As United States Mint Director Nellie Tayloe Ross’s brainchild, she continually pushed the government to design and release a half dollar depicting Benjamin Franklin and the Liberty Bell. However, there was a law that required the reverse design of the US half dollar to include an eagle. Ross was so attached to the idea of depicting Franklin and the Liberty Bell that she sidestepped the spirit of the law, and while the law intended that the eagle be the main device, she relegated it to the right-hand field.
As a result, the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) disapproved of the design. Disregarding this, Ross continued with the design and stated that the “public must accept it, like it or not.”
Due to the large numbers of Walking Liberty halves still in circulation resulting from inflated wartime production, the Mint struck limited numbers of the new Franklin half for the first several years. In fact, 1949 was the first year that the Franklin halves were struck at three different facilities: Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco. Only Denver and Philadelphia issued the half dollar in 1948. While the public saved the 1948 Franklins as first-year-of-issue pieces, the 1949 was not saved as frequently. This, coupled with the limited mintage, has led this type to be comparatively scarce.
The 1949 Franklin Half Dollar in Today’s Market
The main condition designation that regular strike Franklin halves can receive is FBL – Full Bell Lines. This refers to the condition of the bottom set of lines on the Liberty Bell. If the host coin can be certified as MS 60 or above, and the lines in question are “complete and uninterrupted”, then the coin will earn the FBL designation. While the 1949 halves are generally well struck, the lines can be obscured by planchet defects, by a particularly weak strike, or by simple circulation wear. This unique strike characteristic is relatively strict and even a small number of marks disrupting the lines will preclude a coin from receiving the FBL designation.
As with other strike characteristics, such as the Jefferson nickel’s Full Steps and the Mercury dime’s Full Bands, the FBL designation can earn a serious premium. Over the past several years, auction records show that in MS 63, pieces with the FBL designation can earn up to 200% the value of a standard MS 63 piece. In MS 65, while this premium can also be upwards of 200%, the price is generally subject to a premium closer to 25%. In the top population grade of MS 67, the premium grows dramatically in dollar value. For example, over the past 10 years, the average auction value of an MS 67 FBL stood at just over $10,000, while the auction record for a straight MS 67, set at a Heritage Auctions February 2005 sale, still stands at $6,325.
The Franklin Half series was and still is quite popular, with many contemporary collectors purchasing and saving rolls of BU pieces. As a result, no Franklin half, including the 1949, is truly rare in Mint State. While low-grade examples (Fair and below) are generally worth only melt, as a piece’s grade increases, its value does climb. From VF to AU 50, pieces can generally be purchased for $15 to $20. Certified low Mint State examples (MS 60 to MS 63) are currently selling for $40 to $55 and mid-Mint State examples (MS 64 to MS 65) selling for as much as $75 to $175. While slightly harder to find, collectors can regularly acquire certified MS 66 examples for $350 to $700 at auction. There are only 11 MS 67s and one MS 67+ (Regular and FBL) graded by both NGC and PCGS.
It is interesting to note that both the obverse and reverse designs of the Franklin half dollar were rejected by the CFA. The Treasury Department ignored this recommendation and approved the design anyway. In this instance, it seems that the CFA got it wrong. The Franklin half dollar design, despite being simple in concept, became an iconic exemplar of modern U.S. coinage, with the coin’s frosted Cameo Proof strikings being highly coveted by collectors.
Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock designed both sides of Franklin half dollar. His obverse design was based on Jean Antoine Houdon’s 18th-century bust of Franklin. The date (1949) appears in the lower-right of the obverse, while IN GOD WE TRUST curves beneath Franklin and LIBERTY curves around the top above Franklin. The designer’s initials (JRS) are located at the truncation of Franklin’s bust.
Sinnock and future Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts designed the reverse, which depicts the Liberty Bell and a small eagle (mandated by law) at right.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA arcs above the Liberty Bell while the denomination HALF DOLLAR curves beneath it. E PLURIBUS UNUM appears to the left of the bell and an eagle, its wings spread, stands to its right. Two sets of three parallel horizontal lines encircle the base and bottom of the bell, a key grading diagnostic indicative of strike quality.
Coins struck at the Denver and San Francisco Mints exhibit a small mintmark above the wooden beam holding the Liberty Bell, below STATES in UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The Franklin half dollars struck at the Philadelphia Mint were not struck with a mintmark.
The edge of the 1949 Franklin half dollar is reeded.
From 1925 through 1947, John R. Sinnock was the eighth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint. He is best known for the designs of the Roosevelt dime and the Franklin half dollar.
Gilroy Roberts was the ninth Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, serving from 1948-1965. He is best remembered for his design of the Kennedy half dollar obverse.
|Year Of Issue:||1949|
|Mint Mark:||None (Philadelphia)|
|Alloy:||90% Silver, 10% Copper|
|OBV Designer||John R. Sinnock|
|REV Designer||John R. Sinnock | Gilroy Roberts|