The Incredible Journey of the Kennedy Half Dollar
Origin & Design
In 1963, plans to add John F. Kennedy to a larger coin began just hours after his assasination. One year later, on March 24, 1964, Kennedy halves were released to the public. Mint Director Ava Adams had called upon Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts to design the coin, which could be a silver quarter, half dollar, or dollar. Widow Jacqueline Kennedy didn’t want to replace president Washington on the quarter, and chose to replace Benjamin on the half-dollar. The coin garnered incredible public support in its early days, and Lyndon B. Johnson called on Congress to allow striking of the new coin to start in 1964.
The obverse side of this history-rich coin features an image of John F. Kennedy, while the reverse features a Presidential Seal. 1964 half dollars were created using 90% silver, but dwindling silver supply led to a drop in silver content to 40% silver from 1965-1970 before it was entirely removed in 1971. 1976 saw a special bicentennial design change for that year only, before the following years saw significant slowing of yearly minting for half dollar coins.
Collector demand has defined the silver Kennedy half dollar since its release in 1964. Hoarding of the coin began immediately, with long lines forming to purchase them — forcing the Mint to strike more coins to keep up with demand. Initial plans to strike 91 million were upped to 141 million, then 160 million. 1964-dated coins were still struck in 1965, and 430 million coins had been struck before the Mint stopped producing 1964-dated Kennedy halves. Hoarding continued, and these coins were never circulated.
In 2002, the Mint decreased production to levels primarily set to meet collector demand only, not for circulation purposes. Today, the Federal Reserve may still order coins for circulation.
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What years of Kennedy half dollars are silver?
Only half dollars minted in 1964 are composed of 90% silver and 10% copper, containing .36169 ounces of metal per coin. Those struck in 1965-1970 contain 80% silver and 20% copper within their two outer layers, and 20.9% silver and 79.1% copper in their inner core. Those minted after 1971 contain 75% copper and 25% nickel bonded to their inner core of 100% copper.
How can I tell if I have a rare 1964 half dollar?
While any 1964 silver Kennedy Half Dollar is a great collector’s coin, the most rare 1964 edition is the “SMS” Kennedy featuring a very sharp strike and a unique satin finish. 1964 Half Dollars rated M266 to MS68 or higher, as well as uncirculated 1964 variants are more rare and valuable.
What should I look for in a Kennedy half dollar?
Generally, your coin’s year, mint mark, and condition combination will point to its rarity and value. The earlier the year, the more valuable the half dollar, as those minted in 1965, 1966, and 1967 are 40% silver. Aim to find the oldest minted coin in the best possible condition or eye appeal.