United States currency/50¢

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The half dollar of the United States, sometimes known as the fifty-cent piece, has been produced nearly every year since the inception of the United States Mint in 1794. The only U.S. coin that has been minted more consistently is the cent.

Half dollar coins are commonly used in casinos. In particular, rolls of half dollars are kept on hand in cardrooms in the United States for games requiring 50-cent antes or bring-in bets, for dealers to pay winning naturals in blackjack, or where the house collects a rake in increments of 50 cents (usually in low-limit seven-card stud and its variants).

The half dollar's circulation, aside from use in some casinos and movie theaters, has declined significantly. This is primarily due to a confluence of two events: the silver crisis of 1963, and the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. The value of silver had risen by 1962-63 to the point that it became worthwhile to melt down U.S. coins for their bullion value. U.S. Silver coins (those of ten cent value and above, which contained 90% silver through 1964) began to disappear from circulation, leading the United States to change to layered composition coins made of a copper core laminated between two cupro-nickel outer faces for the 1965 - present coinage years. The Kennedy half-dollar design, however, continued to be minted in a 40% silver-clad composition from 1965–1970.

Initially the Kennedy halves were hoarded for sentimental reasons and because they were recognized as the only precious metal U.S. coin remaining in circulation. By the time mintage figures could match normal demand and the coin's composition was changed to match the rest of the (non-silver) coinage in 1971, both businesses and the public had adapted to a world in which the half dollar did not generally circulate. Other uses had been found for the half-dollar section of the cash drawer. People had gotten used to depending on quarters as the major component of change.

Most coins enter circulation through the change drawers of businesses. Hardly any businesses stock their change drawers with half dollars or dollar coins, and many banks do not stock these coins and/or hand them out as normal business practice, so the coins do not see much circulation. The fact that virtually no vending machines in the United States accept half dollars further curtails its circulation.

50¢ of the United States of America[edit | edit source]

  • Value: 0.5 U.S. dollar

  • Mass: 11.340 g (0.365 troy oz)
  • Diameter: 30.61 mm (1.205 in)
  • Thickness: 2.15 mm (0.085 in)

  • Edge: 150 reeds
  • Composition: 91.66% Cu, 8.33% Ni

  • Years of Minting: 1971–1974; 1977–present


  • Design: John F. Kennedy
  • Designer: Gilroy Roberts
  • Design Date: 1964


  • Design: Presidential Seal
  • Designer: Frank Gasparro
  • Design Date: 1964

Early History[edit | edit source]

  • On December 1, 1794 the first half dollars (approximately 5,300 pieces) – were delivered. Another 18,000 were produced in January 1795 but these coins were produced with a die of 1794, because dies were too expensive to throw out because of the date.
  • Due to the high production of half dollars from the 1790s, another 30,000 pieces were struck by the end of 1801. The coin had the Heraldic Eagle, based on the Great Seal of the United States on the reverse.
  • One of the great mysteries of half dollars was the 150,000 that were minted in 1804 without one specimen known to exist. The coinage of 1804 was struck with dies from 1803, accounting for the reason.
  • In 1838, half dollar dies were sent to a branch mint for the first time. The dies were sent to New Orleans and in 1839, the New Orleans Mint struck nearly 180,000 half dollars.

List Of Designs[edit | edit source]

Silver Half Dollars[edit | edit source]

  • Flowing Hair 1794–1795

Draped Bust[edit | edit source]

"Draped Bust" was the name given to a design of United States coins. It appeared on all regular-issue copper and silver United States coinage from 1795-1808. The denominations that featured the Draped Bust design included the half cent (1800-1808), large cent (1796-1807), half dime (1796-1805), dime (1796-1807), quarter (1796 -- see coin below, 1804-1807), half dollar (1796-1807) and silver dollar (1795-1804). Gold coins did not carry this design.

Basic Design[edit | edit source]

n 1796, Congress responded to the almost universal dissatisfaction of the first coins (Flowing Hair) and decreed a new design. As was the custom of the time, all denominations bore the same design or, in this case, the same obverse. By Congressional decree, certain features were required: The eagle, the word Liberty, stars and United States of America. It was not considered necessary to include the value of the coin since it could be discerned from its size based on the precious metal content. Thus, the half dime was the smallest silver coin (containing 1/20 of the amount of silver in a dollar) and each denomination was larger up to the silver dollar.

