United States 1987-S Proof Kennedy Half Dollar

According to the 1988 Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, due to declining demand, no 1987 Kennedy half dollars were struck for general circulation. The coins already in circulation were “sufficient for current needs,” and all freshly struck pieces were destined for mint sets. Proof versions were struck only at the San Francisco Mint. Between June 1987 and June 1988, 844,291 Proof sets and 102,245 Prestige sets dated 1987 were purchased via mail order and at Mint retail locations. These sets, priced at $11, all contained a Proof 1987-S half dollar.

While very few regular strike Kennedy halves were produced at the Denver and Philadelphia Mints during 1987 (2,890,758 pieces each), the San Francisco Mint provided a bumper crop of Proof strikes. Besides the high mintages of the Bicentennial year 1976, when the Mint struck 7,059,099 clad Proof and 4,000,000 million 40% silver Proof pieces, the San Francisco facility had its highest mintage of the entire series in 1987. At 4,227,728, the total run from San Francisco in 1987 was almost 25% higher than any year since 1981.

While there are no significant varieties in either the Cherrypickers Guide or on varietyvista.com, the United States Mint started using the MMS-007 style mintmark on the 1987-S half. The 007 style, introduced in 1987 and used until 1990 on Proof Kennedy halves, is slightly thicker than the previous “very tall” MMS-006 style.

The 1987-S Kennedy Half Dollar in Today’s Market

Due to the large mintages, it is not difficult to find a nice example of a 1987-S Kennedy half.

With a survival rate of 3,614,707 pieces total and 3,433,972 in MS-65 or better (or 85.8% and 81.2%, respectively), very few examples exist in low grades. Pegged at a 1 on the rarity scale, the 1987-S half is worth approximately $2 in MS-60, $5 in MS-65, $16 in MS-69, and $50 to $60 in MS-70. The most recent entry in the PCGS auction records archive of an MS-70 DCAM 1987-S Kennedy half was in the October 2021 David Lawrence Rare Coins auction and hammered for $41 before buyers’ fees.

Since this is a clad Proof strike and not a silver strike, low-grade examples are worth between face value and $1. This, of course, depends on how good a negotiator the purchaser is.

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 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.

Atop the upper half of the rim is the inscription LIBERTY, with Kennedy’s hair covering the bottom portions of the letter’s “B”, “E” and “R”. The date 1987 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 “S” 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:

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 United States Mint on February 11, 1965, after Roberts’ work with the Franklin Mint caused the U.S. 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 1987-S Proof Kennedy half dollar is reeded with 150 reeds.

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
Year Of Issue:  1987
Denomination:  Half Dollar
Mint Mark: S (San Francisco)
Mintage:  4,227,728
Alloy:  75% Copper, 25% Nickel over a 100% Copper core
Weight:  11.30 grams
Diameter:  30.61 mm
Edge:  Reeded
OBV Designer  Gilroy Roberts
REV Designer  Frank Gasparro
Quality:  Proof

 


 

1 COMMENT

  1. One historical correction: JFK was the youngest person elected President, but Teddy Roosevelt, who succeeded to the presidency upon the assassination of William McKinley, was the youngest to serve in that office.

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