The Honorable History Behind the Kennedy Half Dollar

Certified collectible coins are a strong investment choice. They’re beautiful, valuable, and often have a fascinating history you can appreciate. One of the most popular collectible coins out there is the Kennedy half dollar. With its portrayal of one of the country’s favorite past presidents, the Kennedy half dollar holds both historical importance and, in some cases, significant monetary value.

The Kennedy Half Dollar: The Basics

The Kennedy half dollar was first issued in 1964 by the United States Mint. Congress moved quickly to approve the creation of the coin as a way to commemorate John F. Kennedy after his assassination in November of 1963. The coins were popular from day one and rarely made it into circulation, since people wanted to hold onto them as a keepsake.

They’ve been a popular collectible coin ever since, but some versions of the Kennedy half dollar are worth far more than others. Savvy collectors should learn a few basic details about the history of Kennedy half dollars in order to spot the right coins to add to your collection.

JFK Medal Design By Gilroy Roberts

The Brains Behind the Design

Designer Gilroy Roberts worked on a bust of John F. Kennedy for a medal in the Mint’s Presidential series in 1961. However, when the Mint got news that Congress was interested in creating a new coin with JFK’s image on it and fast, Roberts was able to conveniently make use of the bust he’d already created — one that had even been reviewed and approved by Kennedy himself some time earlier.

Frank Gasparro had also already designed the reverse image for the earlier coin and was commissioned to provide a similar design for this one.

They both made some slight modifications for the proposed half dollar coin and presented their designs to John F. Kennedy’s wife Jacqueline and brother Robert for approval. Other than Jacqueline’s request for some slight changes to the hair, the designs were approved and the coins went into production.

The 1964 Kennedy Half Dollar

The Kennedy half dollars released in 1964 are 90% silver and 10% copper. From the first day they became available to the public on March 24, 1964, people were clamoring to get their hands on one.

People gathered in long lines at the Treasury Department where they sold out of the first batch of coins on the first day. Other banks around the country that had a share of the first Kennedy half dollars had to ration them to keep from selling out right away.

Throughout 1964, the Kennedy half dollars the Mint produced never slowed in popularity. While the original plan had been to produce 91 million coins that year, the number was later increased to 140 million, then 160 million.

In the hopes that producing more coins would lead people to actually start using them in circulation, the Mint eventually decided to continue making Kennedy half dollars labeled 1964 for months into 1965. This continued until the number of 1964 Kennedy half dollars reached nearly 430 million.

For that reason, 1964 Kennedy half dollars aren’t especially rare, even though people could easily go a lifetime without encountering one in circulation.

Because of the changes in silver content that started to come into play the next year, the 1964 Kennedy half dollars are more valuable in terms of their precious metal content than most of the Kennedy half dollars that came later.

Just the silver content in them alone is worth several dollars, although their historical significance and the interest from collectors adds extra value on top of that.

From 1965-1971: Still Silver, But Less So

As the price of silver went up, the Mint decreased the amount included in each coin. Starting in 1965, Kennedy half dollars became only 40% silver and 60% copper.

The Mint continued with this ratio up until 1971. These coins have an outer layer that’s 80% silver, so they still maintain the look of silver in spite of the reduced silver content.

The coins issued during this time period continued to be popular with collectors and still saw little circulation. Even as the amount of silver in the coin decreased, the value of silver over these years increased.

As with the 1964 Kennedy half dollars, the precious metal content alone in coins from this era makes them worth more than the $0.50 face value, but the historical significance means these coins are often worth a bit more than the value of the silver within them as well.

Kennedy Half Dollar

From 1971-Today: No Silver, Still Significant

Kennedy half dollars are still being issued today, but ever since 1971, most have been made without any silver content in them. As silver became worth more, the government saw no reason to keep using silver for Kennedy half dollars that never seemed to find their way into circulation.

Perhaps because of the continued popularity of JFK, or perhaps because not using the half dollars was simply habit by that point, even the silver-free Kennedy half dollars of the past few decades failed to circulate.

How much is a 1971 half dollar worth?

Most Kennedy half dollars minted after 1971 don’t have all that much financial worth beyond their face value. However, there are a few notable exceptions.

For the 50th anniversary of the coin, in 2014 the U.S. mint issued a commemorative Kennedy half dollar in gold that immediately became a valuable collectors’ item.

The same year, they also released a 90% silver version again that’s not worth as much as the gold coins, but is worth more than most other Kennedy half dollars made after 1964.

How to Determine the Value of Kennedy Half Dollars

There’s enough variety in Kennedy half dollars that some coins are worth face value, while others are worth thousands. In order to get an idea of what a specific Kennedy half dollar is worth, there are a few things you should pay attention to.

1. The Year

As has already been covered, the year a Kennedy half dollar was minted can tell you a lot about the amount of silver content within it.

Coins from certain years can also be worth more than others due to their historical significance. The 1964 Kennedy half dollar and the 2014 commemorative gold and silver versions will usually be the most highly valued years to look for, with those made from 1965 to 1971 coming up next due to their remaining silver content.

2. Condition

As with any type of collectible coin, the condition the coin is in influences how much collectors are willing to pay for it.

Uncirculated Kennedy half dollars (which is most of them) will usually be better off than circulated ones in this respect; but those that have been properly stored and cared for by their past owners will be in even better condition.

3. Errors and Varieties

There have been a few high-profile cases of Kennedy half dollars selling for thousands. Some of the more rare varieties that include slight differences from the usual coins are valued for that rarity.

Some early 1964 Kennedy half dollars have a slightly different design for Kennedy’s hair, which collectors refer to as the accented hair Kennedy half dollar. There are examples of coins printed in 1972  that have a rare error with the designer’s initials reversed. And some coins from a 1964 special mint set printing with a dangling 4 have been known to sell for tens of thousands.

More than any other aspect of a Kennedy half dollar, these sorts of errors and variations can cause a big increase in the coin’s value on the market.

Kennedy half dollars are important for the man they commemorate and the point in history they serve to remind us of. They’ve been popular from the moment they arrived on the scene and for good reason. They’re beautiful and many varieties are quite valuable. If you’re considering new coins to add to your collection, look for one of the more rare or valuable varieties of the Kennedy half dollar.

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