Obverse[edit | edit source]

All coins (copper and silver) bore the same obverse. Robert Scot, Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint from 1793-1829, transformed a portrait of a society lady by Gilbert Stuart into a rather Buxom Ms. Liberty. Some accounts identify the woman as Philadelphia socialite Ann Willing Bingham. She remained essentially unchanged for several years with the exception of an extra curl added to her flowing locks in 1798.

Reverse[edit | edit source]

There are three basic reverse designs. The first, for copper coins, features the value of the coin (half cent or one cent) surrounded by a wreath or vine. The words "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" encircle the wreath. In 1795-1797, a scrawny, naturalistic bald eagle was depicted on the reverse side of all silver coins. This design is known as Draped Bust, Small Eagle and usually commands a high price due to the extremely low mintage at the time. In 1798, the small eagle was replaced by the Heraldic eagle. This design is known as Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle. The famous 1804 Silver Dollar has this design as well the reverse of the Kennedy half dollar in 1964. Three denominations also bore the appropriate fraction: Half cent (1/200), large cent (1/100) and half dollar (1/2).

Rim[edit | edit source]

The half dollar rim (edge) bore the words FIFTY CENTS OR HALF A DOLLAR.

Modifications[edit | edit source]
Stars[edit | edit source]

Initially, the decision was made to add a star to the obverse of a coin for each new state that joined the union. By 1796, the nation had grown to 15 states with the addition of Vermont and Kentucky. Each denomination was minted with 15 stars. That year Tennessee was admitted and a 16th star was added. Director of the Mint Elias Boudinot, realized that the situation could not continue indefinitely and decreed that all coins would contain the original 13 stars. The half dime of 1797 exemplifies the confusion at the time; it was minted with 13, 15 and 16 stars.

National Motto[edit | edit source]

The Heraldic Eagle introduced a national motto - E pluribus unum (one out of many). It appears on a flowing ribbon and is held in the talon of the eagle. In 1956, the national motto was replaced and is now In God We Trust, a phrase that first appeared on American coins in 1864 at the height of the Civil War.

Variations[edit | edit source]

Due to primitive working conditions, materials and poorly constructed dies numerous errors and variations appeared. These include letters and numbers shaped differently, cracks appearing on the surface of the coins, misprints and overstrikes (LIKERTY - half dime, 1796), the size of stars or numbers varied from one die to the next (1807 - half dollar) and dates overpunched previous dates (large cent - 1800, printed over 1798 and 1799). Incongruities persisted: In 1796 the half dollar appeared with 15 stars, then 16 stars. Mysteriously it portrayed 15 stars in 1797 despite the presence of 16 states. Many of these faults are quite rare and demand a high premium due to their scarcity.

Famous Draped Bust Coins[edit | edit source]

The Greatest 100 U.S. Coins selected the 1804 silver dollar as the number one coin. It bears a heraldic eagle on the reverse and the price is prohibitive. Eight were minted in 1834 (Class I) and the rest minted in 1858 (Class II). The 1802 Half Dime ranks number 61. Only 3,000 were minted and the vast majority of these were either lost, melted or wore out. Most 1802 half dimes that do exist are in extremely poor condition. The 1797 Half Dollar (ranked 68)has the "small eagle" design. This design is rare due to the very low mintage and the inferior equipment and procedures. Less than 3,000 were minted. It's companion, the even rarer 1796 half dollar (ranked 72) had a mintage of only 934. The pair constitute the sole mintage of the half dollar "small eagle" design. One is required for a complete Type Set, thus there are always more buyers than sellers. The 1796 quarter (seen above) ranked 71. It is also the "small eagle" design and is the only representative in this denomination of that design. Since it too is required for a complete Type Set, its price continues to rise. Only 6,000 quarters were minted that year. By comparison, the Tennessee State Quarter, one of five struck in 2002, had a mintage of 650,000,000. The mintage of all state quarters in 2002 was over 3 billion.)

