The History and Appeal of the 1964 Kennedy Half-Dollar

Posted on February 15, 2021

If you're interested in collecting American coins, you may want to consider getting the 1964 Kennedy half dollar. This half dollar is one of the most collected coins in the United States because of its uniqueness and great historical significance. Learn more about the 1964 half dollar Kennedy coin to determine if it's worth your investment.

What Is the 1964 Kennedy Half Dollar?

The 1964 Kennedy half dollar is an American 50-cent coin that was minted to commemorate the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States. This coin, measuring 1.2 inches in diameter, is made of 90% silver and 10% copper and has a reeded edge [1].

Two sculptors from the United States Mint were commissioned to design the 1964 Kennedy half dollar. Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts sculpted the profile portrait of Kennedy on the front side, while Frank Gasparro created the heraldic American bald eagle on the reverse side based on the Great Seal of the United States.

History of the 1964 Kennedy Half Dollar

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. Soon after receiving the shocking news, Mint Director Eva Adams ordered Roberts to come up with new half dollar designs to pay homage to the late president. Since the Franklin half dollar was only 15 years old at that time, congressional approval was required to change the design of the coin. However, in this case, Congress didn't show significant opposition.

The production of the 1964 Kennedy half dollar was authorized on Dec. 30, 1963, and the striking of the coin was scheduled to commence in January the following year. Given such a short time frame, Roberts and Gasparro were unable to create entirely new designs for the coin. Instead, they used the inaugural medal that they previously designed as the prototype for the new half dollar.

As a result of the immense demand for the half dollar Kennedy coins, the Mint decided to strike hundreds of millions of them. The Denver Mint produced about 156 million coins by Jan. 30, 1964, and the Philadelphia Mint struck around 273 million coins the following week, resulting in a total of more than 400 million coins [3].

On the day they were released in March 1964, the new Kennedy half dollars were sold out at the Treasury Department. Only a small percentage of these first coins have been in circulation as the general public preferred to keep them as mementos of their beloved president.

What Makes the 1964 Kennedy Half Dollar Unique?

Despite being widely available, the 1964 version remains one of the most popular coins in the Kennedy half dollar series because it's unique in many ways. Below is a list of intriguing facts about the 1964 half dollar Kennedy coin:

  • The 1964 Kennedy half dollar is the only 90% silver coin in the series: The 1964 Kennedy half dollars had a higher silver content than the later versions. Due to the increased price of silver, coins minted from 1965 to 1970 contained only 40% silver, whereas those struck in 1971 onwards have been made of copper-nickel composition [2].
  • The earliest 1964 Kennedy half dollars showed the president with accented hair: On the first Kennedy half dollar proofs, there's a pronounced V-shape in the president's hair above the apex of his ear. Upon seeing the proofs, Jacqueline Kennedy, the president's widow, requested changes to be made so that the hair would look better. Both the accented-hair and normal-hair versions of the 1964 Kennedy half dollar are especially prized if they're high-grade pieces with deep, strong cameo contrast.
  • The president's widow chose the denomination of the 1964 Kennedy half dollar: Initially, Mint Director Eva Adams was unsure whether President Kennedy would be depicted on the quarter, half dollar or dollar coin. Jacqueline Kennedy preferred that he be featured on the half dollar because she didn't want George Washington to be replaced on the quarter.

Are There Any Variations of the 1964 Kennedy Half-Dollar?

You can find several variations of 1964 Kennedy half dollars. As mentioned earlier, these coins were struck at the Denver Mint and Philadelphia Mint. The ones made in Denver have the letter D to indicate their place of origin, whereas those produced in Philadelphia don't have a mintmark. Since both variations were minted in large numbers, their mint of origin doesn't have an impact on their value.

Additionally, the 1964 Kennedy half dollar comes in the accented hair and normal hair versions. On the accented hair coin, the hair above Kennedy's right ear is especially pronounced, and the letter I in the word LIBERTY has a missing bottom left serif. There's no known mintage for the accented hair Kennedy half dollar. Nevertheless, it's estimated that this early variety accounts for 1% to 3% of the entire mintage of the proof coins, which amounts to approximately 40,000 to 120,000 pieces [4].

There are other variations of the 1964 Kennedy half-dollar, such as:

  • Coins with doubled die obverse
  • Coins with doubled die reverse
  • Coins with re-punched mintmarks of different levels of clarity
  • Off-metal coins
  • Coins with dates struck in proof only
  • Coins with varying dies

Who Is Interested in the 1964 Kennedy Half-Dollar and Why?

The 1964 Kennedy half dollar not only appeals to collectors of modern coins but also people who admire President Kennedy and the nostalgic Camelot era that spanned his tenure in the White House during the early 1960s. The general public saved millions of Kennedy half dollars following their release, believing that the coins were special and would potentially be valuable in the future. As for numismatists, they're generally looking to buy coins of varieties that offer a significant premium beyond face value or spot silver price.

The 1964 Kennedy half dollar sets itself apart from other American coins because it serves to commemorate one of the most shocking and heartbreaking events in the modern history of the United States. This coin is widely pursued because it has significant historical value for contemporary collectors and real personal meaning for many people.

Article Sources

  1. The Spruce Crafts. 'Kennedy Half Dollar Specifications,' https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/kennedy-half-dollar-specifications-3892146. Accessed September 10, 2020.
  2. National Museum of American History Behring Center. '5 facts about the Kennedy half dollar,' https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2013/11/5-facts-about-the-kennedy-half-dollar.html. Accessed September 10, 2020.
  3. National Park Service. 'Minting a Legacy: The History of the Kennedy Half Dollar,' https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/minting-a-legacy-the-history-of-the-kennedy-half-dollar.htm. Accessed September 10, 2020.
  4. Kennedy Half Dollars. '1964 Accented Hair Variety Kennedy Half Dollar,' https://kennedyhalfdollars.net/1964-accented-hair-variety-kennedy-half-dollar. Accessed September 10, 2020.