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By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for CoinWeek.com ……
 

A 1964 Special Mint Set Kennedy half dollar recently turned heads when it was offered by Heritage Auctions during the September 7-11, 2016 Long Beach Expo U.S. Signature Auction. Trading for $47,000 USD, the coin listed as Lot #5545 became the first 1964 Special Mint Set (SMS) Kennedy half dollar posted in a public sale since 2010.

The 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollar is one of the most elusive modern United States coins and is by far the rarest non-error, non-die variety Kennedy half. Mystique shrouds the existence of 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollars, of which there are just 12 known examples. There is relatively little verified information explaining their origin or provenance, and the mystery coins are scarcely offered for sale.

How To Tell A 1964 SMS Kennedy Half Dollar from a Business Strike Or Proof

The 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollar that just sold for nearly $50,000 has a satin-textured surface, which is the general appearance of all 1964 SMS halves. Salmon-orange rim toning kisses the upper obverse and lower reverse surfaces of the coin with ambient white-gray coloration across the fields and devices. Surface marks on the lower obverse that mimic dark fingerprints are described by Heritage as “carbon-gray flecks.”

Overall, the coin boasts strong details and a sharp, square wire rim – features seen on other 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollars. Die polishing marks and an absence of contact marks further indicate these 1964 Kennedy half dollars were specially struck and not simply high-end business-strike specimens. These coins do not display the mirror-like reflective surfaces that are seen on proof coins, yet they have a stronger strike than seen on either the 1964 proof coinage or SMS coinage from 1965 through 1967.

Another important die marker on the 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollar is known as a “dangling 4”. This diagnostic is a tiny, teardrop shaped piece of metal that descends below the 4 digit in the coin’s 1964 date.

How Often Are 1964 SMS Kennedy Half Dollars Offered for Sale?

The discovery of the 1964 SMS half dollar came in the 1990s. For many years, the first appearance of the 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollar was recorded as 1993, but further researched has unveiled a June 1991 appearance of the 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollar, when an unusual five-piece set of 1964 Philadelphia-Mint coins was offered in a Stack’s sale.

“The [half dollar] has a fully satiny obverse and a somewhat reflective surface,” reads the description for the Stack’s lot. “The strike on all the coins is far sharper than is seen even on the Special Mint Sets. We suspect that these were struck as an experiment to determine the sort of finish the Mint would use from 1965 through 1967.”

The Lincoln cent, Jefferson nickel, Roosevelt dime, and Washington quarter in that same set also exhibited the same surface characteristics as the 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollar. The five coins were offered in a nondescript snap-tight plastic coin holder.

There are relatively few auction records to provide any solid analytical information on the coin’s overall market performance. Of the 12 known specimens, the majority grade Mint State-67 (MS), and two score a numerical grade as high as 69, with one graded as an MS coin and the other a Specimen Proof (or SP) piece. The lowest-grade is assigned to an example recognized by PCGS as an SP-64.

Population reports from the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) reflect far more than a dozen individual specimens. However, many 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollars have been cracked out of their slabs, with most of those being regraded by PCGS, thus explaining the inflated population report.

Over the past decade, the 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollar has appeared at auction at least four times, not counting the most recent Heritage Auction listing. In November 2006, an MS-67 sold for $4,715 at a Bowers & Merena sale. In July 2008, an MS-67 traded for $6,037.50 in a Heritage auction. An MS-68 specimen crossed the block in April 2009 for $10,350. Heritage again sold an MS-67 in January 2010, with that piece commanding $16,100; it was the last public offering of a 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollar until September 2016, when the rare coin was listed in the Heritage Long Beach Expo auction.

Sales histories for the entire 1964 SMS set are similarly spotty. They have infrequently turned up for sale over the years. A world-record price for the five-coin set was achieved in 2013 when VDB Coins brokered a transaction involving a 1964 SMS set that sold for $151,200.

Interestingly, the most expensive coin in that set wasn’t a 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollar but rather the 1964 SMS Jefferson nickel, which earned an MS-68 grade from PCGS with Full Steps designation, indicating a complete strike on the steps of Monticello, seen on the reverse of the coin. That coin had an individual sales price of $84,170.68.

Where Did 1964 SMS Kennedy Half Dollars Come From?

lestermerkin
Collector Lester Merkin

There is much speculation, excessive rumor and very few facts concerning the origins of the 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollar. Before 1991, there was no known public numismatic record of the coin. It is suspected the 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollars and other 1964 SMS coins may have belonged to former U.S. Mint Director Eva Adams, who coordinated the swift introduction of the Kennedy half dollar in January 1964 – just weeks after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.

Adams passed away on August 23, 1991 – just two months after the first Stack’s listing of the five-piece 1964 SMS coin set. Perhaps those coins were consigned by Adams’ or her family members during her waning days. Or perhaps the coins belonged to another U.S. Mint employee.

Adams’ estate was sold soon after her passing, and it is believed coin dealer Lester Merkin may have acquired some or all of the 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollars that may have been offered during that sale. Merkin passed away on July 26, 1992, and his collection was in turn sold by Stack’s.

