By Dan Duncan – Retired, Pinnacle Rarities ……
The short-lived Proof version of the popular Walking Liberty half dollar was discontinued during World War II as metals were scarce and the country’s attention was focused on more important things. During the economic hardships that followed the war, the United States Mint didn’t begin striking proof coinage again until 1950. These sets featured the new Franklin half dollar and Roosevelt dime designs and were immediately popular among the collectors.
The Roosevelt dime is still in use today, but the Proof Franklins were only struck from 1950 to 1963. All were sold for $2.10 in the annual Proof Sets. Today the series is one of the most popular modern series and each issue is obtainable certified, making the series an excellent project for novice and advanced rare coin enthusiasts alike. Modern population reports give us some excellent insights into how quality is dispersed across survivors, and so for our own education and in the interest of collectors and investors, we examine the PCGS data in relation to the individual 14 dates.
The Proof Franklin Half Dollar: Date by Date
1950 – The first year of issue has the lowest mintage for the series. However, it represents more than double the production of the final year of the 1942 Walker. The result is that many examples were struck on overused dies and quality suffered. Additionally, like the ’40s-era sets, the 1950 Proof Sets were sold with each coin individually held in a small cellophane sleeve. The group was stapled together and placed in a cardboard box with tissue paper. These were not sealed and were subject to gassing and moisture. The result is that many of the survivors are hair-lined, spotted, or unsightly toned. Cameos for the date represent less than 10% of the graded population and Deep Cameos are extremely rare. To date, PCGS has only graded eight coins DCAM across all grades.
1951 – The second year of production saw a slight increase in mintage figures and some improvement in production quality. Polishing of used dies was done with more frequency and most of the surviving cameos are a direct result. The population reports reveal that the overall cameos remain just under 10% of graded examples, but the occurrence of Deep Cameos increases almost 10-fold to over 70 coins currently in PCGS DCAM holders.
1952 – The production numbers were increased dramatically in 1952 to meet collector demand. The result was that many of the year’s emissions were from poorly executed planchets and heavily polished dies. The overall Cameo numbers increase, but surviving Deep Cameo numbers drop to just 25.
1953 – In ‘53, overall production was increased to 128,800 to match demand. This was the final year of exclusive early poor packaging practices using the brittle cellophane sleeves. Accordingly, the pop reports show an increase in overall graded numbers and an increase in PR68 examples, with the first PR69. The Deep Cameo population doubles from the previous year to ’53. This is still a minuscule amount especially considering the mintage figure increase.
1954 – The sets from this year were packaged in both the cellophane sleeves and a new softer version. Mintage figures rose by over 100,000 sets and the resulting population data reflects these changes. The cameo and deep cameo population represent three times each of the first two years and a 40% increase over the previous year. The survivors in PR68 jumps to nearly 200 coins across all designations yet remain elusive in PR69 with just one lone PCGS example to date.
1955 – The Mint again revised its packaging for the year, with early sets going into the softer sleeves and taped into boxes like the previous years while the balance of sets was sealed in pliofilm flat packs. The entire set was sealed in a sheet of plastic similar to the modern mint set. Mintage figures were again increased by nearly 150,000 while Mint State production for the year dropped to the second-lowest for the series. Overall PCGS populations increase accordingly and the year has the first PR69CAMs with two coins graded as such to date.
1956 – During 1956, engravers at the Mint edited the design of the reverse on the half. The feathers on the eagle emblem were strengthened, creating two types for the year. The Type One is scarcer overall with just over two thousand examples graded by PCGS across all grades and designations. This type is extremely elusive in Deep Cameo with a pop of just 11 in all grades. But the Type Two is fairly common with over 12 thousand examples in all grades and designations. It comes nice with more DCAM in holders than any other date in the series.
1957 – 1957 marks the first year that the total Proof mintage topped a million coins. Despite over half a million more coins originally produced than the previous year, the ‘57 Proof ranks second to the ’56 Type Two in the overall population. Currently, PCGS has graded over 10,000 for the date in all designations. This is second for all dates in the ’50s, and behind the 1956 Type Two in Cameo and Deep Cameo populations. It is important for DCAM collectors to use diligence to obtain a true two-sided cameo example.
1958 – This is the first year that Proof mintage figures went down since 1950. It is likely due to a slowing U.S. economy and a saturation of the collector markets. It is also the first year for the appearance of milk spots on the Proof halves. During this year, minting procedure appears to have changed, and the preparation of coins prior to striking left soap residue, resulting in occasional spots. This is an issue that collectors should avoid and it continues across the remaining issues for the series.
1959 – Demand and production for the year jumped back to over a million sets with the inclusion of the new Lincoln Memorial cent. Despite the higher mintage, the frequency of cameo contrast continues to decline as use and wear continued to take their toll on the master dies. This is no more evident than in the Deep Cameo pop numbers with only 23 coins graded DCAM for the year. This is just 20% of the 1958 DCAM population despite over a quarter of a million additional coins being struck.
1960 – Dies were reworked resulting in an increase in Cameo examples and a distinctive sharper look for the series until it is discontinued in 1963. The 1960 Cameo Proofs often offer more field-to-device contrast on the obverse than the reverse. The obverse frost can be intense so the enthusiast is encouraged to wait for the right look. With over 100 PR68DCAMs and 11 PR69DCAMs, there is market saturation to please the astute collector that’s willing to exhibit moderate patience.
1961 – The final three years of production saw mintage figures top three million sets. Despite this spike in production, the frequency of Cameos is decidedly less. Regardless, Cameo and Deep Cameo examples can be had in grades up to PR68, with Cameo-designated PR69s scarce. 1961 has the series’ only doubled die variety currently designated in PCGS population reports. The doubling is on the reverse and is clearly visible in the inscription HALF and the Motto and the coins are elusive. To date, no ’61 DDOs have been designated Deep Cameo.
1962 – The last two years of the issue are the most common. The production quality is high and collectors will be able to locate appealing selections with little problem. The Cameos from the year feature heavily frosted devices on both obverse and reverse, a departure from the mismatched dies of the previous few years. Superb gem and better examples are readily available within all designations and are offered with little downside at today’s levels.
1963 – The final year of Franklin half production again saw over three million Proof examples struck. Along with 1962, the year represents the most common for the series with heavy market availability across all designations.
For the sake of simplicity, we’ve used the PCGS Population Report as the direct reference in this article. We recognize the information herein is subject to some variance with resubmissions and examples lost to attrition. It is important to note that the NGC Census Data is no less important, and in a side-by-side comparison, it appears to reflect similar trends. With each company’s report reflecting over 30 years of data, they are both valuable tools to recognize the overall condition rarity of examples known in today’s marketplace. The Franklin Proofs are considered modern by many but have been extremely popular throughout their existence.
The Proof coins of the era experienced huge demand, early causing mintage figures to increase from 51,386 in 1950 to over three million by series’ end. The early issues found Mint employees relearning the nuances of Proof striking causing the early years to be tough in Deep Cameo. The dies were reworked in 1956, creating the series only type change, and the new dies created sharply contrasting Proofs with many Deep Cameo survivors. Subsequent years saw wear to the master dies lowering the frequency of Cameos until the dies were again reworked in 1960. The final years of production are sharp and rich in Cameos. The production of Proof Sets above the three-million-coin threshold has left plenty of Gem and better examples for today’s collectors.