to let Roberts go. Gasparro had served as Roberts’ assistant for three years between ’62 and ’65. Besides the Kennedy half dollar reverse, Gasparro had also designed the Lincoln cent memorial reverse, the Eisenhower dollar obverse and regular reverse, and the Susan B Anthony dollar, among other works.

Frank Gasparro retired from the Mint on January 16, 1981.

Edge:

The edge of the 1970-D Kennedy half dollar is reeded.

Designers

Gilroy Roberts was the ninth Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, serving from 1948-1965. He is primarily remembered for his design of the Kennedy half dollar obverse.

Frank Gasparro was an American medalist and coin designer. After serving as an assistant engraver to Gilroy Roberts, he became the 10th Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, serving from 1965-1981 (View Designer’s Profile).

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1970
Denomination: Half Dollar (USD)
Mint Mark: D (Denver)
Mintage: 2,150,000
Alloy: 40% Silver, 60% Copper
Weight: 11.5 g
Diameter: 30.6 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Gilroy Roberts
REV Designer: Frank Gasparro
Quality: Business Strike

 

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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.

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24 COMMENTS

  1. The real sleeper in respect to rarity which is slowly being realized is the 1964 proof accented hair Kennedy half. The assumed mintage for this variety is extremely low in the 200 000 range. It has the real potential to be a coin that becomes one that a collector looks back and wonders why they didn’t hoard more or even grab some of them.whwn they were in a mire accessible cost range as they are now.

  2. In retrospect it was a colossal mistake for the Mint to have persisted with silver halves, even at a reduced .400 fineness. The (artificially pumped) run-up in silver prices during the late 1960s made even those clad issues worth more than their face value, leading to many being removed from circulation and melted. In addition it later fueled the myth among non-collectors that ALL halves, including those minted after 1970, contained at least some silver which added further to the hoarding problem.

    One wonders if the 50¢ piece might have remained in circulation had the Trasury given up the idea of treating it as a prestige coin and simply converted it to cupronickel in 1965 as well.

    Of course there’s also the unanswered question of whether the Franklin design could have or should have been resumed in 1965 as well, but that’s a different consideration.

  3. The Kennedy Half Dollars have flaws.
    Parts of the letters above the head are in the hair. Also, the EAR of Kennedy is different in a lot of the coins. Are any of these Collectable?

    • @Bette Farwell If you do an image search for Kennedy halves, the motto over the head will be partially-obscured on ALL of them. It’s not a flaw, it’s a design choice to allow the portrait to be a bit larger. The same technique’s been used on other coins as well, including the new quarters. If you think about it for a moment, it’s extremely unlikely that the Mint would have issued a flawed image for over half a century.

  4. Thank you, it’s very helpful for me I collect coins and I understand more about them for y’all posting. Also could you tell or give me a guess on how much a 1909 gold 2 1/2 Dollar coin would be worth. Thank You.

  5. Yes I have like seven of them and I’m looking to get rid of them,also I have a silver penny,I would like to see maybe what it is worth

  6. @Bette Farwelll: The letters in LIBERTY appearing behind Kennedy’s hair is _not_ a flaw in any way. It was purely an artistic decision made by designer Gilroy Roberts. If you check any pictorial reference you’ll find that ALL Kennedy halves have the same arrangement.

    Other familiar US coins with a device (image) that overlays one of the legends include Mercury dimes and Walking Liberty halves. In addition, many other designs’ devices interrupt but don’t overlay a legend. None of these are errors.

  7. @Bette Farwell: Kennedy’s hair covering part of the word LIBERTY is _not_ a flaw. If you look at images of other dates, it’s part of the design of all Kennedy halves. It’s a common artistic method that allows the portrait to be slightly larger.

    The same idea’s been used on several other US coins; e.g. Peace dollars, Barber and Walking Liberty halves, and Mercury dimes, On some other denominations like Standing Liberty quarters and certain Innovation dollars, the image interrupts the motto but doesn’t cover it.

    • Take a photo, and list them on e-Bay. If you have a larger collection, send them to auction. If you can tell .e the kinds of coins, I can recommend appropriate auction houses.

  8. I have bicentennial half dollar dollar,and quarter and several other coins even a 1914-1919 penny a quarter with one side the face is there but no back can you help me gettingon how do i sell them ?

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