Why Collect The Half Dollar?
The Half Dollar: A little history?
Half a dollar right – 50 cents – or, “a half,” for short – no big deal you might think, but the United States Mint half dollar has one of the greatest stories of all American coinage.
50 cents is a catch-all price for goods and services. It’s a round amount to come to, easy to give change for, and a coin most folk would have around to spend. It wasn’t always that way.
Back in the 1700s, when the first half dollars were introduced, $0.50 was a lot of money – the equivalent of $29.89 in today’s world. Hardly pocket cash then.
Because of the amount it represented, it was a prime candidate to become a special addition to the US coinage arsenal. Since its introduction, there have been many variations and Ben Franklin, John F. Kennedy, Barber, and Walking Liberty halves are just some of the examples out there that we will look at here.
Over the course of the centuries, the US Mint made these coins of pure silver, 40% silver and even some copper-nickel clad ones – so their value is not necessarily dependent on the material from which the mint manufactured them. The important point is that, whatever metal they were made from, they are part of a continuous line of coins which stretch back to their inception in 1794.
In this first year, they minted only around 5,300 coins. They struck 18,000 more in 1795 using the 1794 die as an economy measure. The mint then stepped up production to around 30,000 by 1801 and 150,000 by 1804. Interestingly, the mint, once again, used dies from the previous year’s production for these, and although there are 1803 coins, there are no 1804s.
Getting the mints organized
By 1838, the US Mint merged its operations and they made a half dollar die in their Philadelphia Mint for the New Orleans Mint, which had just been opened.
They struck just ten coins as a test run for the new dies. In addition, when the dies were used they encountered a problem with the reverse die and New Orleans minted coins had a double stamped reverse. We have only ever found one New Orleans coin from this time. Rufus Tyler presented it to the great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Dallas Bach, in 1839.
There are just eight known Philadelphia samples of this year – and only two have ever come up for sale – fetching prices of $632,500. This gives you some idea of the kind of prices coin collecting can command at the highest levels. The fun comes in trying to find these rarities at sales, auctions, shops and garage sales.
The secret is to study and have the knowledge of the history of these coins so you can look out for the rarer examples. For instance, Kennedy half dollars were issued after JFK’s assassination in 1964, but the rarest, and most collectable of these Is the 1970, uncirculated, Denver minted coin. These coins were minted in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco. Between 1965 and 1967 US coins carried no mint mark.
Special editions through the years
There have been at least 24 commemorative issues of half dollars covering everything from the Pilgrim Tercentenary half dollar (1920 to 1921) to the Texas Centennial half dollar (1934 to 1938). A complete list of such coin issues can be found here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_United_States_commemorative_coins#50_Cents_Silver
These were made of either 90% silver and 10% copper – although the Kennedy issue of 1964 was the last US half dollar coin to contain 90% silver – the coins were then reduced to just 40% silver – until 1971 – when they became cupro-nickel, with no silver content at all. The one exception to this was a 40% silver coin, made in 1976 as a collector’s set, and containing 40% silver.
The “Walking Liberty” half dollar was the longest running half dollar, produced between 1916 and 1947. This was 90% silver and 10% copper. It was a notoriously difficult coin to strike, and the San Francisco mint had real trouble minting the coin. Because of the long production run, the Walking |Liberty series are not very scarce, sought after, or valuable. It is a beautiful design though and welcome addition to any coin collection.
So popular is the half dollar that in 2010 a plan was put forward to make a series of palladium. This was dropped when it was thought there would be insufficient demand. Instead, the United States Mint restruck the original three silver coins introduced in 1916 – but this time in solid gold. The demand for these gold versions was such that 75,000 of them were struck.
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The Morgan Silver Dollar is an essential part of American History. The first was released in 1878 and became an immediate success. We have sourced 3 different versions of this iconic coin. These will be an investment as well as a family heirloom for generations to come.
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