Kennedy Half Dollar
To the casual observer, the Kennedy half dollar has undergone only one noticeable change since it came onto the scene in 1964– that would be in 1976 when the Kennedy half dollar showed the dual date of “1776*1976" on the obverse, and a new reverse design showing Independence Hall. In actuality, the Kennedy half dollar has gone through five pretty major phases since 1964.
The 90% Silver Kennedy Half: Phase #1 was in 1964 only, the first year of issue for the Kennedy half. It would be the one and only year that a mostly-silver Kennedy half dollar was struck for circulation.
The 40% Silver Kennedy Half: Phase #2 lasted from 1965 through 1970. Many collectors are surprised to learn that the half dollars of 1965 to 1970 actually contain some silver, as many collectors assume that all silver vanished from U.S. coinage after 1964. In a general sense, it did: from 1965 to present, the circulation issues of dimes, quarters and dollar coins have all been struck in clad, with no inclusion of any silver. The Kennedy halves of 1965-70 are the unique exception.
The Circulation-Issue Clad Kennedy Half Dollars: This phase lasted from 1971 through 2001. There was a break in 1987, when no Kennedy half dollars were struck for commercial use, but were struck for special Uncirculated and Proof sets. There was also a break in 1976 when the Bicentennial halves came out, but more on that below. Mind you, Kennedy halves continued to be struck after 2001, and still continue to be struck, BUT, they are no longer being struck for circulation. The general public is probably unaware that Phase 3 is over! They’re probably just vaguely aware that it’s extra hard to find new Kennedy half dollars anymore.
The Bicentennial Kennedy Half: As mentioned in the first paragraph, there was a special Bicentennial version of the Kennedy half dollar in 1976. This would mark the one and only time the Kennedy half ever showed any kind of design change. The Bicentennial halves were actually struck in 1975 and 1976, though all are dated 1976.
Non-Circulation Issue Clad Kennedy Half Dollars: The year 1987 was the first hint that this phase was coming. But Kennedy halves struck for circulation resumed in 1989. But by 2002 it had become clear that Kennedy half dollars were no longer in demand by the U.S. public. So, since 2002, Kennedy half dollars have no longer been struck for circulation. Instead, Kennedy halves struck from 2002 to present, are all special issues meant for inclusions in Mint sets or Proof sets. As of this writing in 2006, we continue to be in Phase #5 when it comes to Kennedy halves.
Chances are the U.S. Mint would still be striking Franklin half dollars to this day, were it not for the national tragedy of November 22, 1963. Of course that was the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Shortly thereafter, legislation was pushed through speedily to authorize the striking of a new coin to honor the much-beloved fallen President. Thus was born the Kennedy half dollar in 1964. It was immediately popular, and was saved by the millions by U.S. citizens. This accounts for the high number of mint-state 1964 Kennedy half dollars that exist today. That’s why in spite of the fact that this is a first-year-of-issue, a 90% silver coin, and a one-year-only type (because of its 90% silver content), an Uncirculated 1964 Kennedy half only retails $5 today.
In fact, there are no truly scarce or expensive Kennedy half dollars amongst the circulation issues. The closest thing to a key date amongst the circulation dates would be the 1970-D Kennedy half. It retails $35 in MS-65, which is not just mint state, but a really high quality mint state coin!
Starting in 1992, the San Francisco mint began striking special silver Kennedy half dollars for inclusion in Proof sets. There are some higher-value Kennedy halves amongst these special S-mint silver issues. In particular, the 1995-S (retails $100 in Proof), 1996-S (retails $50 in Proof) and the 1997-S (retails $100 in Proof) are going to cost more than the typical $15-$35. But THE most expensive of the Kennedy halves, is a special 1998-S Matte Proof (not to be confused with regular Proof) issue. This retails at $400, far and away the most money you’ll pay for any one Kennedy half.
Strangely, the 2002 to 2006 Kennedy half dollars don’t cost all that much in high mint-state. They all retail only $10-$15, even though they are no longer struck for circulation and have relatively low mintages for Kennedy half dollars (around 2 to 3 million each). These might be good bargains as more collectors wake up to the fact that the Kennedy half dollar will probably never again be a circulation-issue coin.
So how long will the U.S. Mint continue to only strike non-commercial Kennedy halves? Is the end in sight, and will the mint cease production of this once wildly-popular coin altogether? We don’t know at this point. The U.S. Mint is putting its energy mostly into finishing up the state quarter series and starting up the new Presidential dollar series. Meanwhile, the Kennedy half dollar quietly languishes in the shadows.