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Junk Silver Kennedy Halves 90% Silver

The Historical Kennedy Halves: 90 Percent Silver

The Kennedy Half Dollar is as historic a coin as any. The histories of the American coinage development tell a fascinating and bold story. We learn about the public, the tone of the times and the will of people who feel great emotion about the unfolding of our nation's history. Recording these momentous occasions is the purpose and historic responsibility of our US Treasury. They do this through commemoration on new coins.

Before 1964, our nation was still producing silver coins. As is common when the sentiment is focused, the public outcry for the commemoration of Kennedy following his assassination in November of 1963 was palpable and unanimous. He was beloved by many. It was Kennedy's eternally youthful face and the fact that this dynamic young president had only been able to serve us for a thousand days before his assassination that seemed to give more energy to the shock and sadness that sparked our nations unprecedented support for the commemoration of his presidency.

He inspired our nation with his request of us as a united body of American people; "Ask not what your country can do for you, rather, ask what can you do for your country?" The last silver coin to be produced by the US Mint, the Kenney Half Dollar, holds its value for all of these reasons.

There were very few Americans who were not deeply moved by the media coverage of his assassination, funeral and the meaning of events that followed. Our hearts went out to Jackie, and his family. We mourned as a nation. We craved justice for him. Our nation wanted him placed on the common quarter dollar coin, thereby replacing George Washington. This fact highlights how important this commemoration was felt by the public. The idea was halted by Jackie Onassis, however, because she felt strongly that the first president was fitting for the quarter and strongly objected to this bust and design replacement.

It was for these reasons that we chose to commemorate him on one of our most memorable Half Dollars. The federal government named a number of places and properties of national interest after him as part of this commemoration process. As can be expected, when the proposal was submitted to make a commemoration coin, the response within our nation was predictably overwhelming.

At that time, the US half dollar held a unique place in our America. It represented the reality that many more Americans could now afford to make use of the previously out-of-reach half and whole silver dollars. The economy had soared. The great depression was behind us. There was more of a sense of equal opportunity, and some of this was established during Kennedy's short presidency. The people loved him.

The current US junk silver Half Dollar at that time still bore the bust of Benjamin Franklin. Before 1948 it had held the image of the Walking Liberty design on its obverse. This historic coin seemed the perfect medium to properly commemorate a "man of the people."

Kennedy himself had approved of the image before his death, surprisingly enough. Lyndon B. Johnson in December of 1963 presented the design of the new coin to the public. His announcement assured the public that it would replace Benjamin Franklin's image on a new half dollar and would host his presidential shield on the reverse. Its engraving was immediately commissioned.

When the images were reviewed by family such as Jackie and Robert Kennedy, they suggested his image be standing, and that the curls of his hair should be highlighted. Practicality won, the trial strikes showed what worked best and the design was made to augment his hair curls, while his bust, a design created by Gilroy Roberts, of the eternally young and dynamic man was struck on the obverse. Frank Gasparro is who designed the presidential shield on the reverse of the silver coin.

The first minting of this commemoration coin held 90 percent silver. This practice was ended in 1964. This caused a hoarding of this famous half dollar. The silver content then went down to 40 percent and gradually the silver content was eliminated over time. Today no silver is found in our half dollars in circulation.

Historic records indicate this hoarding was instigated by people who deeply loved Kennedy, and felt this coin ownership represented a piece of American history. This belief included the sentiment that this coin held an inherent increased value. This became a popular thought; to pass a piece of history down through our American family system. Also, the value of gold and silver were once again on the rise, and hoarding to secure the metal value seemed wise and important at that time.

Today these coins are minted from copper and nickel. They are no longer circulated widely, and the most common place to find them is on a gaming table or in a slot machine win or raking at a local casino. Currently the casino systems are switching over to vouchers and notes so this, too, will become an unavailable source. There were also releases of proofs of Kennedy Half Dollars for collectors and heritage protectors. The proof sets are highly sought after for collectible coins.

The new Kennedy Half coin was officially released into circulation on March 24, 1964. It was quickly hoarded by many who wanted this commemoration for their families. This is the cause of the limited circulation that most new coins have received. Within a year, the silver content was downgraded to 40 percent, and was slowly eliminated totally in 1971. Today its copper and nickel content match the dime and the quarter. The coin has a copper middle and copper-nickel combination for the plating, or overlay. In 1976 the Treasury released a bicentennial 1776-1976 commemoration coin to collectors in uncirculated and proof sets with his image that was silver plated. The bicentennial coins hosted Independence Hall on the reverse.

Prices for this coin vary greatly. Some hold great regard for this coin commemorating a fallen president. Others view it for its metal content and consider it as a junk silver coin. A front page story in "The Washington Post" headlined: "More Treasury Clients Vexed Over Kennedy Coin Sellout Here." The coin became so sought after that it was immediately in short supply, instigated by the hoarding that emotional attachment and silver content had stimulated. Huge mintage runs did not deliver the desired amounts, and this coin remains rare but available to collectors for small premiums over their silver bullion value. Some choice coin examples are considered to be very reasonably priced.

The Kennedy Half Dollar had definitely and immediately become America's flagship coin. They were first available in uncirculated sets, clad or silver proof sets, or mint-wrapped rolls. The rarest of the series proved to be the 1998 matte proof that was issued alongside another silver dollar that commemorated Robert Kennedy. Matte proofs can be distinguished from uncirculated coins of more typical proofs by the smooth finish that differs from the brilliant luster of an uncirculated proof. The only true error occurred on the 1974 D series when the letters RUS in the motto "In God We Trust" was double struck in that year.

By the 1970's the half dollar mintages had dwindled and only quarters, dimes and nickels were readily available in the circulating change. Today the small mintage numbers serve mainly the casinos and this will change soon, as mentioned, with the switches going to vouchers and notes.

Another anomaly of this coin release was the missing designer initials "FG" on the reverse as the result of excessive die polishing. Numbers of collectors also seek the 1964 proofs that accent Kennedy's hair with his curls finely defined. There is a bit of tender sentiment remaining for the details a grieving wife wished to have immortalized about her departed love.

The commemoration of today eventually become the historic vestiges of the distant past. Kennedy's image on our half dollar will continue to convey the sentiments of our nation for the young idealistic president we had hoped would lead our country for more than just a shocking thousand days.

As collectors, the public voice can be used when numbers gather and become large enough to be heard by our political body. To have popular coins re-released into circulation such as this famed Kennedy Half Dollar, can only be accomplished by using this voice-of-many-numbers within the political system. Bills are passed to compel our Treasury to instigate new coin designs and competitions can be called for to flush the best artists and designers into the American spotlight in order to create new coins worthy of hoarding and collecting. This long held American tradition can be re-stimulated through this inherently American process.

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