United States 1948 Franklin Half Dollar

First released in 1948, the Franklin half dollar was the last circulating U.S. denomination to adopt the portrait of a real individual, instead of the allegorical Lady Liberty. As this design was replacing the Walking Liberty half dollar–which, even at the time, was widely considered to be one of the most beautiful coins ever struck by the United States Mint–it was met by a lukewarm reception, with most collectors not considering it to be very attractive. The Franklin half had been forced through by Mint director Nellie Tayloe Ross, a true Franklin fan. Less than a year before his death, Ross tasked the Mint’s Chief Engraver, John R. Sinnock, to create a design for the new half dollar type.

Of course, Franklin himself was strongly opposed to using the portraits of real-life individuals on coins. It was reported that Ross countered the claim by stating, “It was royal heads he objected to,” and that she believed Franklin would have understood what an honor it was to appear on U.S. coinage.

While the Mint began promoting the new half dollar design well before release, one last push occurred on April 29, 1948, one day before the coin’s official debut. That night, the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia hosted an exclusive dinner party for 200 guests, each of whom received a place card signed by Ross containing a Franklin half dollar. The next day at noon, the 159th anniversary of George Washington’s first inauguration coin, these new halves became available to the general public. The New York Times reported that these new coins were first sold by four employees of the Franklin Savings Bank dressed in Continental Army uniforms on the steps of the Sub-Treasury building at the intersection of Wall Street and Nassau Street.

The 1948 Philadelphia issuance of 3,006,814 coins is the third-smallest mintage of the entire series, with only the 1953-P and the 1955-P being smaller. All of these coins were struck on 12 coin presses at the Philadelphia Mint. Unlike the vast majority of later examples, these 1948 Franklin halves are extremely well struck, with sharp features and well-defined details.

The 1948-P Franklin Half in Today’s Market

Like all Franklin halves (except for some varieties), the 1948-P is not rare, despite the lower mintage. As with most first issuances, many collectors and dealers originally purchased these coins in full rolls, resulting in a top-heavy population in which not only are MS 65s are quite common but the vast majority (84.3%) of all submissions also received the Full Bell Lines (FBL) designation. That’s not to say that most coins as issued would warrant that designation, but there is little reason to bother submitting a 1948-P Franklin if it does not.

There are a total of 81 grading events at MS 67 at both PCGS and NGC, of which 79 received the FBL designation. Both grading companies have certified one example each MS 68, and both of those coins have received the FBL designation. Heritage Auctions sold one of these MS 68s in April 2022 for a stunning $26,400 USD. At the time it was offered, the coin was housed in an NGC MS68*FBL holder. It is now in a PCGS MS68FBL holder.

United States 1948 Franklin Half Dollar
Image: Heritage Auctions / PCGS.

The coin’s toning, created by the high sulfur content in the Mint’s original cardboard holder, is broken by what appears to be a fingerprint. Fortunately, this does little to take away from the coin’s spectacular eye appeal. Meanwhile, in 2015, Legend Rare Coins sold an vividly reverse-toned MS 67+ with for almost $25,000.

As the population in MS 67 is considerable, the price difference between MS68FBL and MS67FBL coins is significant. For example, an FBL piece with blast white surfaces and just a hint of blue toning around the edges accenting nearly perfect surfaces was sold by Heritage Auctions in August 2022 for $5,000. They also sold a similar example with a complete covering of soft gold toning in February of 2022 for just under $2,000. Clearly, collectors buy coins to taste at this level and have an array of coins to choose from.

In mid-Mint State grades (MS 65-66), non-FBL coins can be easily found for between $50 and $250. There is a premium of around $50 in these grades for examples with the FBL designation.

In lower Mint State condition (MS 60-63) for both FBL and non-FBL examples, the value hovers right around the cost of grading. So, submitters should be confident that their coin will grade as an MS 63 or above if they are looking to turn a profit.

The value of circulated examples is largely tied to whatever the spot price of silver is on a given day. These coins are routinely sold in quantity in bags of “junk silver”.

Design

It is interesting to note that both the obverse and reverse designs of the Franklin half dollar were rejected by the United States Commission of Fine Arts (CFA). The Treasury Department ignored this recommendation and approved the design anyway. In this instance, it seems that the CFA got it wrong. The Franklin half dollar design, despite being simple, became an iconic exemplar of modern U.S. coinage, with the coin’s frosted Cameo Proof strikings being highly coveted by collectors.

Obverse:

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. Sinnock had previously used this bust to create a Franklin medal issued by the Mint in 1933. The date (1948) 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.

Reverse:

Sinnock and future Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts designed the reverse, which depicts the Liberty Bell based off the Sesquicentennial half dollar reverse 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.

Edge:

The edge of the 1948 Franklin half dollar is reeded.

Designers

John R. Sinnock became the eighth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint upon George T. Morgan’s death in 1925, holding the position until his own death on May 14, 1947. In addition to being chosen by Mint Director Nellie Ross to design both the new Roosevelt dime and Franklin half dollar in 1946, Sinnock is responsible for engraving the 1926 Sesquicentennial American Independence half dollar and gold $2.50 for the 150th anniversary of the United States of America. Sinnock also helped sculpt the U.S. Army’s modern Purple Heart medal for Military Merit by soldiers wounded in combat.

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.

Coin Specifications

Country:  USA
Year Of Issue:  1948
Denomination:  Half Dollar
Mint Mark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: 3,006,814
Alloy:  90% Silver, 10% Copper
Weight:  12.50 g
Diameter:  30.60 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer  John R. Sinnock
REV Designer  John R. Sinnock | Gilroy Roberts
Quality: Business Strike

 

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Sources

https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=McJQAAAAIBAJ&pg=7494,3392083

https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/book/339

https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1948/05/01/86900268.html?pageNumber=8

https://www.usmint.gov/learn/history/historical-documents/striking-of-benjamin-franklin-liberty-bell-half-dollars

https://www.usmint.gov/learn/history/historical-documents/new-half-dollar-design-benjamin-franklins-profile
 

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