  • Capped Bust, 1807–1839

Seated Liberty[edit | edit source]

The "Seated Liberty" designs appeared on most regular-issue silver United States coinage during the mid- and late-nineteenth century, from 1836 through 1891. The denominations which featured the Seated Liberty design included the half dime, the dime, the quarter, the half dollar, and the silver dollar. Another coin that appeared exclusively in the Seated Liberty design was the twenty cent piece. This coin was produced from 1875 to 1878, and was discontinued because it looked very similar to the quarter. Seated Liberty coinage was minted at the main United States Mint in Philadelphia, as well as the branch mints in New Orleans, San Francisco, and Carson City.

Basic Design[edit | edit source]
Obverse[edit | edit source]

The basic obverse design of the Seated Liberty coinage consisted of the figure of the goddess Liberty clad in a flowing dress and seated upon a rock. In her left hand, she held a pole surmounted by a liberty cap, which had been a pre-eminent symbol of freedom during the movement of Neoclassicism. Although it had fallen out of favor in Europe by 1830, Neoclassicism remained in vogue in the United States until after the American Civil War. Liberty's right hand rested on the top corner of a striped shield with a diagonal banner inscribed with the word "LIBERTY." The shield represented preparedness in the defense of freedom. The date of the coin appeared on the bottom below Liberty.

Reverse[edit | edit source]

The basic reverse design of Seated Liberty coins depended on the denomination. The size of half dimes and dimes necessitated a smaller array of elements. On these coins, the reverse consistently featured a wreath around the words "HALF DIME" or "ONE DIME". Before 1860, this wreath consisted of laurel leaves, a traditional Neoclassical image, but beginning that year, the wreath was enlarged and was filled not only with leaves, but also traditional American agricultural products, such as corn and wheat. On quarter, half dollars, and silver dollar coins, the reverse featured a central eagle about to take flight, with a striped shield upon its breast. The eagle clutched an olive branch of peace in its right talons and a group of arrows in its left talons. Above the eagle around the rim were the words "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" and below the eagle around the rim lay the coin denomination. Beginning in 1866 the coins featured a ribbon with the motto "In God We Trust" above the eagle.

Modifications[edit | edit source]
Stars[edit | edit source]

When the first Seated Liberty half dimes and dimes appeared in 1837, the obverse contained no stars. The next year, the coins featured thirteen six-pointed stars around the rim, commemorating the original thirteen colonies.

Drapery[edit | edit source]

The Seated Liberty coins featured a few minor design changes over the years. Around 1840 (the exact date depends upon the denomination), extra drapery was added to Liberty's left elbow.

Arrows And Rays[edit | edit source]

In 1853 and 1873, the U.S. Mint changed the weight of each denomination of silver coins. Both times, arrows were added to the coins on each side of the date. These were removed from coins in 1856 and 1875, respectively. In 1853, the mint also placed rays around the eagle on the reverse of half dollars and quarters, a feature which endured for that one year only.

Legend and Mintmarks[edit | edit source]

In 1860 the U.S. Mint eliminated the stars on the obverse of Seated Liberty half dimes and dimes, replacing them with the legend "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA," which had previously appeared around the wreath on the reverse of the coins. Before this time, half dimes and dimes minted in New Orleans and San Francisco had featured their mintmarks inside the wreaths. Afterwards, the "O" and "S" (and, later, the "CC" for Carson City) mintmarks were located below the wreath next to the rim. On quarters, half dollars, and silver dollars, the mintmarks were always placed below the eagle but above the coin currency on the reverse.

Barber[edit | edit source]

Liberty Head ("Barber") designs appeared on United States minor silver coinage (the dime, quarter, and half dollar) from 1892 to 1916. They derive their common name from their designer, Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber.

Origins[edit | edit source]

Liberty Head ("Barber") designs appeared on United States minor silver coinage (the dime, quarter, and half dollar) from 1892 to 1916. They derive their common name from their designer, Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber.