Over the years since, 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollars have trickled into the marketplace. In many cases they have been uneventfully sold in private transactions. On few occasions, they turn up in public sales. When the 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollar does make a rare appearance in a public auction, fervent bidding from modern coin collectors and Kennedy half dollar enthusiasts surely follows.

Despite price declines among many coin series in recent years since the Great Recession of 2007-2009, the 1964 SMS Kennedy half dollar appears to hold its own in the marketplace. Its $47,000 final price in the recent Heritage Auction places it among the most expensive modern coins around.
 


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35 COMMENTS

  1. In Germany on ebay there was a mintset from 1964 Philadelphia that went for less than 10 Euros. it looked official. And the coins looked like in very very very good condition. Here is the ebay number of that article: 182265280309. Is that the sms you are talking about? Then I really missed a chance.

  2. I have a unique 1964 Kennedy half dollar that appears to not have been made with the mass quantity run of the mill coins. Also there is not a mint mark that can be located. Could someone please enlighten me on how to find the value of this coin?

  3. Good Day,
    Can you please assist me,where can i sell my 1964 Kennedy half dollar as the one in your ad.I am from South Africa and can email a photo.This coin has not been used.I also got some used One pennys 1902 to 1920 King Edward and King Georg and a few others.
    Thank You
    Peet Kruger

  4. I have a 1964 jfk silver half dollar an would like to have it looked at by someone. If someone could get back to me that would be great.

  5. Hello yes i have one of those sets you speak of and its in amazing condition unopened to my knowledge and am looking to sell it. Please email me and ill be happy to provide a photo thank you for your time

  6. I’ve got a 1964 Kennedy half dollar I know very little about coins but want to learn, how or where can I find out if the one I have has any of the variances collectors seek

  7. I have a 196 Kennedy half dollar fine hair the 6 is almost gone no 4 and the st in not there in we trust And yin liberty is almost gone back in perfect shape I believe it’s inculcated can someone help me with this.

  8. I Have 2- 1964 Kennedy with the Satin Cover look, I have compare them to other Silver Coins Like a 1969 and the color is different. I would like to know how much they’re worth.

  9. I Have 2- 1964 Kennedy with the Satin Cover look…. Colour is so different in comparison to the same coin year- 1984… I would like to know how much they’re worth.

  10. I’ve got a 1964 Kennedy half dollar I know very little about coins but want to learn, how or where can I find out if the one I have has any of the variances collectors seek

    • More likely than not, it is a regular issue half dollar, which is made of 90% silver. The value depends on condition. Unless a collector put it away when it was brand new from the mint, it is only worth its value in silver.

  11. I might have a 1964 struck on a 1965 blank. It is normal weight for a 1964 but it’s appearance is wrong. It appears to be flaking, The second medal is darker than the silver finishing which remains. A D mint mark is below and left of the claw. 15 to 20% of the silver has flaked off but it does appear to be a single coating, not 2
    Do you think I have a real coin or someone’s stupid attempt at counterfitting. It’s a lot of beautiful work to waste on a half-dollar.

  12. Within the last year I have gotten 2 different 2 headed Kennedy halves. One is a 1964 date, and the other is a 1989. I guess a lot of old magicians are dying, and their heirs are tossing their coins in the Coin Star or whatever, without knowing what they are.

  13. Hello, I have a set of 6 coins of Half Dollar 1964, last week I searched for prices and I found an article about an auction on the same theme where to my surprise I saw more similarities between the coins that I and the auctioneer have. my question to you is what should I do next to tell if my coins are the same as in the article. Thanks in advance!

  14. I also have a jfk half dollar and curious of the value. Not sure how long my mother’s been holding on to this, but I’ll say minimum 38-45 years, if not longer. I have no idea of the value. Thanks!

  15. I have bought from a second hand store approx 5years ago a ladies chain belt with 5 regular sized 1964 JFK 50 cent pieces on it and another exactly the same but the size of a quarter there is no mint mark where it was made all 6 of these coins are what appears to be in soft gold although most the chains on the belt stick to a magnet the coins themselves don’t except the one section of single chain does not stick to a magnet Anyways I’m not sure if I can attach a photo here but would truly appreciate any info cause I have been Waring this belt for years now and if they are rare then I don’t want to add more surface scratches cause it is a beautiful belt that once was dirty and not looked to nothing until I used a soft cloth wiped it clean and now it shines without any cleaners I love it please can you help me figuŕe it out I like coins so don’t want to wreck any rare items thx 4 ur time here

    • once a coin has been mounted on a piece of jewelry it is highly likely, actually almost a certainty, that if removed it would reveal evidence of damage. Our advice is to enjoy the piece for what it is- a work of numismatic art.

  16. I have a 1964 with the orange top on the front and on the bottom of the back. It also has the black splotches that look like fingerprints but I am uncertain if it has a teardrop under the four . I’m curious if discoloring is common for the 1964 s?

  17. I’m in the same boat as Avonna. Pretty certain I have one of the collectable Kennedy coins described above but I simply don’t know how to proceed from here.

  18. Hi I have several 1967 1968 and 1969 Kennedy halves that look just like the 1964 in this article orange edges and fingerprint like markings can anyone help me? Thanks for any help anyone can give a novice collector

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