Half a Dollar: History and Value of the Coin

Posted on February 16, 2021

Though you probably picture the iconic coin with President Kennedy's image when you hear the term 'half dollar,' the United States Mint has produced different half dollar coins since the early days of the country. The content below will explore the history of the half dollar coin and how the Kennedy half dollar changed how Americans use the coin, as well as factors that impact its value.

When Did the Half Dollar Come About, and Why?

The United States has produced the half dollar since 1794. The coin is worth 50 cents, or half a dollar. The half dollar coin has seen a number of changes since it first came into circulation, and it has depicted President John F. Kennedy since 1964. Throughout its history, half dollars have been minted as silver coins, 40% silver coins and copper-nickel clad coins.

Designs of silver half dollars include:

  • 1794-1795: Flowing Hair
  • 1796-1807: Draped Bust
    • 1796-1797: Draped Bust, Small Eagle
    • 1801-1807: Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle
  • 1807-1839: Capped Bust
    • 1807-1836: Capped Bust (Large), With Motto
    • 1836-1839: Capped Bust (Small), No Motto
  • 1839-1891: Seated Liberty
    • 1839-1866: Seated Liberty, No Motto
    • 1866-1891: Seated Liberty, With Motto
  • 1892-1915: Barber
  • 1916-1947: Walking Liberty
  • 1948-1963: Franklin
  • 1964: Kennedy
  • 1992-present: Kennedy proof sets

Designs of 40% silver half dollars include:

  • 1965-1970: Kennedy
  • 1976: Kennedy collectors sets

Designs of copper-nickel clad half dollars include:

  • 1971-1974, 1977-present: Kennedy
  • 1975-1976: Kennedy Bicentennial (dated 1776-1976)

The Kennedy Half Dollar

Today, the term 'half dollar' is often synonymous with the Kennedy half dollar. The United States Mint first issued the coin in 1964. After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963, Congress quickly approved the creation of this half dollar coin to commemorate the president. Popular since they were first introduced, many Kennedy half dollars didn't even make it into circulation as people wanted to keep them as a keepsake.

How Has the Value of the Half Dollar Coin Changed Over Time?

Production of half dollars has evolved over time, which influences their value in relation to when they were produced:

  • Before 1965: Half dollars minted before 1965 are made of 90% silver. That means their intrinsic, or melt value, is worth more than the face value of the coin. Additionally, many half dollar coins minted before 1965 were minted in low numbers and possess significant collectible appeal today.
  • 1965-1970: Coins produced between 1965 and 1970 were made from 40% silver, so they also have some intrinsic value thanks to the silver content.
  • After 1970: Half dollars minted after 1970 do not contain any silver. As a result, most half dollars produced since 1970 are not worth more than their 50-cent face value. However, certain rarities and varieties are worth more.

You can calculate the value of both 90% and 40% varieties by multiplying the coin's actual silver weight (ASW) by the current spot price of silver. The ASW of 90% silver half dollars is 0.36169 troy ounce of pure silver, while the ASW of 40% silver half dollars is 0.1479 troy ounce of pure silver.

Public Popularity and a Shortage of Silver

The introduction of the Kennedy half dollar changed the course of history for the American coin. The Treasury Department allocated 70,000 Kennedy half dollar coins for public sale the day they were released in 1964. Almost immediately, the supply vanished. The coins were overwhelmingly popular, but saw very little circulation ” people held onto the coins instead of spending them. The United States Mint ended up striking millions more coins than originally planned. Still, instead of using the coins as currency, the public collected them for the most part. The price of silverstarted to skyrocket.

In 1965, President Johnson announced that silver would be eliminated from dimes and quarters, while the silver content of half dollars would go down to 40%. Collectors still kept the Kennedy half dollar mostly out of circulation, and Congress had to make another decision on using a supply of silver on coins that didn't make it into circulation.

The Treasury decided to eliminate silver from United States currency completely by May of 1969. Very few 40% silver coins were minted in 1970, and beginning in 1971, half dollar coins were struck using the same copper and nickel as other coins minted in the United States.

What Factors Drive Price Fluctuations for Half Dollars?

Certain key factors drive the price of Kennedy half dollar coins, including:

  • Year: The year your Kennedy half dollar was minted will tell you a lot about its silver content. Coins from certain years also have a higher value thanks to historical factors. Significant years include:
    • 1964 Kennedy half dollar
    • 2014 commemorative gold and silver 50th anniversary Kennedy half dollar coins
    • 1965-1970, because of the remaining silver content
  • Condition: As with all collectible coins, the condition of the half dollar affects how much collectors will pay for the coin. Uncirculated Kennedy half dollar coins are generally in better condition than circulated coins. When it comes to Kennedy half dollars, though, most coins never made it into circulation since so many people kept them as keepsakes. Half dollar coins that have been properly cared for and stored will be in even better condition than other uncirculated Kennedy half dollar coins.
  • Errors and Varieties: Some rare varieties have slight differences from typical Kennedy half dollar coins, and thus are valued for rarity. Some Kennedy half dollars have even sold for thousands of dollars. Variations and errors can have the biggest positive impact on a half dollar coin's market value. Significant examples include:
    • Some early 1964 half dollars feature a slightly different design in Kennedy's hair; collectors call this the 'accented hair Kennedy half dollar.'
    • Some 1964 half dollars from a special mint set printing have a dangling '4.'
    • Some coins minted in 1972 have the designer's initials reversed.

You can get a coin worth half a dollar that was produced by the United States Mint. Various factors may make that half dollar coin worth much more than its 50-cent face value.