Basic Design[edit | edit source]
Obverse[edit | edit source]

The basic obverse design of the Barber silver coinage consisted of a Liberty head with a cap and wreath. This figure was inspired both by classical Greek and Roman models and by the designs of various 19th-century French coinage. The word "LIBERTY" appeared on the headband in incuse; since it wears relatively quickly in circulation, it is often used by numismatists to help determine the condition of circulated coins. The Liberty head is flanked by six stars on the left and seven on the right, and the motto "IN GOD WE TRUST" appears above it. The date is centered below the figure.

Reverse[edit | edit source]

There were two basic reverse designs on Barber coinage. The dime featured a wreath of American agricultural products with the words "ONE DIME" in the center. The mint mark, if any, was positioned below the wreath. This reverse design differed little from that of the old Seated Liberty dime.

On the quarter and half dollar, a heraldic eagle, similar to that featured on the Great Seal of the United States, is the central design element, with "QUARTER DOLLAR" or "HALF DOLLAR" and the mint mark (if any) located beneath it. As on the Great Seal, the eagle carries a banner in its beak reading "E PLURIBUS UNUM", and the amount of the motto visible is helpful to numismatic graders in determining the condition of circulated specimens. A field of 13 stars (the same number as on the obverse, representing the 13 original American colonies) appears above the eagle, and on the top edge, "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" is inscribed.

Collectible Barber Coins[edit | edit source]

Although the Barber series contains few mint marks or other aberrations, the 1894-S Barber Dime is one of the most valuable coins ever produced by the United States. Only 24 were produced. Of those, only nine remain, one of which sold for $1.9 million in 2007.

Walking Liberty[edit | edit source]

The Walking Liberty Half Dollar is a silver half dollar coin issued by the United States government, equal to fifty cents. Walking Liberties were minted from 1916 to 1947. The coin is named after its representation of Liberty on the obverse. The coin's obverse and reverse was designed by Adolph A. Weinman and his mark, "AAW", appears under the eagle's wing feathers on the reverse.

History[edit | edit source]

All American coinage at the turn of the 20th century was set to be changed in an effort started by President Theodore Roosevelt. The new half dollar succeeded the unpopular and often ridiculed Barber half dollar. This coin along with the Mercury dime (which Weinman also designed) and Standing Liberty Quarter eliminated the uniform design that was a tradition of American coinage since the mint opened in 1793.

The Walking Liberty half dollar obverse is considered the best designed silver coin in American coinage. As a result, it was used as the obverse design of the American Silver Eagle bullion coin while the St. Gaudens double eagle obverse was chosen for the obverse of the American Gold Eagle series.

Mints[edit | edit source]

Mintmarks were located on the obverse under 'In God We Trust' in 1916 and 1917. In mid 1917, the mintmark was moved to the reverse. It is located to the upper left of 'half dollar' along the rim.

  • None (P - Philadelphia Mint in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
  • D (Denver Mint in Denver, Colorado)
  • S (San Francisco Mint in San Francisco, California)
Special Varieties/Errors[edit | edit source]

Unlike most United States coins, the Walking Liberty half dollar only has one significant error. The 1946-P has a Doubled reverse variety that has an increased value.

Rarities[edit | edit source]

In the series there are no difficult rarities but there are some low-mintage (less than one million made) dates:

  • 1916-P
  • 1916-S
  • 1917-D Obverse Mint Mark
  • 1917-S Obverse Mint Mark
  • 1919-P
  • 1921-P
  • 1921-D
  • 1921-S
  • 1938-D

Franklin[edit | edit source]

The Franklin half dollar is a coin of the United States, minted from 1948 to 1963. The coin pictured Benjamin Franklin on the obverse and the Liberty Bell on the reverse. A small eagle to the right of the bell was necessitated by law; ironically, Franklin himself had opposed the selection of the eagle as the US national symbol, preferring the turkey as a "more noble bird". A bill rushed through Congress after the assassination of John F. Kennedy caused the Franklin half to be replaced by the current Kennedy half dollar in February 1964, nine years before the design would otherwise have been eligible for a change.

