The Legacy of the Kennedy Half Dollar

The Legacy of the Kennedy Half Dollar

There is no denying the impact the assassination of President John F. Kennedy had on the country. It's one of the few moments in our nation's history that Americans vividly remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when the news of this tragic event spread on November 22, 1963. JFK's assassination changed the course of history. It also had a lasting effect on U.S. coinage. 

Ironically, JFK had asked Congress to approve the minting of 50 million silver dollars on November 21, the day before his fateful trip to Dallas. The last silver dollar struck was the 1935 Peace Dollar and it was assumed that Anthony de Francisci's Peace Dollar design would resume on the 1964 Peace Dollar. After November 22, mourning Americans were suggesting the silver dollar - or another one of the nation's coins due for a design change - bear JFK's likeness as a tribute to his legacy.

In the December 6, 1963, issue of Coin World, an editorial stated, "John Fitzgerald Kennedy deserves a lasting numismatic tribute. Whether the choice be a commemorative half dollar which the people may keep and cherish or whether his image be engraved upon the new 1964 silver dollar which can accompany the people of the nation everywhere and be renewed each year is a choice which can perhaps be better decided by others closer to him in official circles." 

Kennedy Half Dollar

A few days later on December 10, 1963, President Lyndon Johnson requested that Congress authorize JFK's portrait be placed on the U.S. half dollar that currently featured the portrait of Benjamin Franklin. There was only one problem with this request. The Coin Act of September 26, 1890, prohibited the Secretary of the Treasury from changing the design on any circulating coin until after its required 25 year "length of service" had elapsed. The Franklin half dollar had only been struck for 15 years. In order to trump this requirement, special congressional action was needed. The House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate gave their approval for the placement of JFK's image on the U.S. half dollar, abruptly ending the Franklin half dollar series ten years early. President Johnson signed the bill into law on December 30, 1963, creating Public Law 88-256. 

The image selected for the 1964 Kennedy half dollar was the one that appeared on Kennedy's Inaugural medal of 1961. The late president "personally approved" of this design. The first Kennedy half dollars were struck at both the Denver and Philadelphia Mints beginning on February 11, 1964. They were struck in 90% silver. Americans would have to wait another month for their opportunity to get their hands on the coveted new half dollars, and most would have to wait even longer. People waited in line for hours at banks across the country. Many left disappointed when banks quickly ran out of the coins. As the American people scoured the market in search of these prized mementos, the U.S. was facing a coin shortage that threatened to disrupt the everyday business of millions of Americans. One of the culprits for the national coin shortage that gripped the nation was the newly struck Kennedy half dollar rapidly disappearing from circulation. 

Today, over 45 years later, JFK's image still lives on in the pockets of Americans. The 1964 Kennedy half dollar is highly coveted by collectors because of its first year status, both because it's the only year the Kennedy half dollar was struck in 90% silver and because of JFK's legacy. At GovMint.com, we are active buyers for treasures such as the 1964 Kennedy half dollar; we promise you won't have to wait in line to acquire one. 

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