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 50c. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
The edge of the 1970-D Kennedy half dollar is reeded.
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:||1970|
|Mint Mark:||D (Denver)|
|Alloy:||40% Silver, 60% Copper|
|OBV Designer||Gilroy Roberts|
|REV Designer||Frank Gasparro|