Approximately 510 million Franklin halves were minted during the period 1948 to 1963. Coins without a mintmark were minted in Philadelphia, whereas those with a "D" were minted in Denver and with an "S" in San Francisco. The mintmark on specimens having one is visible on the reverse side centered above the bell yoke. Engraver John R. Sinnock's initials appear at Franklin's shoulder on the obverse.

Sinnock's initials inadvertently reflected the tensions of the times. Sinnock had also designed the Roosevelt dime, released two years earlier, placing his initials "JS" on the obverse. In the tense climate of the Cold War, a rumor spread that these initials stood for Joseph Stalin, placed there by a Soviet agent in the mint.[1] Perhaps to avoid further controversy, Sinnock used his full initials "JRS" on the half. (Stalin's middle name was Vissarionovich.)

Large quantities of the Franklin half dollar were melted as silver bullion shortly after 1964, when the intrinsic value exceeded the face value of U.S. silver coinage. Despite these losses, Franklin halves in gently circulated condition remain quite affordable even today, and the more common dates do not command more than a 25 percent premium over bullion. {As of this notation in September of 2007, common date circulated 90% silver coins are valued at 9-10 times face value}. Well-struck uncirculated pieces showing full bell lines in the Liberty Bell design on the coin's reverse command a substantial premium.

The one notable error in the series of the Franklin half dollar is the "Bugs Bunny" error, so called because damage to the coin's obverse die resulted in a split in Franklin's upper lip, giving the appearance of prominent front teeth. The damage to the die resulted from the obverse and reverse dies striking each other without a coin planchet in between. The error is found in 1955 coins minted in Philadelphia. There is also a 1961-P Proof doubled die.

Franklin Half-Dollar of the United States of America[edit | edit source]
  • Value: 0.50 U.S. dollars

  • Mass: 12.50 g
  • Diameter: 30.6 mm
  • Thickness: ? mm

  • Edge: reeded
  • Composition: 90% Ag, 10% Cu

  • Years of Minting: 1948–1963


  • Design: Benjamin Franklin
  • Designer: John R. Sinnock
  • Design Date: 1948


  • Design: Liberty Bell
  • Designer: John R. Sinnock
  • Design Date: 1948

Kennedy[edit | edit source]

Evolving from the Franklin half dollar, the Kennedy half dollar is a coin of the United States first minted in 1964. This coin was first struck in 1964 less than a year after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The front features the face of President John F. Kennedy on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse. The obverse was designed by Gilroy Roberts and the reverse was designed by Frank Gasparro.

Specifications[edit | edit source]
  • Obverse design: President John F. Kennedy
  • Reverse design: The Seal of the President of the United States
  • Bicentennial reverse designer: Seth Huntington
  • Bicentennial reverse design: Independence Hall in Philadelphia
  • Edge: reeded
  • Diameter: 30.6 mm
Composition[edit | edit source]

The Kennedy half dollar was struck in 90% silver in 1964. The following year, this was changed to silver-clad, with the silver content lowered to 40%. In 1971, the circulation coinage composition was changed a final time, eliminating the silver, and using the copper-nickel clad standard common to the dollar, quarter, and dime. Bicentennial half dollars dated 1776-1976 were produced in the years 1975 and 1976 in the copper-nickel clad composition for circulation and proof and also in the 40% silver composition in uncirculated and proof versions for inclusion in special collector sets. When the United States Mint started producing silver proof sets in 1992, the Kennedy half dollar included in them had the same composition as the coins of 1964.

Silver issue (regular circulation in year 1964, silver proof sets from 1992 to date):

  • Weight: 12.5 g
  • Composition: 90% silver, 10% copper
  • Silver content: 11.25 g (0.3617 troy oz)

Silver-clad issues (regular circulation in years 1965-1970, proof set in years 1975-1976):

  • Weight: 11.5 g
  • Composition:
    • Outer layers: 80% silver, 20% copper
    • Inner layers: 20.9% silver, 79.1% copper
  • Silver content: 4.60 g (0.1479 troy oz)

Copper-nickel clad issues (regular circulation from 1971 to date):

  • Weight: 11.34 g (0.4 oz avoirdupois)
  • Composition: 75% copper, 25% nickel
History[edit | edit source]

The Kennedy half dollar replaced the Franklin half dollar within a year of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In fact, Gilroy Roberts, the former chief engraver of the mint, and Frank Gasparro, the current chief engraver at the time, designed the coin a mere five days after Kennedy's death—though the profile of Kennedy was the same one Roberts had used for Kennedy's inaugural medal two years earlier.

