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The Story Behind the Kennedy Half Dollar

Updated on April 17, 2016

The Kennedy Half Dollar

In one’s lifetime, there are perhaps a few events of such historical importance that everyone can remember exactly what they were doing at the time. The most recent example of such a historic event was 9/11. But before that, November 22, 1963 was the date to remember; the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

While the nation was grieving the loss of one of the most popular and well-loved presidents; plans to commemorate his life were already being placed into action. The quarter, half dollar, and dollar coin were all considered to bear his likeness, but eventually, the half dollar was decided.

However, there were several obstacles the mint and Congress would have to overcome to in a very short period of time if the Kennedy half dollar was to go into production the next year.

The U.S. Mint immediately put mint sculptors Gilroy Roberts and Frank Gasparro to work to prepare the designs. The sculptors modified the designs they had created for the John F. Kennedy Presidential series medal that Kennedy had already approved.

The mint was scheduled to start production of the half dollar in January, but there was another obstacle that was going to have to be overcome and it was going to take an act of Congress to accomplish it. Previous coinage laws required that a coin be in production for 25 years before changes could be made to it. The Franklin half dollar had only been in production for 15 years.

A bill was introduced to Congress in early December to allow for Kennedy’s image to appear on the half dollar. The new President, Lyndon Johnson, endorsed the call for a Kennedy half dollar on December 10 and the bill was passed on December 30, 1963. The first Kennedy half dollars were placed into production on January 30, 1964.

It is perhaps with a little bit of irony that the change of the half dollar to Kennedy would be the start of the demise of the half dollar as a circulated coin. Until that time, the half dollar was a widely used coin.

Kennedy was so well-loved and revered that everyone hoarded the Kennedy half dollars and kept them as a memento. The mint increased production but was still unable to keep up with demand.

In 1965, the mint discontinued the use of silver into production of coins, except in the Kennedy half dollar, which was reduced to 40% silver. This caused the hoarding of the previous silver coins. By the time the Kennedy half dollar became entirely clad metal in 1971, the half dollar had lost its popularity and was no longer being used for circulation.

The Kennedy half dollar has an interesting story and is a great coin to collect.

1964 Accented Hair Kennedy Half Dollar

The Kennedy half dollar was designed to commemorate President John F. Kennedy after his assassination on November 22, 1963.

The U.S. Mint was to start production of the half dollar in January, so there was very little time to change the design from the Franklin half dollar to the Kennedy half dollar. Plus, another obstacle that was in the way was going to require an act of Congress to overcome.

The current coinage laws of the time required that a coin be in production for 25 years before any changes to the design could be made. The Franklin half dollar had only been in production for 15 years. A bill was introduced in Congress to allow for the Kennedy half dollar and with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s support, the bill was passed on December 30, 1963.

It is believed that plans for the new half dollar began the day of Kennedy’s assassination. With very little time to design a new coin, mint sculptors Gilroy Roberts and Frank Gasparro immediately went to work. To save time, the sculptors modified the designs they had created for the John F. Kennedy Presidential series medal that Kennedy had already approved.

The first of the Kennedy half dollars for began production on January 30, 1964. The first of the Kennedy half dollars minted were proof coins. It is rumored that former first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, disapproved of the design and requested a few small changes. Whatever the reason, the design was modified after the first production. It is these early proof coins that are commonly referred to as having “accented hair.”

Since the production of the Accented Hair design was limited only to the proof coins before the design was changed, there is believed to only be between 40,000 and 120,000 of these coins minted. The coin is most easily identified by the wishbone shaped hair strands above the ear.

However, there are a few other ways of identifying an Accented Hair Kennedy half dollar. On the reverse side of an Accented Hair coin, the I in LIBERTY has a truncated serif on the bottom left; the G in Frank Gasparro’s initials do not have a serif; the stars below UNUM on the banner appear to intersect and break the rays.

The Accented Hair Kennedy half dollar is very collectable, but is not widely known. This presents an opportunity to cherry pick these highly collectable coins.

No accented and accented hair.
No accented and accented hair.
No accented hair close up
No accented hair close up
Accented hair close up.
Accented hair close up.

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