The 1969-D Kennedy Half Dollar was the last of the silver-clad half dollar struck in quantity for circulation. The silver-clad half dollar would take its final bow in 1970, when the Denver Mint struck the coin one last time, but the mintage was limited to that year’s annual Mint Set and the published mintage of that set is 2,150,000. By contrast, 129,881,800 1969-D Kennedy half dollars were struck.
That the silver-clad composition was used for just six years was not a testament to Congressional stubbornness or Gresham’s Law, but the simple fact that the denomination’s large size made it technologically unfeasible for use in vending machines, the proliferation of which was primary driver behind the explosion of coin mintages in starting in the late 1950s.
By 1969, the Kennedy half dollar as a symbol of public memorialization of the fallen president continued to be as popular as ever. In July of that year, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first two human beings to step foot on the lunar surface, fulfilling America’s decade-long ambition to leave the confines on earth and step foot on a bold new world. Scores of commemorative coins were struck by Mints around the world to mark the achievement, but the American half dollar stood as the single most important one.
While the Philadelphia Mint did not join the Denver Mint in the production of business strike Kennedy half dollars in 1969, the San Francisco Mint did produce Proof versions. These versions were sold in the U.S. Mint’s annual Proof Set and each coin bears the “S” mintmark.
The 1969-D Kennedy Half Dollar’s Value in Today’s Market
The coin imaged in this coin profile brought $1,116.25 at a March 2016 Stack’s Bowers auction. The coin was graded MS66+ by PCGS. The single-finest example graded by PCGS (MS67+) sold at a November 2017 Heritage Auctions sale for $4,802. NGC reports five pieces at MS67 with none finer.
The typical example in Mint State will grade well below these two pieces, most falling in the narrow band between MS64 and MS65. In MS64, the coin sells for about 4x spot price, or $8 in today’s market. In MS65, the 1969-D sells for $15 to $20, depending on the professionalism, the spread being determined by the fluidity found in the online marketplace.
An MS66 with typical eye appeal as expected with the grade is worth about $120.
Raw uncirculated 1969 coins can be found in flips and in rolls and bags. The issue is by no means rare or difficult to acquire if one is truly interested in buying it in quantity. Exceptional pieces are worth sending to either grading service for encapsulation, whether as individual coins or as part of a bulk submission.
The Kennedy half dollar, as is the case with most mid and late 20th century coins are likely to grow in prominence over the next few decades as Generation X sets out to build sets of coins struck over the course of their lives. It is because of this that we are bullish on U.S. halves of high quality struck up to the mid 1980s.
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 1969 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.
Roberts’ 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, 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 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.
The edge of the 1970-D Kennedy half dollar is reeded.
Designer(s): 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).
|Year Of Issue:||1969|
|Mint Mark:||D (Denver)|
|Alloy:||40% Silver, 60% Copper|
|OBV Designer||Gilroy Roberts|
|REV Designer||Frank Gasparro|
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