Ironically, the new Kennedy design caused the slow disappearance of the half-dollar as a regular mainstream circulating coin, through a series of unrelated events. First, collectors and even ordinary citizens hoarded the coins of 1964, due to the "new" design and because of sentiment for the late President Kennedy. In 1965 silver was eliminated from other coin denominations (dimes and quarters became copper-nickel clad), but silver remained in the half-dollar. The older Franklin halves of 90% silver were quickly removed from circulation by collectors and hoarders, and since the public now hoarded silver coins, most of the 90% silver 1964s, as well as the 40% silver composition 1965-1970 halves, saw little circulation as well. By time the Kennedy half dollar became regular copper-nickel clad in 1971, many banks and merchants were already used to no longer stocking and using the denomination as they were prior to 1964. The half dollar has always circulated to some extent, but has not at the level of circulation it had before 1964. Given the facts that the cash drawers of most merchants do not contain a place for quantities of half dollars, that most vending machines do not accept them, and that the dollar coin is smaller and is the subject of a push for acceptance, the half is likely to retain its limited circulation status.

In 1975 and 1976, the bicentennial half dollar was minted showing Independence Hall on the reverse. All of the bicentennial halves are dated "1776–1976." While the special half sparked some interest in the public, when the half returned to its regular design in 1977, it continued its decline in use and mintage. By 2002, the coins were no longer minted for commercial use, but only in special mint rolls, mint sets, and proof sets for collectors.

The 1964 proof coins were first minted with an "accented" or heavy hair incised about the ear which Jacqueline Kennedy supposedly disliked. After approximately 120,000 were minted the dies were revised and the hair slightly smoothed out. The "I" in "Liberty" also has a truncated bottom serif on the left side. The first die variety typically sells for about four times the latter type, although can be more expensive in top grade, since they seem to have often been poorly struck.

There is a significant demand for half dollars for use at casinos, where they can be used in paying off odd-dollar bets in blackjack and other games. For example, if a player gets "blackjack" at that game with a five-dollar bet, he or she is to be paid $7.50. Some casinos now use a fifty-cent ceramic chip.

At the bottom of Kennedy´s neck, with a magnifier, the mark of the engraver can be seen clearly. Without a magnifier it looks like a hammer and sickle; and during the Cold War this also added interest to the coin.

Mints[edit | edit source]

In 1964, the mint mark appeared on the reverse, under the eagle's left talon. Starting in 1968, mint marks appear above the second and third numbers in the date under Kennedy's neck. Mint marks as of 2007 include:

  • Blank (Philadelphia Mint in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 1964–1979
  • P (Philadelphia Mint in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 1980—
  • D (Denver Mint in Denver, Colorado)
  • S (San Francisco Mint in San Francisco, California)

All San Francisco Kennedy halves are proofs. Proof coins were minted at Philadelphia in 1964, but all other proofs were minted at San Francisco.

  • Kennedy 1992–Present (Not issued for general circulation; in silver proof sets only)

40% Silver Half Dollars[edit | edit source]

  • Kennedy 1965–1969
  • Kennedy 1970 (Not issued for general circulation; for collectors only.)
  • Kennedy 1976 (Only those issued in collectors sets were produced with 40% silver.)

Copper-Nickel Clad Half Dollars[edit | edit source]

  • Kennedy 1971–1974, 1977–1986, 1988–2001 (General circulation issues.)
  • Kennedy 1987, 2002–Present (Not issued for general circulation; for collectors only.)
    • Kennedy Bicentennial 1975–1976 (All were dated 1776-1976.)

In addition to these regular issue coins, Half dollars are the most common denomination used for United States Commemorative Coins.

-km 12:21, 7 February 2008 (UTC)

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